There's this rumor that swirls around Blogcritics and the 'net that I don't like cover versions. It's true. Sometimes. The truth is I have a difficult relationship with covers. I do like some of them and others are hateful travesties that exist to torment me.
One thing a cover can do, either by being really good or extremely terrible, is turn the focus back to the original song. Encomium was a Led Zeppelin tribute album released in the '90s. There are some interesting and truly shocking performances on that record. At the time it came out, I was a casual Zep fan. I knew “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and of course “Stairway to Heaven.” I hadn't delved deeply into the band's catalog but I liked what I knew and I liked some of the bands who took part in Encomium so I bought it.
The best thing about that record is Stone Temple Pilot's cover of “Dancing Days.” I'm not saying the cover was actually good. It's all right. What that cover did, though, was turn me on to a song I didn't know. It wasn't long before I bought Houses of the Holy and discovered the wonders of the original.
A lot of Zeppelin songs are built on “the riff.” Chuck Berry and Keith Richards may have patented “the riff” but Jimmy Page was no slouch in this regard and having a rhythm section like John Bonham and John Paul Jones certainly helped. What distinguishes “Dancing Days” is that it's not so much a guitar riff at the center of this song but some swirling, mystical, Middle Eastern-tinged Jimmy Page lead that wraps itself around your brain.
That is sometimes lost about Led Zeppelin. I think most people have in their mind a definition of what Led Zeppelin is and they can be pretty stubborn about it. Page wasn't the most dynamic lead guitarist in rock history. What makes him so important in the canon of rock is his versatility and what that gave to Zeppelin's music. Not every band travels very far from where they started on their first album. Blues-based rock is always at the heart of Zeppelin, but they weren't limited by that or to that. They went places, musically. Not every destination was as interesting, successful, or fully realized as others, but they can't be accused of phoning in the same record over and over.