How Jimmy Page paved the way for grunge

While the importance of classic rock may be declining in the modern period, its most well-known artists have had a profound cultural effect that is hard to dispute. Jimmy Page, the guitarist and frontman of Led Zeppelin, was one individual who had a significant impact at this time. His work was so significant that it helped establish the grunge subgenre, which would later gain popularity.

Although grunge has long been considered the spiritual descendant of classic rock, Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young are frequently credited with its inception. But Jimmy Page also had a significant influence on the development of the genre. For example, Page and his band have been named as major influences by the majority of grunge pioneers. Kurt Cobain, the undisputed leader of grunge, openly expressed his distaste for Led Zeppelin in his adulthood, yet in his youth he did appreciate their songs and even performed “Immigrant Song” with Nirvana.

However, more clearly, Cobain’s colleagues from Grunge’s other main bands were vocal about their adoration of Jimmy Page and his work with Led Zeppelin. Consequently, it should come as no surprise that their music is far more influenced by blues-style melodies and chromaticism than Nirvana’s, who always took a more avant-garde and distinctively alternative rock approach while being firmly rooted in the punk aesthetic.

Guitarist Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains is one man who has been candid about the influence of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin on him. He said to The Quietus, in his words: “Jimmy Page is another guitar player that means a lot to me. Every member of that fucking band: John Paul Jones was an amazing writer, arranger and producer, as well as Jimmy. Plus John Bonham and Robert Plant… that’s one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all times.”

Cantrell also highlighted an important similarity between Zeppelin’s strategy and the popular grunge strategy used by Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and his band: “It’s just straight-up, fucking sexy, kick ass and shit, man! All the way from dirty, low-down rock and roll to the biggest orchestral tracks like ‘Kashmir’. They travelled a lot of ground while keeping their roots intact, the blues.”

The way Cantrell described Led Zeppelin’s significance to the Seattle scene as a whole, however, caught my attention the most: “You know, certain bands really resonate in certain areas and that was one band that was always popular up there where I come from, the northwest, You have at least ten fucking Zeppelin songs that you can jam with anybody at any time.”

Another band that is inextricably linked to Page and Led Zeppelin is Pearl Jam. The band’s iconic rock licks by Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, combined with vocalist Eddie Vedder’s raw vocals that quickly evoke the picture of a teenage Robert Plant hunched over and sobbing into the microphone, are what make this connection. Gossard has always been transparent about the importance of Zeppelin to his creative process, stating to Stereogum in 2013 that they are still one of his key sources of inspiration.

In a more concrete sense, vocalist Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin IV has gone so far as to suggest that Pearl Jam’s song “Given To Fly” is a possible parody of the legendary Led Zeppelin IV song “Going to California” from 1971. Numerous admirers have noted how strikingly similar the two are.

Then, how precisely was Grunge inspired by Jimmy Page? All of it, though, began with a thought. He had this idea as his former band, The Yardbirds, was coming to an end. This idea would eventually inspire him to establish “The New Yardbirds,” who would soon alter their name to Led Zeppelin. Page was quite explicit from the beginning about his vision for Zeppelin’s sound: “a marriage of blues, hard rock, and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses.”

This concept can also be heard beginning to take shape during Page’s brief time as lead guitarist and buddy of Jeff Beck in The Yardbirds. Together, they pushed the guitar and rock music into a far darker and more throbbing realm than it had previously been on songs like “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” The guitar had become a rock band’s main weapon, surpassing the vocals in intensity and aural power. This record was out before the huge breakthroughs in psychedelic rock the following year, 1967.

There are many examples of Jimmy Page hinting at the eventual arrival of grunge through his work with Led Zeppelin, from early tracks like “Communication Breakdown,” which is one of the clearest precursors to grunge sonics with its almost chainsaw guitar and frenetic energy, to later ones like “Immigrant Song,” which seems to exemplify the dark intrigue key to much of the Seattle sound, or even “Black Dog,” which placed heavy-riffing at the center of the track but also took this idea down a very leftfield, complex path.

Fans need not go far to find evidence of Led Zeppelin’s broad, attitude-laden blues-rock influencing grunge. Cantrell’s thundering guitar passages on Alice in Chain’s “Them Bones,” with all of its chromaticism, are metallic and detuned, yet they sound like a more muscular cousin of early Page performances on the first two Zeppelin LPs, particularly the chorus of “Good Times Bad Times.”

However, there are also some stylistic parallels when it comes to the use of the acoustic guitar. For example, the power ballad “Down in a Hole” draws heavily from the melancholic elements of Led Zeppelin IV and the more sophisticated albums that followed, like Houses of the Holy and tracks like “The Rain Song.”

The Pearl Jam body of work has more instances than those of its contemporaries. Pearl Jam classics like “Even Flow” and “Alive” come to mind when one mentions the rumbling verse section of “How Many More Times,” with its 4/4 beat and repeating pentatonic riff a tactic taken directly from Page’s blues manual.

These tracks, which reflect the prevailing Generation X mindset, amp up Zeppelin’s formula and mix it with a hint of punk. Other places relate the sultry sound of “Whole Lotta Love” to the general atmosphere of the group’s first two albums, Ten (1991) and Vs (1993).

The excitement around Jimmy Page’s career may be centered on the caliber of his production, songwriting, and guitar playing, but underneath the surface, on a far deeper level, his work with Led Zeppelin altered the course of history much beyond the boundaries of classic rock. Culture, as we know it now, would be quite different without grunge, and, shockingly, a big part of its success may be attributed to a man who was so remote from 1991 and the cultural tsunami that included bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.





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