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Posts Tagged ‘No Quarter’

Where’s That Confounded Bridge?

In 1970s, 1973, British bands, Led Zeppelin, Rich's House of Vinyl, rock on August 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm

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Earlier this week, my 20-sided dice told me to listen to Led Zeppelin’s classic 1973 album, Houses of the Holy. I listened to it several times. I will now report my findings.

I have no specific memories of March 1973. Just hazy impressions.

I was in second grade at a smallish Catholic school in southeastern Pennsylvania. Each morning, I’d eat breakfast while I listened to powerhouse AM Philadelphia radio station WFIL on the radio. After I’d leave my house to walk to school, I would turn around at two or three specific spots to wave to Mom, standing inside the front door. Eventually, of course, there was no looking back, and I’d make the short trek to school.

My second grade teacher had a name that to this day I probably wouldn’t be able to spell. I am sure there was a basic second grade routine, but the details are lost to me now. Friday mornings, all the kids from first through eighth grade would walk in two neat rows over to the church for Mass. Our First Holy Communion would be happening in May, so it’s a safe bet that we were practicing for that.

In short, my life in March 1973 was about as different from that of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert “Don’t Call Me Bob” Plant’s life that year as you can possibly imagine.

In fact, it might sound improbable, but I think I was unaware of the existence of Led Zeppelin in 1973, despite their lofty status as Rock Gods. I certainly liked music, and my tastes were gradually being formed, but no one was guiding me toward the kind of heaviness that Zeppelin represented. I can safely say that I had no idea that Led Zeppelin had released their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, in the spring of my second grade year.

Despite this, Robert Plant and I did share one common interest in 1973: spinning tales of the endless journeys of thousands of adventurers on some kind of mystical quest.

When school ended each day, I would wait for the old man crossing guard to part the traffic on Concord Road and I’d head down the long catwalk back into our neighborhood. As I walked, I’d often gaze at the ground and imagine that it was the terrain for some kind of epic journey being taken by massive groups of explorers or soldiers, facing danger at every turn. On rainy days, water streaming down the street would become mighty rivers on which imaginary sailors took endless, perilous journeys. Some survived, some did not, but the journey/battle/quest went on forever. At least in my mind. Each afternoon on my way home from school, I’d pick up the story where I’d left off the day before.

Though I certainly hadn’t heard the song, I was essentially acting out “No Quarter,” a dark story song from Houses of the Holy. It’s a mysterious song about a shadowy group of (presumably) men who are facing a raging snow storm and the “winds of Thor,” as they walk “side by side with death,” while “the devil mocks their every step.” The point of the march? To “carry news that must get through” and to “build a dream for me and you.”

I don’t know precisely what Plant was getting at with those lyrics, but hearing them now reminds me of those tales I’d make up during those walks home from school so long ago. Tales that existed completely in my head for more than 40 years, until I mentioned them to my wife Donna last night.

Of course, I guess Robert Plant and I both have Homer to thank for putting these kinds of stories in our heads. And in the head of any kid who ever grew up anywhere over the last few millennia.

I missed out on Houses of the Holy in 1973. When I think of the music from March 1973 that might have resonated with me, I find that it’s the soul songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 from late March of that year that feel the most foundational to my musical tastes. In short, the songs by the Spinners, Stylistics, O’Jays and so many more are the ones that I was probably hearing the most those mornings on WFIL, and they’re the ones that sank deep into me. Bands like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd–whose Dark Side of the Moon was also released in March 1973 and whose popularity has arguably eclipsed that of Houses of the Holy–would have to wait for me to catch up to them.

But I did catch up eventually. I’m sure that I had heard all eight songs from Houses of the Holy on rock stations like WMMR by the time drummer John Bonham’s death brought Zeppelin to an untimely end in 1980. I got over my fear of “heavy” music and began to dive into Zeppelin’s albums, first by borrowing them from my high school classmate Dave, and then by buying them one by one for about $5.00 at my local Listening Booth record store.

And so it was that about 10 years after its release, I heard Houses of the Holy for the first time. I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, beginning to end, but I was likely amazed at how I’d already heard every song from the LP on ‘MMR. Houses of the Holy was just that damn important to the burgeoning “classic rock” culture of the early 1980s.

I don’t know that Houses of the Holy was universally acclaimed at the time of its release, but I think it holds up well. It’s a diverse album, ranging from raging Zep stompers like “Dancing Days,” “Over The Hills and Far Away,” and “The Ocean” to the ethereal “The Rain Song,” still one of the most gorgeous songs Plant has ever sung (and dig those mellotron-generated strings!). Plus, you get a goofy reggae tribute, “D’yer Mak’er” and the James Brown parody, “The Crunge,” both rare displays of a Zeppelin sense of humor. Where is that confounded bridge, anyway?

During my college years, I was falling in love with all kinds of new music, but I wound up burrowing deeper into the classic rock canon as well. More than a few times, Houses of the Holy would be the soundtrack to college dorm backgammon matches. Yes, indeed, I knew how to party.

Houses of the Holy and I sometimes spend years apart, but every now and then I rediscover it and listen to it for days or weeks on end. This is what happened after I met an online friend named Tommy back around 2008 or thereabout. He was a big Zeppelin fan, and he reignited my love for Houses of the Holy. I never met Tommy in real life and he is now sadly gone. But I feel his presence, along with the presence of those still here–Rick and Greg from college, Dave and Joe from high school–with whom I’ve shared the mighty Houses of the Holy through the years. And even the presence of seven-year-old me, telling myself the story of “No Quarter,” as I walked home from school, long before I’d ever heard of “No Quarter,” Houses of the Holy, or even Led Zeppelin itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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