It’s a Led Zeppelin rip-off.
But didn’t Led Zeppelin rip off Willie Dixon and the rest of the bluesmeisters?
If you lived through that era, you will instantly hear mid-period Zeppelin, complete with Robert Plant screams. Then you remember that was 45 years ago! About the same distance, if not longer, that Zeppelin was removed from the classic delta blues artists.
It starts off as homage. Then you take off from there. Think about all the covers on the initial Beatle albums!
If this was released in 1972, it would be immediately dismissed as a pale imitation, like Klaatu.
But it’s 2017.
And rock is nowhere to be heard on the chart. It’s an ancient sound that appeals mostly to aficionados. We’ve been waiting for someone young to jump off of classic rock, could Great Van Fleet be that band?
The thing is, if you listen, and you should, you’ll be astounded that the songs are good. Full of hooks that make you want to listen to them again. And again. And that’s the essence of music, not radically different from Boston’s debut, which was a distillation of all that had come before, even Zeppelin’s dynamics, the shift from electric to acoustic and then back again. And I’ll argue that Boston was more innovative than Greta Van Fleet, but the guys in Greta Van Fleet are younger, and there’s that multi-decade distance.
Now it’s not like Greta Van Fleet is completely unknown, it’s just that they haven’t broken through. Their EP was released back in April, the day before my birthday, and they were even Apple Music’s new artist of the week, but the band hasn’t penetrated the public consciousness, they’re just playing clubs, they’re readily available, but most of the potential audience is clueless.
But how big is that audience?
We certainly know being the artist of the week at Apple Music is worthless. I’d say that every little bit helps, but the truth is Greta Van Fleet is gonna break on word of mouth, but how big will that word of mouth be?
Now Led Zeppelin’s debut came out in January ’69 and was not an instant smash. It wasn’t until late spring that there even started to be a buzz. And they were still an underground thing until the end of October of that same year, 1969, when “Whole Lotta Love” emerged on the AM airwaves and Led Zeppelin instantly became the biggest band in the land, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “II.”
But “Whole Lotta Love” nicked from the aforementioned Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love.”
Now I’m not one of those people who denigrate Zeppelin because of their appropriations, I might decry the lack of credit they gave to the writers, but I’ll argue some of their best material was wholly original, like “Kashmir” and “Ten Years Gone” from “Physical Graffiti,” and the truth is there’s very little truly original stuff out there, and we’ve become too lawsuit happy, come on, giving Tom Petty credit on that Sam Smith song, that’s a bridge too far.
So who knows what Greta Van Fleet will develop into.
But what we’ve got so far…
First and foremost it’s a four song EP. Which is just perfect. There’s not a loser in the collection, you only want to hear MORE in an era where you’re overwhelmed and want to hear LESS. The music is instantly comprehensible.
But the problem is today when you check out a band you listen to the initial track and if that doesn’t reach you, you abandon it, I did, but the heart of the EP is the middle, the two tracks sandwiched in the center.
The opener, “Highway Tune” has got no melody, it’s got the building blocks of Zeppelin, but it’s sans the obvious hooks in…
“Safari Song,” which grabs you by the throat from the beginning and won’t let go, with the riff and the scream and the drums, you cannot sit still as it plays, your head starts banging to the groove, if you’re an oldster you start to smile, this is a sound you’ve been hankering for. Hard rock is thrash, it’s moved to far from the essence, but “Safari Song”…that riff, it’s enough, but there’s so much more. Really. Check this out.
And I’ll argue the follow-up, “Flower Power,” is even better. It’s more hypnotic, more melodic, something that even non-hard rock fans can appreciate, not quite “Thank You,” but still… It would sound perfect on the radio…
If radio still played this stuff. If we lived in 1973 instead of 2017.
There’s nowhere for Greta Van Fleet to fit.
And there was nowhere for Led Zeppelin I to fit in ’69. Sure, some free-format stations aired the album, but most markets did not have such outlets. It wasn’t until the seventies that you got alternative stuff on the FM in the secondaries.
Today, we live in a land dominated by hip-hop and pop. It’d be like playing Jimi Hendrix in between Tony Orlando and the Osmonds. No way.
But it’s “Purple Haze” we remember most.
Because some sounds are undeniable.
If you listen to Greta Van Fleet’s EP “Black Smoke Rising,” you’ll either immediately turn it off or be hooked. And if you’re hooked, you won’t stop playing it and you won’t stop talking about it, telling others.
Happened to me.
I was worked a couple of months back, not by Jason Flom, whose label it’s on, but by listeners. But I couldn’t get past the initial track. But I got an e-mail from Jeff Laufer testifying about the EP, and he listens to everything new and I trust his taste, so I pulled it up again last night and it took everything in my power to not crack my laptop and tell you about it then.
And the funny thing is, it sounds just as good today, I’ve got no remorse.
So what happens now?
It takes longer than ever for a track to break through the clutter, which is so deep that anybody who tells you they know what’s going on is lying.
And you’ve got to start with tracks like the ones on “Black Smoke Rising,” those that are undeniable.
And then you have to wait.
I’m not saying that a label push is irrelevant, it just has little effect. It’s gonna be a long hard road to supernova.
But I think it’s gonna come.
They’ve been at it for five years. This is not a record made by amateurs.
And the producers are unknown to me. It’s everything it should be. New music made by a new generation, completely free from the constraints of the legacy players.
If you’ve still got a big rig… Stream the tracks through those two or three way speakers, crank it up, and you’ll know what it was like in the seventies. When music was everything, when it clouded out everything else, when it existed in its own private vacuum, completely separate from the rest of the world, which is one of the reasons we were drawn to it.
There’s no place for Greta Van Fleet in today’s world, which is part of what makes their EP so magical.
Active Rock rocks harder and is irrelevant. It’s noise for a club if you’re not a member you don’t want to be in.
Classic Rock stations are just that, Greta Van Fleet is too young.
As for Top Forty, forget it.
But that could all change. Because you play Greta Van Fleet and it reacts. Come on, can you imagine hearing “Safari Song” come out of the car speaker, YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO TURN IT OFF! You’d be pissed it ended. You’d drive straight to the record store to buy it!
But that’s not the way it is anymore.
Today you go directly to streaming services, and that’s where you hear it first.
Now I’m hipping you at the absolute beginning. “Highway Tune” has 2.6 million streams on Spotify, which is a pittance. The other four tracks haven’t even cracked a million. And on YouTube, the numbers are even less. All those people fighting Google’s video service are missing the point, music doesn’t live there, it’s dying there, it’s all about music-only streaming services.
As for the numbers on Apple Music…who knows, they don’t release them.
But the truth is the button is just waiting to be pushed.
And you’ve got your finger on it.
If you get it, and many of you will, you’ll tell everybody you know.
And who knows, going to a Greta Van Fleet show could be like the old days, no dancing, no special effects, only music.
And remember, rock went stratospheric as a result of Englishmen addicted to old, forgotten blues records.
Now rock has been forgotten.
Maybe Greta Van Fleet can bring it back!