David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 289: Led Zeppelin (Carouselambra)

October 6, 2023

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, West Virginia University had a music room in the Mountainlair, the central student services/student hang-out place on the main campus. A small room with barely any signage, I only stumbled upon it by accident. I certainly don't remember it being featured in any freshman orientation.

Basically, students hung out in comfortable chairs and couches, listening to requested albums. The few times I went there, I found the crowd heavily into hard and psychedelic rock, with Pink Floyd, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin more likely to be played than The Cars, Elvis Costello, or Blondie. It's not that I disliked the usual playlists, but I quickly found myself getting into stupid arguments with other guys (and, yes, as you can imagine, the gathering was almost all males) that propagate among music nerds.

Led Zeppelin was always the best example. Houses Of The Holy seemed the frequently played choice (I have to admit, I am not sure I ever noticed if the same one or two losers kept coming and, thus, kept dominating the jukebox-feel of the room), even though that was seven years old by 1980. I, at least, tried to urge In Through The Out Door, which was still Zeppelin's latest release. Begrudgingly, the Zep-heads in the room agreed, mainly because they wanted to hear "In The Evening," the album's opening track. However, by the time the album descended (and I am sure that is the word they wanted to use) into the poppier songs that John Paul Jones and Robert Plant stuck on the middle of Side One, they were already screaming for a substitute album.

"What about 'Carouselambra?'" I'd mutter. The opening track on Side Two seemed one of the more interesting things I had ever heard from Zeppelin. "Sheesh, that Jones' piece of cap!" the greaser next to me would say, "Page doesn't even like most of this album." (Years later, with a little foresight, I might have countered with "what does a heroin addict know?" but I am kind of glad I didn't know that.)

"Carouselambra" is one of those long songs Zeppelin were so famous for, eventually the second longest (non-live) recording in their canon. And when one characterizes Zep's songs as "long," one pretty much means self-indulgent and pretentious. Perhaps "Carouselambra" dabbled in that same territory, but for one once the synthesizer riff exploded off the vinyl as Side Two kicked off, it grabbed me by my throat and never let go. Was it the synthesizer that pissed off all the Led-Heads? It wasn't like Led Zeppelin were Queen, who at this time were still printing on their album jackets, "No Synths!" Jones had been bringing intriguing keyboards to the band's songs for years, whether mellotron or clavinet, so what's the big deal about a ten-and-a-half minute song built around a dance-able synthesizer riff?

Oh, that's right. "Dance-able." Not a word usually associated with the deeply blues-influenced rock of Led Zeppelin. This is music to lay down and smoke pot to, not get up and dance to. And in that music room, where all of us pretended to be reviewing our sociology class notes, there were a lot of guys just hanging out high.

So, arguing with them was useless.

If I could have gotten these guys to listen long enough, I could have engaged them in analysis of the Page-infused middle part of the 10 and 1/2 minute song, where the double-necked guitar most famously linked to him in stage performances gets a pretty nifty workout, emotional riffs accompanied by the moaning of Plant. Besides, Page was using a gizmotron, the most Don Martinesque named piece of musical equipment ever. Distortion! Now, that is a Page out of the Led Zeppelin playbook, right, you stoner?

Would we have gotten very deep into Robert Plant's lyrics? Does any Zeppelin fan really care about the lyrics as long as Plant is moaning a lot? We have more than 10 minutes of Plant moaning here, a lot of "uh-uhs" and "ohs." Honestly, give up the schtick, Robert. Overall, the lyrics, through Plant's singing, are really buried in the mix, difficult to discern, much like any conversation attempted while riding a carousel, the allusion the band was making through the song's mouthful of a title. The lyrics appear to mimic Plant's usual lyrical wanderings: bows, armor, fables. He and Jones have said since the band broke up that Plant was writing about the dissolution of the band at the time, he and Jones working hard on the music, Page and Bonham working hard on the partying. Or maybe Plant was off on one of his sexual fantasies, what else do I make of what appears to be the final lines: "take off the fruit/but guard the seed."

I mean, come on, there is so much my hard rock couch neighbor and I could discuss if he only would have allowed Side Two to be played. Alas, they never did, and I eventually found myself in other dens of potential sin (all at the Mountainlair): The Blue Tick Tavern, or the pool hall, or the cafeteria playing 20 Questions. Now that is the kind of decadence rock stars dream of.

Led Zeppelin. "Carouselambra." In Through The Out Door. Swan Song, 1979. Link here.

Day 288: Green Day "Longview"

Day 290: The Smithereens "Behind The Wall Of Sleep"

See complete list here.