Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Track Attack- "Tangerine" (Led Zeppelin, 1970)

(Welcome to "Track Attack", where each Tuesday a "new" song will be reviewed. Anything is fair-game for this feature, from 50s rockabilly to 70s disco, 90s shoegaze, or 2000s freak-folk. With all the recent attention paid to the reissuing of Led Zeppelin's monolithic first three albums and lead singer Robert Plant prepping a new record entitled Lullaby And... The Ceaseless Roar, now is as good a time as any to take a look back at a relatively overlooked track from the band's third LP.)

I say "relatively overlooked" in the prologue because nothing was really overlooked during Zeppelin's lifespan. Every song, every 15 minute drum solo, every cringe worthy aside, every divisive review, every allegation of Satanism and every shark-filled "sexcapade" has been: examined, reexamined, and parodied so often that the analysis of "there's nothing left to be said" is stale. They're the largest rock group we've seen this side of the Beatles and in many ways they're more enormous because there's no unanimity in their reception. If you pressure anyone long enough, they'll part with a Fab Four song they like. Not so with Zeppelin. There are easily as many people who'd just as soon never hear "Stairway to Heaven" again as there are that play air-guitar alongside Page when his mythic solo comes to a head. That division inspires debate which ensures the band's work will never stop being talked about.

It's utterly bizarre then that such a massive band would record such a diminutive tune. Even for the reverent folk of their third LP, composed at the tranquil cottage of Bron-Yr-Aur in Gwynedd, Wales, "Tangerine" stands out as a moment of astonishing placidity. With the band nearing their zenith of commercial relevancy, Led Zeppelin III acted as a counterbalance. Largely gone were ragers reminiscent of : "Dazed and Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love"; in their place leisurely slid sunny day tracks like "That's The Way" which has been compared to a Cat Stevens song. Working for the first time as a full-fledged democracy, they were attempting to drown out ceaseless noise with stark silence. 

Zeppelin would need cooperation from all members of the unruly crew to compose something in the vein of "Tangerine". If each member was left to their own devices, it would be utter chaos. Robert Plant's baby making wail would begin instantaneously. Jimmy Page would solo uncontrollably. John Paul Jones' bass would rumble like a '57 Cadillac engine on the verge of a blowout. And John Bonham would race to see if his wrists or drumsticks would break first. 

None of that happens on "Tangerine". In fact, nothing happens during the beginning of the song. Page lazily plots out an acoustic melody, before completely abandoning it. What follows is surely the longest stretch of unadulterated silence in their 12 year career. Only 6 seconds in length it feels like 6 life times. When Page returns with his minor key 12-string figure, which vaguely informs "Stairway"'s own riff, there's a nagging urge to celebrate. Which lasts right up to the point where Plant's aching mewl wafts in. Plant is a master of shaking his voice until you can almost hear change falling out and "Tangerine" serves as vital support to that thesis. Over a buttery pedal steel guitar part, Jones' quiet humming and Bonham's restrained drum fills, Plant's voice quivers in the chorus as he recalls the dreamlike Tangerine. It's long been alleged Page wrote the sentimental lyrics as an ode to pop singer and former writing partner Jackie DeShannon after their relationship ended in 1965. However, there's more universality to his words. "Tangerine"'s for anyone who has ever wondered if a former love still thinks about them too. It's for those who feel sadness in summertime instead of unmitigated joy. (After all it is the season of sweltering heat where days never seem to end and relationships falter without school to prop them up.) The mythos of Led Zeppelin may be alien to mere mortals, but songs like "Tangerine" are crushingly familiar.

If you'd like to make a suggestion for a future installment of Track Attack feel free to leave it in the comment section.

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