There's a famous film clip of the Beatles, newly arrived in America, riding in a limousine and listening incredulously to a transistor radio. From that tiny speaker, a strange deejay the lads had never heard of named Murray the K was anointing himself "the fifth Beatle." Since then, everyone who could've made a legitimate claim to that title did, from the Fab Four's original sacked drummer Pete Best to producer George Martin to session organist Billy Preston to loyal roadie Mal Evans.
If this notion of a "fifth" honorary member is so prevalent in one British supergroup, why in all these years has no one ever come forward and staked a claim to be the fifth Led Zeppelin? Zeppelin has sold just as many records and cast an equally long shadow over today's recording artists as the Fab Four. Quite rightly, Zep should also have an honorary fifth member who can share some of the credit for the band's remarkable success. Let's examine some possible candidates upon which we can bestow this most coveted of honors!
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are scheduled to perform on Wednesday, May 10, at America West Arena, with Tragically Hip. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Candidate: Woody Woodpecker, musical influence
Reason: A stretch? Consider this--in 1976, Jimmy Page was deeply in the throes of serious drug addiction. This may explain "For Your Life," the second cut on the band's Presence album. On this paean to the joys of cocaine, Page piles on a mountain of guitar overdubs which mimic the lovable woodpecker's distinctive laugh. A mind-numbing 54 times! Furthermore, Aerosmith's resident Page parrot Joe Perry proceeded to make a career out of Page's Woody Woodpecker fixation, starting with "Walk This Way." Heh heh heh heh heh, indeed!
Candidate: Willie Dixon, musical influence
Reason: Zep recorded more tunes by this crusty ol' black dude ("I Can't Quit You Babe," "You Shook Me") than any other. Many thought the band outright stole Dixon's "You Need Lovin'" for its biggest hit, "Whole Lotta Love." Stung by Rolling Stone's attacks that Zeppelin shortchanged its musical sources, the group covered only public-domain stuff on its next album. Later, to skirt the issue altogether, the band allotted co-writing credits to Memphis Minnie and Ritchie Valens' mother! The boys even proposed to donate proceeds of a tour to a fictitious blues museum, which they reneged on. The Back Door Man's still waiting.
Candidate: Peter Noone, musical influence
Reason: During their stints as Britain's most-sought-after session musicians in the early Sixties, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played on virtually every recording Herman's Hermits ever made. Not counting Zeppelin's own nine studio albums, the Hermits catalogue is the second-largest body of Zeppelin recordings known to man. Who could forget Page's blistering, six-second solo in "Got a Feeling"? Or Jones' slushy string arrangement on "A Kind of Hush"? It's also conceivable that the success Noone enjoyed with his limited vocal range inspired Page to make a bid for pop-singing stardom in 1965 with his lone single "She Just Satisfies." Verdict--Jimmy, you're no Herman!
Reason: If you buy into the band's mythology--and most of the insiders interviewed for Zep's unauthorized bio Hammer of the Gods do--Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham's secret pact with Beelzebub was responsible for the band's instant and massive worldwide success, and the tragedies that soon befell each member thereafter. Diehard ministers still maintain the band used backmasking on "Stairway to Heaven" to encode hidden messages like Plant singing "Here's to my sweet Satan" and "I live for Satan." Don't be surprised if, several months from now, some reverend plays Page and Plant's UnLEDded album backward and uncovers a message like "C'mon, Lucifer, double or nothing!"
Candidate: Jeff Beck, musical mentor and rival
Reason: In spring '66, Beck invited Page to join the Yardbirds--as a bassist! Problems arose when Page became second lead guitarist and upstaged the temperamental Beck. This dual-guitar dream team lasted for a handful of live shows and an appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni's swinging London thriller Blowup, in which Beck smashes up a guitar that looked like it was made of papier-mch! In '68, the two went head to head again when Page patterned Zep's first album after the Jeff Beck Group's first album, Truth. Both featured quiet, folky stuff, some sledgehammer rock and two Willie Dixon covers, with both bands trying to outshake "You Shook Me." Later, Page will, er, rearrange the riff from Beck's "Rice Pudding" for "The Ocean." Candidate: Keith Relf, musical partner in crime
Reason: The Yardbirds' lead singer gave Page an early and valuable lesson in the fine art of song stealing when the pair conspired to rip off a song from New York folk singer/songwriter Jake Holmes. Its title? "Dazed and Confused." Although the song remained the same, Relf changed the lyrics and titled the "new" work "I'm Confused." Confused? Not as much as Holmes and Relf were when Zeppelin released its debut album. Page proved he was an apt pupil by changing the title back to "Dazed and Confused," writing new lyrics again and claiming sole writing credit. Atta boy, Zoso!
Candidate: Donovan, musical influence
Reason: Despite hundreds of pre-Zep sessions Jones and Page did together, including some on the horrendous Page-led Yardbirds album Little Games, they have Donovan to thank for "Hurdy Gurdy Man," the first recording to feature what would soon be recognized the world over as Zeppelin's trademark sound. All the elements were in place: an amazingly Bonhamesque drum sound, Jones' zooming bass, Page's acid-fuzz leads and--Donovan's fey, quavering vocals? Planting seeds, no doubt.
Candidate: Richard Cole, Zeppelin's road manager
Reason: Most people assume the lads in Zep had hands-on involvement in that notorious incident in which a Zeppelin groupie was tied to a bed and fed shark meat into her vagina. Actually, it was red snapper, and even though drummer John Bonham watched the proceedings intently, it was Cole who performed the heinous deed which got Zeppelin more worldwide press than a zillion guitar overdubs or sky-high concert grosses ever did. Candidate: Joni Mitchell, musical influence
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Reason: Ms. Mitchell, more than any other artist, is responsible for bringing out the softer side of seers Page and Plant. Both men had a serious jones for Joni, lauding her records in the rock press and writing the sad and lonely ballad "Going to California" for her. But seeing as how "the queen without a king" had had relationships with Graham Nash and David Crosby, she probably wasn't too eager to hook up with any more Atlantic recording artists. Or maybe she just didn't like red snapper.
Candidate: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's manager Reason: Because he'll beat you to a bloody pulp, that's why. It's quite an achievement that the hefty Peter Grant managed to put the fear of Zeppelin, four scrawny guys from England, into an industry already overrun with crooks, felons, sharks and cutthroats. Besides receiving an executive producer credit on all the Zep albums, he also merited a dream sequence in the band's unwatchable flick The Song Remains the Same. What with aery fairy Plant clutching castle walls, Jones reading his kids bedtime stories, Bonham feeding cows and Page acting like a hermit, Grant gave the film its only breath of life--five minutes of him dressed as a mobster emptying bullets into a business associate's office. Candidate: Elvis Presley
Reason: Since the band's earliest days, Plant has been working on a side career as an Elvis impersonator, sticking off-the-cuff versions of "That's All Right (Mama)" into encores, and practicing his lip tremble in the studio with Pelvis salutes like "Candy Store Rock" and "Hot Dog." At his first live performance after the group's demise, Plant performed Elvis' "Little Sister." When the King first met Zeppelin, the boys offered to write material for him and back him up, anticipating the novelty group Dread Zeppelin by about ten years. Sadly, the King never took up their offer, though he did give them each some gold watches and walked them to their limo when they visited Graceland--wearin' just his bathrobe! Red and Sonny said he never done that for nobody!
Candidate: John Baldwin
Reason: Hey--wait a minute! That's John Paul Jones! Still, you'd never know he was a founding member of Led Zeppelin the way Page and Plant have been carrying on in the rock press for their current tour and album. These two hogging all the credit for Led Zeppelin is not so far removed from the band's heyday, when Page forbade the lighting crew to give Jonesy or Bonzo a spotlight onstage. They even had the cheek to name this project after Jones' old showcase No Quarter. Perhaps the title explains why they failed to ring up Jones to inform him of their intentions!