In the Days of My Youth: “Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species” documents the band’s early years

By on April 3, 2018

Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species — subtitled: “A Critical Review Of The Band’s Roots And Branches” — documents Led Zeppelin‘s early years, with a particular focus on their myriad influences all the way up to the release of their celebrated second album, 1969’s Led Zeppelin II.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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This 70-minute film from 2006 covers each band member’s journey towards the formation of Led Zeppelin, although clearly the lion’s share of the focus here is on guitarist Jimmy Page.

We learn how Page went from being a teenage skiffle-band musician and member of the obscure Neil Christian & the Crusaders, was clearly enamored with American blues greats like B.B. King — as well as with Elvis Presley‘s guitarist Scotty Moore — before he became an in-demand session guitarist who was “estimated to have played on sixty percent of the hit records that came out of London between 1963 and 1966.”

(Be sure to check out this previous Night Flight post about the time Led Zeppelin met “the King”).

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We also learn the band’s name was originally conceived by the Who‘s bassist John Entwistle, and not their drummer, Keith Moon, who usually gets the credit by saying he thought the rival British rock band would “go down like a lead balloon.”

Additionally, we learn”Led” was spelled incorrectly because the band feared American audiences would attempt to pronounce the word “lead” literally.

There’s also a segment on Robert Plant and John Bonham’s previous Midlands group, Band of Joy, who were more of a psychedelic, West Coast-influenced outfit (think Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape) who played the London club circuit opening for Ten Years After and Fairport Convention.

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Band of Joy: Kevyn Gammond, Robert Plant, John Bonham, Chris Brown and Paul Lockey

Read more about Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species below.

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Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species features rare interviews, rarely-seen photographs and fairly-obscure film footage, one example being a 14-year old Jimmy Page from the BBC’s ’50s children’s TV show, “All Your Own,” during which he explains to presenter Huw Wheldon that, even though he’s already quite a good guitarist, he didn’t plan to become a musician and had actually desired to become a biological researcher.

Speaking of Page, there’s also great footage here of Page with the Yardbirds, performing “Stroll On” from the 1966 Antonioni film Blow Up, as well as an obscure live TV performance by the Yardbirds of their 1966 song “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” one of the doc’s real highlights.

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A list of the documentary’s participants who review and comment, offering criticism and insight — breaking down each track on their first two albums and discussing them in detail — includes: Alan Clayson (author of Led Zeppelin: The Origin of the Species: How, Why, and Where It All Began and other music tomes); Chris Welch (former Melody Maker journalist); ex-1960’s NME editor Keith Altham; Yardbirds guitarist Chris Dreja; and music critics and authors Phil Sutcliff and Barney Hoskyns (Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band).

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The documentary also features interviews with numerous musicians and performers who worked with Led Zeppelin’s future members during the 1960s, including Chris Farlowe (English pop singer, best known for his #1 UK 1966 hit single “Out of Time”), Dave Berry (English pop singer and former ’60 teen idol, known for his hit “The Crying Game”), and Clem Cattini, who drummed for the Tornados before becoming a well-known session player.

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In addition to musical performances by a number of groups and artists from the pre-Led Zeppelin era, as well as a few by some of their rock contemporaries, the critics mentioned above occasionally also point out the well-documented and numerous early album plagiarisms from the band’s first two albums.

One of the best examples of such thievery is the Small Faces’’ “You Need Loving”” juxtaposed with Plant’’s vocals for “Whole Lotta Love.”

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Page and Plant also get dinged for purloining of guitar licks from blues giants like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

Page, in particular, also gets ripped a new one for ripping off British folk rockers too, like his theft of Jake Holmes’’ original “Dazed and Confused”” and Bert Jansch’s “Blackwater Side,” a folk-arranged traditional Irish instrumental which became Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side.”

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To end this blog post, we’ll focus for a sec on a truly high note for Led Zeppelin, their album track “Communication Breakdown,” which bursts forth on their 1969 debut Led Zeppelin with a heavy down-stroke guitar riff presaging the future coming of punk by seven years or so.

You read that right: Zeppelin’s June 24, 1969 studio recording of “Communication Breakdown,” all two-minutes and forty-seconds of it (lyrically alluding to Eddie Cochran’s early ’60s hit “Nervous Breakdown”), was a huge influence on bands like the Ramones in America, and the Damned in England.

Johnny Ramone, talking about the song in the documentary The Ramones: The True Story, says that he built up his own downstroke guitar style by playing the song over and over again for the bulk of his early career.

Meanwhile, Rat Scabies of the Damned told writer Barney Hoskyns, who was writing Led Zeppelin: The Oral History of the World’s Greatest Rock Band:

“I really didn’t like any of the songs that were long, but they had really cool short-riff rock songs that motored with a pretty good energy. In 1975, we might even admit that ‘Communication Breakdown’ had punk energy.”

Watch Led Zeppelin: Origin of the Species and other fascinating music documentaries over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.