Friday, December 16, 2022

Celebrate: Celebration Day

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

One of the joys of having written for Star Maker Machine since 2011 is that one week I can write about Lene Lovich, a quirky singer with niche recognition, and the next week I can discuss Led Zeppelin, one of the most successful, well-known and mighty rock bands of all time. (In fact, my first ever piece, a holiday post about The Roches’ version of “Deck The Halls,” was published as a guest post by former moderator Darius almost exactly 11 years ago, using my former pseudonym). 

In 2014, I wrote a piece for a Thanksgiving-related “Pilgrims and Immigrants” theme about Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song,” and mentioned how seeing the oft-maligned (including by members of the band) movie, The Song Remains The Same, turned me from a Zeppelin skeptic to a fan, based mostly on the power of the live performances in the movie (which, I know, weren’t their best work. Still.....) And one of the songs that caused this change was the live version of “Celebration Day,” which was from the band’s 1973 shows at Madison Square Garden. It was on the soundtrack album, but not in the movie, but I saw the movie once and played the soundtrack many, many times. Certainly now, it’s all kind of mushed together in my mind. That’s why I’ve linked to the soundtrack album, and not Led Zeppelin III, where the song originally appeared. 

Another thing to celebrate about writing for SMM is how much I’ve learned about music because I (usually) do research on the music and bands that I write about. Not research like I did for my college thesis or for a legal brief, but I do read stuff. And one of the things that I learned about “Celebration Day,” is that Robert Plant’s lyrics were inspired by his first impressions of New York City. Which immediately makes the song better, in my mind. Just a brief aside—I worked in New York City for most of my career, and my last office was near Rockefeller Center, so that at this time of year, I usually walked by the big tree, dodging annoying tourists. And after doing that for years, you can get jaded. But for the last almost 10 years, I’ve been working in Westchester County, only occasionally going into the city for work, and I kind of miss it. The other night, I went to a holiday party for my old firm, in Rockefeller Center, and walked by the big tree again, dodging happy tourists, and it was fun. It is a beautiful tree, and everyone seemed so excited to see it and be near it and take pictures of it. And I did, too. 

OK, back to “Celebration Day.” Not knowing that the song was about New York, the part that jumped out at me is when Plant sings, 

My, my, my, I'm so happy 
I'm gonna join the band 
We gonna dance and sing in celebration 
We are in the promised land 

I took that to mean that the song was about Plant’s joy in being in the band (but not the Band of Joy), and maybe that’s part of it. 

Then there’s the music. The great producer Rick Rubin said that the song “feels like a freight train, even though it’s not one of their heavier songs.” Not surprisingly, Rubin is right. Jimmy Page’s guitar is incredible, John Paul Jones’ bass is amazing, and John Bonham was his usual brilliant on the drums. 

So, most rock lovers know that Led Zeppelin basically disbanded after the Bonham’s death in 1980. Although there were occasional reunions of the survivors after that, the last one was in 2007, at a concert celebrating the late Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of Atlantic Records, Led Zep’s label (and my ultimate boss for the summer that I worked at Atlantic). That performance, which featured Jason Bonham on drums, was filmed and recorded, and both the movie and soundtrack album were released (but not until 2012) with the title Celebration Day, although our featured song doesn’t actually appear.