Tag Archives: whatisandwhatshouldneverbe

Bass Line #6: Led Zeppelin – What Is and What Should Never Be

A note: I’ve been neglecting this category as of late, but I’m going to try and post more here, as I don’t want any of you thinking I’ve somehow lost my love for the bass. Hardly. I’ve just run out of free time to write, but I hope to rectify this going forward into 2014.

A lot of my friends including John, my right-hand man at TGTF, were surprised to learn I am a diehard Led Zeppelin fan. I think it comes with the territory of growing up with an older brother: if you’re a music fan when you’re little and your older sibling(s) are listening to good music, there is no question, you will pick this music up through osmosis.

I had to be about the strangest 8-year girl in my class: when asked who was my favourite band, I would say Led Zeppelin, which would bring horror to the teachers and a look of confusion to the other students. Looking back at it now, I have to laugh: at the time, I didn’t understand the sexual innuendo splayed all over my still favourite album ‘Physical Graffiti’ (and most of their music, eh?), so I had no idea why I was getting funny looks from the adults!

What’s odd is that years later, my brother doesn’t even listen to them anymore – I’m the owner of a bunch of his Led Zep CDs that he no longer wanted when he moved out – but I’ve stayed true. My collection of miscellaneous Led Zeppelin paraphernalia – CDs, books, magazines, backpack patches – is only rivalled by my Beatles collection.

As a bass player, I’m very impressed with what John Paul Jones’ musicianship while he was in Led Zeppelin. Naturally, it was the charisma of singer Robert Plant and the showmanship (and to some extent, his just plain weirdness in his interest in the occult) of Jimmy Page that made the two of them the stars of the band. While the band still existed, even John Bonham had a higher profile than Jones, simply because of his drunken antics. But at the same time, I think it speaks to Jones’ own security in his talent he never felt he needed to step out and be the star or a star of Led Zeppelin. He did so much in the band, being probably the best multi-instrumentalist of the last 50 years, as well as being an amazing composer. Some people seem to forget this in light of the legendary onstage pomp of Page and Plant. So in my own little way, this is my homage to the great unsung hero of Led Zeppelin.

There are tons of examples of great bass lines from their back catalogue. The obvious one would be ‘Whole Lotta Love’; it came as a great shock to me when I began playing bass that, whoa, wait a minute, THAT line is the bass? It’s not Jimmy Page? Seriously? But I don’t want to be obvious today. No, I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘Led Zeppelin II’ lately, owing to my need to get out some, er, stress in my working life and ‘II’ is brilliant for this purpose. ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ is the chillest of the chill, until you get to the chorus, and it’s what Jones does before that point as the perfect foil to Plant’s wandering voice that I love. I’ve never even attempted to learn this song, because, well, you’ll see below watching the cover in the embed below, it’s so fast. For those people who say bass isn’t hard, think again.

Below I’ve got for you an extremely good, near perfect bass cover I found, along with the band’s performance of the song at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. Oh, if I was only alive back then to see them live!