Saturday, March 23, 2002

BBC - Balk Being Conventional

On this day in 1969, British radio presenter John Peel aired a session by the one pop band perhaps least interested in traditional pop success, Led Zeppelin.

The band, which had not released any singles within England since forming late the previous year, was finally receiving some airplay from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Three songs recorded in March 3 sessions for the BBC were aired on Peel's radio show, Top Gear. Those three takes on the songs -- "You Shook Me," "Dazed and Confused" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" -- all "went into the red," so to speak.

Whereas the customary length of a single is within three minutes, the shortest one of these Led Zeppelin tracks was four minutes and 22 seconds. The longest, "Dazed and Confused," was six minutes and 29 seconds, which exceeded the version on Led Zeppelin's debut album by only three seconds.

Despite the British blues boom spearheaded in 1968 by such bands as Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull, the British airwaves in 1969 rarely contained anything more experimental in blues-rock music.

Thanks to BBC presenters like Peel and Pete Drummond, rock music was getting at least some exposure on the otherwise strict British radio format.

"It's only John Peel and that other guy, Pete Drummond, who can play any of the good stuff," said Jimmy Page said in an interview slamming British radio. "The BBC have effectively killed the progress of 'underground' music."

Beginning in September 1966, Drummond had been a presenter for the pirate station Radio London until the station was closed on Aug. 14, 1967. More information on him -- and his final broadcast for Radio London, are available when you visit

Listeners to Top Gear heard six-and-a-half minutes of "Dazed and Confused," complete with its instrumental break during which Page attacked and ground his guitar with a violin bow. This was anything but conventional British radio.

The other two songs aired were the album's two blues standards. They were written by Willie Dixon, the noted songwriter and bass player whose music was recorded in the 1950s by such blues singers as Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Milton, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters, to name a few.

Robert Plant showed he knew his history. As an impromptu utterance, during "I Can't Quit You Baby," he sang a verse from Waters's tune, "19 Years Old."

The band's take of Dixon's "You Shook Me" was a bit shorter than the album version, with John Paul Jones' organ and Plant's harmonica solos combined into one 12-bar blues repetition instead of two repetitions.

Either the BBC as a whole was getting more used to groundbreaking music, or a few individuals were making moves to be more accepting of challenging progressive formats.

After Led Zeppelin's initial session at the BBC's Maida Vale studio on March 3, the band was invited back to London two weeks later for an additional pair of BBC appearances.

On March 19, AM radio's World Service R&B aired new Led Zeppelin takes of their album's two Willie Dixon blues numbers, "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "You Shook Me." In addition, the program contained an unreleased catchy blues-rock tune called "Sunshine Woman." Its lyrics were culled from various sources such as Robert Johnson and Sleepy John Estes. The track contained a harmonica solo from Plant, a piano solo from Jones and a guitar solo from Page.

On March 21, Led Zeppelin appeared live on BBC 2's late night TV show, How Late It Is. Performing the B-side of the U.S. single, "Communication Breakdown," it turned out to be the band's one and only live U.K. television appearance. Sadly, the clip may have been erased, as the BBC did not always keep tapes of its broadcasts. It could not be found in 1982 when it was to be shown on the program Pop Quiz.

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