Hammer of the Gods. It’s a line from a Led Zeppelin song, “Immigrant Song” from their third album. It truly was a hammer of the gods that hit me the first time I heard Led Zeppelin. I was 13. It was “Black Dog.” I had the 45 single. It was “Black Dog” on side A and “Misty Mountain Hop” on side B. These were both from Zep’s fourth album. The untitled album with the cryptic symbols and the apartment building and the man with the lantern standing on a hill on the inside album fold-out. This was the album that broke them through to even greater heights of success. It’s the one with “Stairway to Heaven,” which I read somewhere they had no idea that song, that 10 plus minute song would so big and such a hit.
But anyway, I plopped that sucker down on my little white plastic Sanyo record player, a toy really, but worked nonetheless and that sound, that Hammer of the Gods came roaring through the little 5 inch speakers like nothing I’d ever heard before.
I couldn’t believe it. Really. This is no exaggeration. It was as if God himself or herself or the ultimate creative power and fire of the universe shook my hand and said, “Yes, Bruce, there is a God and it’s Led Zeppelin. And Led Zeppelin has a bigass hammer. So watch out…”
The force of that song, “Black Dog,” the hammer and the thump of John Bonham’s drums, and the sludgy overdriven guitar from Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' supple strong bassline created a mix and a groove so strong it still rattles my bones to this day. Then you add the sundae cherry on top, Robert Plant and his very high-pitched vocals, screaming out, “Hey, hey mama said the way you move…gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove…”
Writing it out now, it’s a lot more sex-filled and viciously primal and sweaty than when I first heard it at 13. I was too enthralled with the off-beat thump and groove to be thinking of sex. Now writing it out, I can see how downright sexual the lyrics are. (Just sayin’…I was young and dumb. Ok?)
But the real kicker was the B side, “Misty Mountain Hop.” That sucker has such an amazing drum track—so bold and bad and thumpy—that it still, as with all Zeppelin, drives me up the wall with joy like some alley cat on a massive sugar high.
John Bonham wasn’t only great because he was such a powerful drummer, hitting hard and a huge bass drum boom, he was really great because he had the swing, the funk, the off-beat syncopation, like an old R&B funk soul drummer.
He really SWUNG.
I don’t think there’s any drummer in rock that swung as hard and as funky and supple and greasy as Bonham.
So listening to any Led Zeppelin song was more than just grinding overdriven rock or pretty acoustic guitar fairy Norse god shit in the hinterlands—it was rolling along on a river of boulders dancing badass with Bonham and his thunderous swinging thump.
I remember I was so blown away by “Black Dog,” I called my mother in from the other room, my jaw dropping open, just aghast at the sound coming through those little white speakers—again, no larger than 5 inches high, and the stereo couldn’t have been more than 20 watts. But the sound engulfed me. It grabbed me by the throat and the soul and shoved me down into a deep black hole of Zeppelin worship.
I painted a picture of Jimmy Page and his Les Paul guitar on the back of my jean jacket. (Or maybe I had someone else paint it. I don’t remember.) I had LED ZEPPELIN in the typography of the 4th album above an acrylic painting of Jimmy with his violin bow and Les Paul and black velvet dragon outfit and I wore that jean jacket around town like I was King of the Zeppelin Hill.
Back in the late 70’s those painted jean jackets celebrating the great rock bands were all the rage. And I just felt so downright cool and "in" with the secret of Zeppelin that I just strutted through the streets like Bonham banging his drums on “Misty Mountain Hop.”
Shit, I was bad. I knew what the hammer of the gods could do to one’s soul.