Hear Led Zeppelin’s First Recorded Concert Ever (1968)

It’s December, 1968. You’re a teenaged kid in Spokane, Washington, keen to see Vanilla Fudge—or “The Vanilla Fudge,” as the promoter calls them—at Gonzaga University’s Kennedy Pavilion, and… what’s this? The opening act is “Len Zefflin?” Who the hell is that?

Maybe you’re hip, like Bob Gallagher, who knew Jimmy Page from the Yardbirds and looked forward to catching his new band. Maybe not. Maybe, like Kerry Whitsitt, you’re hoping “the first band wouldn’t stay on stage too long.” You know how it is… opening bands….

But then Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones take the stage, and like Jeff “Tor” Nadeau, you look around to find the house “universally mind-blown” by “the most stunning and awesome sound ever.” And like Kerry, you don’t “want them to leave the stage—ever!”


These then-teenage fans’ reminisces of this historic show, only the fifth of Led Zeppelin’s first U.S. tour, come courtesy of the Zeppelin website's description of the mistakenly billed “Len Zefflin”’s earliest recorded concert, which you can hear in its entirety above, thanks to an enterprising young student who brought his tape recorder.

The band’s first album---Led Zeppelin---wouldn’t hit stores for another three weeks. The kids haven’t heard anything like this before: Bonham’s explosive fills, Plant’s high-pitched harmonizing to “Page’s pipe-wrench riffs.” By the time Zeppelin left the stage, Bob Gallagher and his buddies were “flabbergasted.” And “when Vanilla Fudge came on, they were so sleepy. It was like, after that, psychedelia was dead and heavy metal was born, all in a three-hour show.” Poor Vanilla Fudge.

The raw, two-track tape recording of that frigid winter show has circulated for thirty years in various bootleg forms, but it’s new to Youtube, new to me, and maybe new to you too. Listen to it and see if you can’t conjure some of those lucky audience-members’ awe in that moment of discovery, when heavy metal was born from the blues. The full tracklist of the show is below. For the full experience, see the Youtube page to read a transcription of Robert Plant's between-song stage patter.

01 - Train Kept A Rollin' [0:00]
02 - I Can't Quit You [2:32]
03 - As Long As I Have You (incl Fresh Garbage / Shake / Hush) [9:15]
04 - Dazed And Confused [17:52]
05 - White Summer [27:43]
06 - How Many More Times (incl The Hunter) [34:31]
07 - Pat's Delight [50:07]

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Animated Life Lesson from Auschwitz: Make Sure All of Your Words Could Be Your Very Last

In 2008 composer Benjamin Zander gave a TED Talk called "The Transformative Power of Classical Music". Despite the title, the talk ended with some thoughts on the power of words. Year later, those poignant remarks have been animated by Seesaw Studios. Just a little something to contemplate as you start your day.

J.R.R. Tolkien Snubs a German Publisher Asking for Proof of His “Aryan Descent” (1938)

J R R Tolkien

As you'd expect from a man who had to create, in painstaking detail, all the races that populate Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien had little time for simple racism. He had especially little time for the highest-profile simple racism of his day, the wave of anti-Jewish sentiment on which Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party rode straight into the Second World War. His first novel The Hobbit, predecessor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, first appeared in 1937, a time when the situation in Europe had turned ominous indeed, and would get far uglier still. It didn't take long after the book's initial success for Berlin publisher Rütten & Loening to express their interest in putting out a German edition, but first — in observance, no doubt, of the Third Reich's dictates — they asked for proof of Tolkien's "Aryan descent." The author drafted two replies, the less civil of which reads as follows:

25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford 

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and 

remain yours faithfully,

J. R. R. Tolkien

"I have in this war a burning private grudge  against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler," Tolkien wrote to his son Michael three years later, by which time the war had reached a new height. "Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

He had already faced German forces in combat during his service in World War I, and had almost became one of World War II's codebreakers after the British Foreign Office's cryptographic department brought the possibility to him in early 1939. He did not, in the event, participate directly in the conflict, but he did leave behind an uncommonly eloquent paper trail documenting his stance of unambiguous antipathy for the Nazis and their ideology.

For more such fascinating perspectives vouchsafed to history through the mail, do have a look at Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, the brand new book from the site of the same name. Tolkien's letter above comes from it, as do many of the illuminating missives we've featured here before — and, without a doubt, those we'll continue to feature in the future.

Want to download a Tolkien audio book for free? Start a 30-day free trial with Audible.com and you can download one of his major works in unabridged format. You can keep the book regardless of whether you continue with their great program or not. There are no strings attached.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Meet Carol Kaye, the Unsung Bassist Behind Your Favorite 60s Hits

Carol Kaye: you may not recognize her name but chances are you're familiar with her work.

Now 81, the lady has laid down some deeply iconic bass tracks in a career spanning 55 years and something in the neighborhood of 10,000 recording sessions.

Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright"?

The Beach Boys hits "Help Me, Rhonda," "Sloop John B," and "California Girls." 

The theme song to The Brady Bunch?

Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"?!?

Holy cow, talk about something to tell the grandkids.

Her interview for a never completed documentary above left me with none of the melancholy I felt on behalf of the under-recognized back up singers populating the recent film Twenty Feet from Stardom. This may be due to some rock and roll gender inequality. The girls far outnumber the boys in the ranks of backing vocals, where looks play an undeniable part, at least when the band's out on the road. Kaye's contributions occurred in the recording studio. She appears plenty content to have numbered among an elite team of hard working, clean living Los Angeles session musicians.

Unsurprisingly, she was one of a very few women in the field, though girls, take note: her website has 115 playing tips for fledgling bass players. Boys are free to take note too…

Now that you've "discovered" this legend, may we suggest setting an hour aside to get to know her better in the longer interview below? Also make sure you see our related post: 7 Female Bass Players Who Helped Shape Modern Music: Kim Gordon, Tina Weymouth, Kim Deal & More

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hear John Lennon Sing Home Demo Versions of “She Said, She Said,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “Don’t Let Me Down”

John Lennon was an inveterate archivist of sound and image, documenting his life in whatever medium he had available to him and leaving behind acres of tape for friends and fans to discover. Lennon’s tapes comprise hundreds of hours of song sketches, full demos, conversations, jokes, and, as Yoko Ono puts it in her intro to The Lost Lennon Tapes, some “pretty personal stuff.” The Lost Lennon Tapes was a radio series that aired between 1988 and 1992, presenting over two hundred hours of archival Lennon audio in 219 episodes. Hosted by Lennon’s friend Elliot Mintz, the series gave listeners an intimate look into John’s creative process through demos like that above, a 1966 series of sketches that would become Revolver’s “She Said, She Said.”

In this recording, Lennon, alone with a jangly guitar, works out the now-familiar chord progressions and vocal melodies of the song in several different iterations—and with some quirky lyrical variants (“She’s making me feel like my trousers are torn”). We get to hear the song evolve in several stages, from its bouncy two-chord beginnings to its final, Eastern-inspired form. The demo also provides evidence of the song’s conceptual origins; in the first couple versions, you can hear Lennon sing “he said” instead of “she.” The “he” refers to Peter Fonda, who inspired the song by freaking Lennon out during an acid trip, uttering what became the song's first line, “I know what it’s like to be dead.”

Just above you can hear several different 1966 home demo takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” with John singing over a lone electric guitar. Lennon stops and starts several times, then, at 1:55, finds his groove and plays the whole song through. Next, we hear a run-through with added Mellotron, that odd early proto-synthesizer that lent the final George Martin-produced version so much of its distinctive sound. Finally, at 6:15, hear one of the very first demo recordings of the song—a beautiful solo acoustic version recorded in Almeria, Spain. In the prominent guitar, we hear the strange, serpentine chord pattern that gives the song such a haunting feel. Lennon began composing the song in Spain while filming his scenes for Richard Lester’s How I Won the War.

Paul McCartney once called Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down” a “genuine plea” to Yoko, interpreting the song as John saying “I’m really just letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.” The Beatles recorded several versions of the song for the Let it Be sessions and released it as a B side to the “Get Back” single in 1969, though Phil Spector eventually dropped the song from Let it Be. McCartney restored it to his re-release of the album, Let it Be… Naked, in which he stripped the songs of Spector’s studio effects. Above, hear “Don’t Let Me Down” at its most stripped-down in a 1968 home demo. Just Lennon with his acoustic guitar, quietly strumming out his bluesy love tune, a stark contrast to the screaming rocker the song would become.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

German String Quartet Performs Vivaldi & Mozart in Delightfully Comical & Acrobatic Routine

Making the rounds on the internet is this performance by the German string quartet Salut Salon. Featuring Angelika Bachmann (violin), Iris Siegfried (violin and vocals), Anne-Monika von Twardowski (piano) and Sonja Lena Schmid (cello), the quartet knows "better than any other chamber music ensemble how to seduce their audience with passionate virtuosity, instrumental acrobatics, charm and a great sense of fun." Above you can get your week started by watching them perform a mash-up of Vivaldi, Mozart, and Kurt Weill. And to keep your day going, you can always watch 2Cellos banging out a version of Guns N’ Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" and this 14-year-old girl playing a blistering heavy metal performance of Vivaldi. Enjoy.

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Piketty’s Capital in a Nutshell

piketty cover

It's hard to fathom, but somehow Thomas Piketty's 696-page book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is No. 1 on the Amazon bestseller list. It's a serious economics book that takes a long, hard look at the dynamics affecting the distribution of capital, the concentration of wealth, and the long-term evolution of inequality in advanced economies. Not exactly light reading. And yet it's outselling Michael Lewis' Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (a lighter, more colorful study of the inequalities in the financial system); Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (the newly-named winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction); and even The Little Golden Book version of Disney's Frozen.

So what's the book all about? One way to answer that question is to read the introduction to Capital, which you can find on the Harvard University Press website. There Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, gets right into the heart of the questions he's  trying to answer in Capital:

The distribution of wealth is one of today’s most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality and greater harmony among the classes, as Simon Kuznets thought in the twentieth century? What do we really know about how wealth and income have evolved since the eighteenth century, and what lessons can we derive from that knowledge for the century now under way?

As for the answers, those are pretty well explained in a digest by the Harvard Business Review. Summarizing the book's argument, HBR writes:

Capital (which by Piketty’s definition is pretty much the same thing as wealth) has tended over time to grow faster than the overall economy. Income from capital is invariably much less evenly distributed than labor income. Together these amount to a powerful force for increasing inequality. Piketty doesn’t take things as far as Marx, who saw capital’s growth eventually strangling the economy and bringing on its own collapse, and he’s witheringly disdainful of Marx’s data-collection techniques. But his real beef is with the mainstream economic teachings that more capital and lower taxes on capital bring faster growth and higher wages, and that economic dynamism will automatically keep inequality at bay. Over the two-plus centuries for which good records exist, the only major decline in capital’s economic share and in economic inequality was the result of World Wars I and II, which destroyed lots of capital and brought much higher taxes in the U.S. and Europe. This period of capital destruction was followed by a spectacular run of economic growth. Now, after decades of peace, slowing growth, and declining tax rates, capital and inequality are on the rise all over the developed world, and it’s not clear what if anything will alter that trajectory in the decades to come.

As for how this impacts life in the U.S., HBR summarizes Piketty's argument as follows:

On this side of the Atlantic, wealth and income were less concentrated in the 19th century than in Europe. After a spike in top incomes that topped out in the late 1920s, the income distribution flattened out here again, albeit in less dramatic fashion than in Europe. Since the 1970s, though, the U.S. has seen a sharp and unparalleled increase in the percentage of income going to the top 1% and especially 0.1%. This has not been driven by the capital and inheritance dynamics at the heart of Piketty’s story. He attributes it instead to the rise of what he calls “supermanagers.” Piketty cites recent research that shows managers and financial professionals making up 60% of the top 0.1% of the income distribution in the U.S., and proposes that their skyrocketing pay is mainly the product of sharp declines in top marginal tax rates that made it worth managers’ while to bargain harder for raises. This isn’t the only explanation available, and Piketty’s discussion of U.S. inequality doesn’t carry the same historical authority as other parts of the book. But it surely is interesting that, as he and several co-authors report in a new article in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the rise in the top-percentile income share in 13 countries was almost perfectly correlated with declines in top marginal tax rates in those countries. It’s also interesting that this huge rise in relative income inequality has brought no discernible economic benefit. Yes, the U.S. economy has grown a bit faster than those of other developed economies, but that’s purely because of population growth. Per-capita economic growth has been almost identical in the U.S. and Western Europe since 1980, and because of the skew towards the top here, U.S. median income has actually lost ground relative to other nations.

But why let HBR give you insight into Piketty's thinking when Piketty can do it himself. Below we have a talk he gave at the Economic Policy Institute earlier this month. He starts speaking at the 5:30 mark.

And finally Paul Krugman's review in the New York Review of Books -- "We're in a New Gilded Age" -- is worth a read.

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