Retrospectively, we always appear to relate certain shades of sixties pop culture to a type of ‘monochrome’ reflection. Having knowledge of the development of photographic and televisual images during this period can only slightly began to mix a little colour into these ‘colourless saturations’ of musings. It’s all relative to the time period and there’s a certainty you’ll hear somebody mention how things appeared to have had a gray or ‘dirty’ look about them back then; maybe the somebody stating this will be a ‘product’ of that time too! It would seem that the farther back we ‘travel’ through history the more ‘monochromatic’ the encompassing world will appear. No matter, Music has always remained one of the more colourful mediums of communication, especially in terms of conveying an artist’s expressions of life through sound – leaving a potentially resounding impression on the ‘landscape’ of the listening individual.
In late summer 1968, whilst billed as the ‘New Yardbirds’, the members of Led Zeppelin embarked upon a Scandinavian tour – their first concerts played live together as a rock ensemble – which became the blueprint for the subsequent recording sessions of their very first groundbreaking album, “Led Zeppelin” (‘Led Zep I’) released in January and March of 1969 in the US and UK, respectively. During this early defining period of influential musicianship, their powerful Blues interpretations communicated ‘louder’ than any developing media-driven resource available at that time. Zeppelin’s European television appearances conveyed a dark and relatively sinister presentation: the ‘monochrome’ universe was still prominent. Alternatively, their appearances may have seemed less-threatening in the natural colourful setting of the studio, and would have assisted the understanding of the narrative of their impassioned performances. Led Zeppelin’s aura depicted a landscape of colourful overtones and instrumentation; the true picture ambiguously disguised through a medium of black and white images. An early Japanese promo for their debut album, also featuring a lip-synched video performance to one of its tracks, combines the innocent humour of advertising with an element of the dark imagery of the time (surprisingly, Mr. Plant is hardly featured in the zoom of the camera’s path here – did they think his performance was too ‘sinister’ for their promo??):
Led Zeppelin’s ‘palette’ was screaming to be seen, and understood. When one contemplates the band’s early touring schedule before this period it is easy to conclude that a series of UK college and university campus one-nighters, along with a small Christmas bash at the Fishmongers Arms in London, were the more regular fixtures on their gig map. However, a mammoth transition occurred on Boxing Day of 1968 when the band embarked upon a fixture of another kind: supporting ‘Vanilla Fudge’ at the Auditorium Arena in Denver, Colorado. And so began further communication with their audiences as Led Zeppelin’s ‘palette’ began to apply its textures to a much larger canvas. In February, 1969 after the success of the American tour and the subsequent release of their debut album, the band continued to tour both on their home soil and in Europe, and a special documentary entitled “Supershow” was filmed just outside London which allowed the natural colours of a filmed Led Zeppelin ‘bleed’ forth onto the screen of “Dazed and Confused”. The darker undertones of their previously broadcast productions were silenced and the natural passions of their in-performance camaraderie became a visionary truth:
When one attempts to think of those late sixties productions that communicate the psychedelic colours of the day, such musical diversity springs to mind in the form of The Beatles’ animated “Yellow Submarine” and the Monterey Pop Festival. Ironically, the former here were reverting to a more subtle approach in the design of their album covers at the time of Led Zeppelin being the ‘New Yardbirds’: the desolate plainness of the “White Album” (aka ‘The Beatles’) and its accompanying black and white photographs which adorned its insides was in stark contrast to their previous “Sgt. Pepper” and “Magical Mystery Tour” landmarks. Irony also staked a claim in the subsequent release of Led Zeppelin’s debut: the darkly-themed illustration by George Hardie which depicts the Hindenburg – shattered and ‘seeping’ in gloriously doomed black and white with only minimal tones reflecting possibilities of other symbolic themes – both phallic and artistic. It’s only when the product herein is unzipped and unleashed that the full range of anthemic ‘colours’ pour their expressive tones onto the listening experience. For the art of communication is a powerful concept all its own – black and white, and colour!
*Don’t miss “Breaking down Communication” – Part II…but, for the moment enjoy the classic “Led Zeppelin I”:
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