Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Led Zeppelin’s “D’Yer Maker”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #20 in September 1973.
I like Led Zep letting their long hair down. “Fool in the Rain,” “Boogie with Stu,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” — they could fool and boogie and stomp and bron-y-aur like any singles band. By the time of Houses of the Holy, they weren’t so bound by the blues homages/thefts either. But in the early seventies one of the last vestiges of empire washed up on Albion’s shores. Britishers discovered reggae, and, boy, did they take to it hard. Besotted by its lightness, recalibrating their considerable formal chops to the skank in a show of simplicity, these acts sounded airheaded if not lobotomized. Eric Clapton turned into a fool wearing a dreadlock wig with “I Shot the Sheriff.” On “C Moon,” Paul McCartney turned into a narrator of wretched children’s books.
But the track in question is worse. Where the musicians above strove for buoyancy because buoyancy was, even in faint traces, woven into their genetic stuff, Led Zeppelin was buoyant like Bryan Ferry was a cockfarmer. On “D’yer Maker,” a stupid word play on “Jamaica,” Zep rearranged “Unchained Melody” to suit John Bonham’s walloping beat and Jimmy Page’s chicken scratch guitar, with John Paul Jones’ basic piano part the only thing looking over the Atlantic and far away to Jamaica. As for Robert Plant, he coos the least convincing oh-oh-ohs in pop history. He’s a belter, not a shelter, a shrieker, not a freaker — at least not yet, for his last few albums, in which he employs his incinerated physical range to fulsome emotional effect, are his most charming to date. By far the most interesting element is the coruscating little lead played by Page after 2:10, barely audible, captured on one speaker: an ominous cluster sustained until the full-out solo at 2:40.
I can’t rap Zep’s knuckles too hard for “D’Yer Maker.” Listeners in that post-Beatles haze expected some sonic variety from multiplatinum acts. And the quartet followed this blip with “Over The Hills And Far Away” and the formidable Physical Graffiti. I might have more patience with “D’Yer Maker” if it weren’t the first Zep song I heard on AOR radio (the second: In Through the Out Door‘s “Hot Dog,” go figure).