You know that feeling when a certain song winds up playing on repeat in your head? This week, it’s been Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” from 1973’s Houses of the Holy. It’s surprising to me that the song earned some negative criticism from Rolling Stone. Gordon Fletcher said,
So it is that “Dancing Days,” “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter” fall flat on their respective faces — the first is filler while the latter two are nothing more than drawn-out vehicles for the further display of Jones’ unknowledgeable use of mellotron and synthesizer.
I often wonder what it was like to be a music fan during the ’60s and ’70s, when bands like the Beatles, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, etc were releasing new albums. There wasn’t MTV, there were no streaming services. There weren’t thousands of bands vying for your attention. Did somebody who bought Houses of the Holy love it on first listen or did they think, “Zeppelin has changed directions. What is this garbage?” the way that we listen – and judge – current releases in 2019?
In-the-moment reviews examined these works among the work of the bands’ peers the way we do today. They didn’t have the foresight that time gifts. The end of Fletcher’s review says,
Beck, Bogert & Appice, Black Sabbath, the Groundhogs, Robin Trower — the list is long and they all fare musically better than the Zep because they stick to what they do best. Page and friends should similarly realize their limitations and get back to playing the blues-rock that moves mountains. Until they do Led Zeppelin will remain Limp Blimp.
In retrospect, I wonder if Fletcher stands by those words or if, having heard Zeppelin’s entire discography and understanding Houses of the Holy‘s place within that discography, he might reconsider? I won’t proclaim that this is the best Zeppelin release, but, on my own discovery of the band, it was the second cassette I bought as I had worn out Led Zeppelin IV and was ready to hear more and when I started transitioning from cassettes to CDs, it was the first one I upgraded.
Having had the song in my head and then listening to it on repeat on both the recording on Spotify and one of the many live versions floating around on YouTube, it reminded me of this band that was barely a blip on the late ’80s/early ’90s hair metal scene, Cry Wolf. The L.A.-based band had released a self-titled album in 1989 that only hit record store shelves in Japan and followed it up, after signing with IRS Records, with 1990’s Crunch which included a handful of songs from the previous release.
Cry Wolf wasn’t into the lipstick and leather look or the party anthem themes. Yeah, they had big hair and may have sported leather pants, but they were a far cry from Poison, Pretty Boy Floyd, Warrant, etc. I saw them headline a show in 1990 at the Akron Agora, the home (at the time) for all things Metal Edge magazine. Looking back, I think they would have been a good tour partner with Kingdom Come – they were sort of rooted in that Zeppelin hard rock sound though, unlike Kingdom Come, didn’t come across as a soundalike … well … except for the song “Pretender” which appeared on both of Cry Wolf’s first two releases.
As I was listening to “The Rain Song”, I kept remembering “Pretender”, a song that, at the time, I really liked and I can see why now as it bears similarity to “The Rain Song”. I’ll let you be the judge to see if you hear what I hear.