Following in a tradition that’s shone the spotlight on rock legends like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Perry Farrell and Slash, the latest John Varvatos campaign features perhaps the most hallowed guitar god of all time, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, alongside blues-rock rising star Gary Clark Jr.
Designer John Varvatos had the following to say about the campaign, which was inspired by classic black-and-white portraiture and shot by Danny Clinch at London’s Rivoli Ballroom: “Jimmy Page has been a music and fashion icon of mine since 1970. He has been a major influence, and I am honored to call Jimmy a friend. Gary Clark Jr. is the real deal—an amazing guitar player, singer, songwriter and friend. Having ‘The Master and The Young Guitar-Slinger’ together in our campaign is a dream come true.”
As cool as the campaign imagery is, we’re just as interested in the music that inspired it. Below are John Varvatos’s personal favorite Led Zeppelin tunes—handpicked by the designer himself, exclusively for Men’s Shop Daily. [Song selections are his, commentary is ours.]
1. ‘Tangerine’ – Given Zeppelin’s reputation for practically inventing the brute force of what’s now known as heavy metal, it’s interesting to see Varvatos’s first pick highlight a sentimental ballad from the band’s folksy third record, 1970′s Led Zeppelin III. We’ve included a live version from the infamous 1975 Earls Court shows as well—largely because it’s a trip to hear frontman Robert Plant’s between-song musings uttered in his proper English lilt. (It’s easy to forget how soft-spoken he is, considering moments like the Viking howls that open the same album.)
2. ‘Kashmir’ – This epic from 1975′s Physical Graffiti puts the band’s signature sense of sheer force on full display—even with a tempo that’s methodically plodding, and the lion’s share of decibels emanating only from Page’s guitar and John Bonham’s measured drum pattern (bassist John Paul Jones mans keyboards on this one). Again, we pulled from the classic ’75 Earls Court performances, to hear Plant’s backstory…And also included an excerpt of Page jamming with Jack White and The Edge, from the 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud.
3. ‘Dazed and Confused’ – One of Led Zep’s most recognizable acid-blues masterpieces, characterized by the dream-like solo section in which Page routinely wailed on his guitar with a violin bow, is in fact a cover of a 1967 song written by Jake Holmes. We’ve always thought Zeppelin’s studio version, which appeared on their eponymous 1969 debut, sounded a bit stilted. The live versions above (left, from disc one of the live compilation BBC Sessions; right, a purportedly ‘lost version’ we just discovered on the internet) are loose, loud, brimming with the band’s patented improvised interactions between members, and feel like they might explode in a frenzy and/or fizzle out in disarray at any moment. In other words, Led Zeppelin at its best.
4. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – The pulsating, overdriven rhythm that opens 1969′s Led Zeppelin II erased any notion of a sophomore slump—and inspired decades of visceral guitar riffs to come. Page described the snarling amp tone as ‘rude,’ and if you’re able to decipher Plant’s feral yelps, his lyrics are none too polite either. The studio version (left, above) is solid gold (literally)—but we included the live version (right) because seeing Bonham’s blur of drumsticks during the psychedelic interlude makes it even more transfixing. Extra credit: Check out this 13-minute long BBC performance that includes tributes to Zeppelin’s biggest influences, from John Lee Hooker to Elvis Presley.
5. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ – The band had legions of fans since their first record—but with stratospheric successes like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ 1971′s Led Zeppelin IV went 23x platinum in America alone. One of the record’s most satisfying sonic moments requires sticking around for the final track (based on a 1929 song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, about the Great Mississippi Flood). The transition from muddy, minor-key verses to Page’s glimmering guitar chords at 2:30 never gets old—nor do Bonham’s steadily thundering drums, which even the Beastie Boys (at their rowdiest in 1986) had to respect.
6. ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ – Any amateur guitar picker worth his weight in sheet music has tried his hand at the tricky opening notes of this one—but it’s the turns the song takes from there that are more indicative of the Led Zeppelin ethos. While the band always dabbled in a variety of styles (folk, funk, eastern-tinged melodies, medieval sounds, orchestral arrangements, even reggae), here, multiple influences unfold seamlessly within a single song. The 1979 live version to the right displays an unapologetically brutal guitar tone from Page—an interesting choice given the song’s tender start and finish.
7. ‘Heartbreaker’ – Another tour de force from Zeppelin’s sophomore album (which remains perhaps the most crystalline embodiment of the blues-rock building blocks that informed their entire career). Again, the studio recording (left) is classic, but small details kick the live BBC version (right) into overdrive: Bonham’s furious fills, Jones’s gnarly bass sound, the brief ode to Bach during Page’s famous unaccompanied solo, and Plant’s upper-octave shriek that punctuates the final note.
John Varvatos was also kind enough to recommend his 3 favorite tunes by Gary Clark Jr., who appears alongside Jimmy Page in the campaign imagery above. The New York Times has called Clark Jr. the next Jimi Hendrix (the third track below happens to incorporate a Hendrix cover)—take a listen for yourself:
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[Campaign video and photographs by Yard and Danny Clinch, for John Varvatos. Songs © Led Zeppelin, Atlantic and Swan Song; Gary Clark Jr. and Warner Bros.; Beastie Boys and Def Jam/Columbia. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]