When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Stone Temple Pilots take on Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
By the time Led Zeppelin released Houses Of The Holy in March 1973, the British quartet had earned heaps of musical capital. The band’s previous four albums had already made them living legends, proving time and again that their outsized bravado, both as players and people, was not thinly veiled. In those early years, Zeppelin constantly re-invented the blues, wringing the genre through a gritty, distorted filter at the same time the group honored its sobriety. The band members were not interested in kitsch, but they were fascinated by experimentation.
Houses Of The Holy was no Magical Mystery Tour, to be sure, but it did represent a break from the past for Zeppelin, one earned through the consistent triumphs of its earlier work. The atmosphere became lighter but no less rich, the band perhaps taking itself less seriously but not at the expense of the principled approach to songcraft it had always maintained. New instruments like the mellotron were introduced, and synthesizers began to play a larger role. Jimmy Page, ever the rock god, began to take a greater interest in atmosphere, the studio itself seen as another tool capable of expanding the band’s horizons. Songs like “D’Yer Mak’er,” a reggae-lite jam, and “The Crunge,” an ode to James Brown funk, revealed a band with more than just a blues fetish—and perhaps a sense of humor to boot.
For its part, “Dancing Days” took its inspiration from a trip Page and Robert Plant took to Bombay, India, where the two, who, it should be said wrote most of Zeppelin’s material as a team, heard something special in the native sound that they wanted to honor. The influence is subtle but recognizable, Page’s primary riff sort of mimicking the fluidity of a sitar. Otherwise, Zeppelin does as Zeppelin does: “Dancing Days” is as sexy a rock song as they come, past, present or future.
The public agreed. Houses Of The Holy went on to achieve diamond status from the RIAA, selling more than 11 million copies in the U.S. alone. And two years after its release, Zeppelin bested the Beatles’ Shea Stadium blow-out by performing for 56,800 fans at Tampa Stadium. Apparently, the capital was well-spent.
Stone Temple Pilots covered “Dancing Days” at the height of their own success in 1995, rendering the song in a more low-key style that, while not so different from the original, can almost sound like an STP original. This should be unsurprising since the quartet, also signed to Atlantic, owed much to Zeppelin’s groundbreaking sound.
Cast your vote wisely.