Gone but not forgotten, Live!

Squeaky Drum Time

It’s getting towards the time of year when false promises made by desperate men in expensive jackets look about as likely to come to fruition as The Smiths reforming and playing a gig in my living room. Yes, football managers up and down the country are maybe starting to regret the arrogant boasts of silverware and European adventures made in August when the disappointments of last season had barely been cast aside. New season, same old problems. I’m sure you can apply that phrase to your team. Leagues can be won and lost in an instant, with little room left for catch up. The needless booking leading to the unfortunate suspension. The wrong substitution. The wrong formation. Flat back four or holding mid? Decisions, decisions, decisions! Managers unfamiliar with the giddy heights of the top of the league will look nervously over their shoulder as the teams behind them ramp up the war of psychology and bare their teeth. I know how worked up I get over Fantasy Manager. The real thing must be oh, at least twice as bad. Squeaky bum time, as someone once said.

Squeaky drum time is something else entirely. Led Zeppelin, by the time they were making Led Zeppelin III were formidable. They rocked harder, louder and longer than anyone else, with a blues bluster famously described as ‘tight, but loose‘. They could also swing like Sinatra. This was absolutely down to John Bonham. If you see pictures of him and his drumkit from this era you’d notice how basic it was. Compared to the double bass and cymbal stack flab preferred by many of the rock aristocracy at this time, Bonham’s kit looks like a Fisher Price My First Drumkit. Yet the power generated from it would be enough to keep the National Grid ticking over for a week. On Led Zeppelin III, save for an occassional flashy Jimmy Page overdub, much of the material was recorded live and committed straight to tape. In. Out. Job done. With America waiting to be conquered, there was simply not enough time to re-do each track 20 times and splice together the bass track from Take 3 with the vocals from Take 18. Which meant by the time the album was mixed and released, an annoying noise had found itself being magnetised to tape and recorded for posterity. Bonham’s bass pedal had developed an annoying squeak and it can be heard throughout the album. You may have listened to Led Zep III before and never noticed it, but once it’s pointed out, you’ll never be able to listen to it again without hearing it. It’s particularly prominent on the slow blues of Since I’ve Been Loving You. Thump! Squeak, squeak, squeak. Thump! Squeak, squeak, squeak. Thump! Squeak, squeak, squeak! Like the bedsprings in a  cheap honeymoon hotel it’s right there, squeaking away underneath everything you do.

Remastering the tracks at the start of the 90s, Jimmy Page ruefully remarked,

The only real problem I can remember encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on “Since I’ve Been Loving You“. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.

Someone else who overlooked the squeaky drum pedal was James Brown. Given his penchant for strict disciplinary control, it’s amazing that he let Nate Jones (and not Clyde Stubblefield as many think) near his kit without a can of WD40 before recording the one chord groove of Give It up, Turnit Loose. Not as prominent as the John Bonham squeak, it’s nonetheless right there, forming part of the distinctive fluid funk that James Brown was famous for. Jones plays like a particularly funky octopus throughout, all pitter pattering snare and tsk-tsk-tsk hi hats. Fans of yer Stone Roses may not be too surprised to hear traces of Reni’s drum playing style filtering in and out.

*Bonus Track!

Bob Dylan also fell foul to studio gremlins, though this had nothing to do with him, or even his drummer. It was only after his MTV Unplugged album had been released that the Bobcats and Dylanologists of the world noticed a tiny bit of looped audience applause that repeated now and again throughout Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Two excited whoops and an elongated whistle are enough to have you reaching for the ‘skip’ button before too long. Later versions of the album were corrected, but if you’re one of the many who bought it straight away, you were left with the whoops ‘n whistles repeated ad nauseum. Not to offend anyone from that side of the Atlantic, but those American audiences sure like ta whoop…

3 thoughts on “Squeaky Drum Time”

  1. Giving Led Zeppelin III another listen while I write. The thing about “squeaky bum time” is that it doesn’t look like Man City are going to bottle it at the top of the league. However, the bottom of the league is far, far more interesting. Five teams, three relegation spots and a difference of only two points between them all. Intense.

    And Bonham was an exceptional drummer. Keep it simple but play it like a demon.

    I probably shouldn’t even start on the Football Manager frustrations. If my Toronto midfield don’t sort it out soon, it’ll be hairdryer time.

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