The members of Led Zeppelin were exceptionable in select areas, and when they drifted into experimental territory, the results were either spectacular or remarkably flat. With that, it goes without saying that ‘D’yer Maker’, their attempt at reggae, certainly fell into the latter category.
Interestingly, the Houses of the Holy track was released in 1973, just as reggae hit the mainstream. The genre had received a rough ride in the United Kingdom, and the musical establishment were initially hesitant to the Jamaican musical export. Famously, BBC Radio 1’s lead presenter Tony Blackburn had decried it as “rubbish”, and his stance was a popular one at the time.Towards the end of the 1960s, a string of reggae songs managed to squeeze their way into the charts. As a result, the tide of opinion began to slowly change. Bob Marley introduced himself to British audiences in 1972, and the reggae scene finally had a star who helped advance the genre.
Things shifted when Led Zeppelin began to interpolate reggae into their sound in 1973, but not everybody was convinced. John Bonham was the heartbeat of the group, yet, he despised reggae, and his lacklustre performance on ‘D’yer Maker’ is self-explanatory of his thoughts on the genre.“John was interested in everything except jazz and reggae,” explained bassist John Paul-Jones in Chris Welch’s biography on the drummer, John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums. “He didn’t hate jazz but he hated playing reggae – he thought it was really boring,” the bassist continued.
“He wouldn’t play anything but the same shuffle beat all the way through it,” Jones continued. The Led Zeppelin founding member added: “It would have been all right if he had worked at the part, [but] he wouldn’t, so it sounded dreadful.”Jones also felt uncomfortable about the track and admitted they got the nucleus of the song incorrect. “The whole point of reggae is that the drums and bass really have to be very strict about what they play,” he scathingly remarked.Half of the band were against the idea of recording ‘D’yer Maker’, so it’s unsurprising the final result was regretful. It’s a track from the usually magnificent minds of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but even the greats have the occasional off-day.While Led Zeppelin can be commended for stepping outside their comfort zone and expanding their wings, it was always destined to fail without Bonham’s approval. However, if Zeppelin didn’t have a tendency to try to create art outside of the box, there’d be no ‘Kashmir’, and their experimental trait is what made them great.