Magazine writers in the 1960’s probably didn’t think their content would be easily accessible, searchable in fact, more than 40 years later. The internet is an amazing thing. My good friend Ed recently sent along a fairly negative 1969 review of Led Zeppelin I that was written by John Mendelsohn and published in Rolling Stone magazine:
“The latest of the British blues groups so conceived offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better three months ago, and the excesses of the Beck group’s Truth album (most notably its self-indulgence and restrictedness), are fully in evidence on Led Zeppelin’s debut album.
Jimmy Page, around whom the Zeppelin revolves, is, admittedly, an extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist and explorer of his instrument’s electronic capabilities. Unfortunately, he is also a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs, and the Zeppelin album suffers from his having both produced it and written most of it (alone or in combination with his accomplices in the group).”
With hindsight, it’s mildly amusing given Zeppelin’s subsequent recognition and fame, but not all that surprising — innovative music takes some time to catch. And there are plenty of stories of early critics predicting Zeppelin’s downfall (tangentially related — this Radiolab episode has a good historical anecdote about an audience rioting after hearing some innovative classical music).
But out of curiosity, I immediately searched to see if John had reviewed Led Zeppelin II, which in fact he had. Eight months later here’s what he had to say about the album and Jimmy Page:
“Hey, man, I take it all back! This is one fucking heavyweight of the album! OK — I’ll concede that until you’ve listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it’s just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. But, hey! you’ve got to admit that the Zeppelin has their distinctive and enchanting formula down stone-cold, man. Like you get the impression they could do it in their sleep.
And who can deny that Jimmy Page is the absolute number-one heaviest white blues guitarist between 5’4″ and 5’8″ in the world?? Shit, man, on this album he further demonstrates that he could absolutely fucking shut down any whitebluesman alive, and with one fucking hand tied behind his back too.”
The review goes on, and if anything, becomes even more over the top. Looks like he came around.