Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zeppelin Changing Keys?

From Eddie Trunk's site: The Sun reports that Led Zeppelin are rearranging classic tracks for the upcoming reunion gig after Robert Plant found he could no longer hit the high notes (told ya).

The band have been rehearsing songs in a lower key because 59-year-old Plant's voice is deeper. The Sun's source revealed yesterday: "He and guitarist Jimmy Page have had a few heated discussions about the upcoming gig. Jimmy is a bit rusty and Robert has been struggling with the high notes. To avoid any embarrassing vocal wobbles with the world watching, they decided it would be best to transpose the songs in a lower key."

This is the first of anything negative I have heard about the reunion (except for Page forcing thousands of people to change flight/hotel reservations due to his injured finger).

Of course, people are bound to be critical and/or negative ahead of the show. I am sure it will rock, but moving songs into a lower key is a drag. As we've seen with live key-lowerings by The Police, ELP and even when Rush did "Circumstances" on their last tour in a lower key, lowering the key affects the mood of the song, and usually in a subliminally negative way.

Just like with drastically slowing down tempo, lowering the key more often than not drags the song down and makes it feel like 'something is not quite right.' I am sure there are loads of Zep songs Plant could sing, but they'd likely have to skip many of the 'hits.' So they lower the key. Ugh.

I guess we'll see what happens! (Note that to my knowledge Yes has never changed the key on any of their songs live and Jon Anderson can still belt the shit out of them? Just had to throw that in there)

6 comments:

VoxMoose said...

Very interesting issue. [prepare for pedantic mini-rant, sorry]

Strictly speaking (at least on paper in mean tempered tuning), the key of a song shouldn't matter. What matters is the relative changes of notes and chords in the song. Without the benefits of perfect pitch, if a song is transposed in MIDI using a computer, you can't tell unless you really change the key A LOT. Even with perfect pitch, it would just register as exactly what it is: a uniform change in pitch an nothing more. The song should sound the same.

However, in reality, instruments like vocals and guitars have very different timbral quality to them depending on the key because of the mechanics of how tones are actually produced (this is not really so much much true with modern keyboards). Timbre is the distribution of less predominate tones associated with playing a particular note that give each instrument its particular sound. So, as you said, there can be a very real physical and psychological effect in changing keys. Old school composers going WAY back always picked their musical keys very carefully depending on what instruments they were using to maximize whatever effect they were going for (which could be a combination of singability, playability, and aesthetics).

My guess is that changing keys down will make Zeppelin music sound more "mature" (like with The Police), which perhaps isn't such a bad thing. Either that or it will sound like they are doing early Black Sabbath covers...

Ned said...

I hope people take this performance with a grain of salt. These guys are in their 60's - I think the key change is a responsible move. I'm sure it's one of the issues that came up when they were considering the reunion.

Dr. John said...

I don't remember Osiris doing any key changes for their 20th reunion! Although I think Bloated would sound nice in a darker, lower key...

Isorski said...

I hear you, Voxmoose. I think there is a difference between tuning down a half step (like KISS and Sabbath did from the start) or even a whole step (I think Soundgarden did a whole step - for sure a half) to make the music heavier or to make it easier to sing to.

However, changing the key of a song dramatically to the point where you have to play it differently (like from A to F or even E) will make the song sound verrry different. Even just due to the change in how the chords are fretted or the position on the neck.

Anyway, I agree with Nedmusic, we need to take this thing with low expectations and hope it goes well. The Floyd reunion at Live8, while very cool, is pretty choppy to listen to now. Why would this be any different?

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

No matter what key they are in, I think they will sound great and put on an awesome show. The only thing that disappoints me about the upcoming show is that I won't be in the audience!

harmolodic said...

I saw this one coming, which is part of the reason I wasn't very enthusiastic about the reunion. That, plus I'm not expecting radical re-makes that'll drop my jaw. The name "Led Zeppelin" has too many past associations with a particular sound, and I doubt they'd want to mess too much with that.

Now, if they were going in a route similar to what Page & Plant did with "Nobody's Fault But Mine" in that No Quarter special -- completely reinventing the songs and working in more folky textures and less rock -- I'd be pretty excited. Or if they focused on material from the last two or three Zep albums exclusively... if they're changing keys, changing the entire arrangement is almost a given. Might as well, you know? We'll see how it goes! Meanwhile, I'm diggin' "Raising Sand" quite a lot...