For the third entry in my series of boxing matches between songs that have the same name, I’m bringing out my most controversial showdown so far: LED ZEPPELIN, the undisputed kings of hard rock, are taking on SHALAMAR, the dance-pop trio engendered by Soul Train (RIP Don Cornelius!). Both groups have a song called “Friends.” Only one will triumph.
As always, I am the referee for this 10-round exhibition match. I am also all 3 judges.
Cheat sheet for today’s contenders:
“FRIENDS” by Led Zeppelin: track 2 on Led Zeppelin III, 1970. One of Led Zep’s moody acoustic rock songs, this is a good example of the mischief Jimmy Page could cause with alternate tunings and exotic-sounding scales.
“FRIENDS” by Shalamar: track 6 on Friends, 1982. This ode to friendship would simply be impossible today. It’s unironic and saccharine in a way that belongs exclusively to the early 80s. Let it be known that I, for one, tip my hat to that.
Vegas odds: 10:1 in favor of Zeppelin. They hardly ever lose.
LET THE FIGHT BEGIN!
ROUND 1. The Led Zeppelin song is heavy in a way that few acoustic-guitar songs are heavy. I am always amazed by that. They had force, even without an electric guitar or a full drum set. That force scores a first-round knockdown. Score: 10–8, Led Zep.
ROUND 2. The wailing of Robert Plant. It is what it is. Sometimes in my mind I think of his voice as The Sex Demon. It’s hard to sing along to, but it’s eerie and charismatic. Round goes to Led Zep: 20–17.
ROUND 3. The voice of Howard Hewett: also no joke. And it sounds good going back and forth with Jeffrey Daniel’s falsetto. I kinda wish Jody Whatley did more on this track, but the 2 dudes sound good, so they win a round with conservative counter-punching: 29–27, Led Zep.
ROUND 4. The Shalamar song is too long (5:06). The real problem is that the third verse is just a repeat of the first—why not let Jody do something cool instead, or go into a Chic-style breakdown? Round goes to Led Zep for keeping it shorter (3:54). Score: 39–36, Zep.
ROUND 5. Even though I just said it was too long, the slow fadeout that ends the Shalamar song has some great synth weirdness. Those soaring alarm sounds are cool. Shalamar wins another round, but Led Zep is still ahead: 48–46.
ROUND 6. The Shalamar song is innocent in a way that fascinates me:Ask yourself, after all that you’ve learned Would you do the same thing if the tables were turned? Well my answer is yes ‘Cuz I’ve been through the test, now I’ll never forget my Friends!
No song today could have those lyrics without being arch. But the Shalamar song is not arch, and for that reason it belongs to an entirely different age. I’m not saying the lyrics are fantastic, but as someone living in a world obsessed with irony, I admire them. Round goes to Shalamar for being earnest and plain. Score: 57–56, Zep.
ROUND 7. The strings on the Led Zep song: totally sinister (and possibly arranged by JPJ?). Combined with the otherworldly guitar part and the skittering rhythm, the song sounds like aliens in the desert had a fever dream. Which is a strange, awesome choice for a song about friends. In fact, it’s that choice that sends Shalamar to the cavnas. The Led Zeppelin track overpowers Shalamar by being surprising and weird. I know I gave the last round to Shalamar for writing such unreconstructed lyrics, but their lyrics also go to show that, in the end, they’ve got the more obvious song. And in boxing, obvious punches are the easiest to avoid. If you wanna win, you gotta throw something that no one saw coming.
VERDICT: LED ZEPPELIN WINS BY KNOCKOUT!
Don’t forget that Shalamar was only down one point before the knockout. It was kinda close for a minute there.
Stay tuned for the next fight in my series. In the meantime, read more at heavymetalheartbreaker.com.