Greetings, Glancers! To fans of Led Zeppelin, the band have any number of opuses (opusi?) to point to and enjoy and for detractors and uberpunk fans and idiots, the band have any number of pretentious, overbearing, never-ending twaddle to suffer through. Everybody knows Stairway To Heaven, most people know Kashmir, but very few people outside of the hardcore Zep fans know Achilles Last Stand. It’s their most epic song – a mammoth tome of riffs and rock excess – and it’s a song I had no idea existed until I stumbled upon it as I worked my way through buying the Zep albums in my late teens.
I’ve always been a fan of ‘long songs’. Of course I appreciate the finer points of a skillful, three minute pop song, but I’ve always been driven to pushing the boundaries, to adding just one more instrument or lyric or melody or solo. My mind has always been fond of the epic – I’ve loved long movies for as long as I can remember, I loved when my favourite bands in my childhood pushed a song over the five or six minute mark, and I loved long novel series or stories with plots which spanned thousands of pages and multiple years or generations. I don’t know why this is – maybe it has always inspired me or given me hope in the human race’s capacity for invention and imagination, this need to create something without giving the slightest fuck to its length. If it needs to be a 24 minute song, then that’s what it’s going to be. Achilles Last Stand doesn’t quite hit that mark, but it does go over ten minutes, and it’s ten minutes of pure glory.
Where do you even start with this? The beginning seems like a good place, but then I’d be forced to go through it piece by piece and we’d be here forever. I could cut it up into its different sections – Bonzo’s earth shattering drums, Page’s urgent overlapping riffs and apocalyptic soloing, the rambling long form poetic lyrics, Plant’s return to his finest vocals, and Jonesy never letting up with the thunderous galloping bass. It’s a song that just keeps going on and on and on, yet it constantly engages. It’s just so relentlessly dense that you always find something new to draw on and constantly find yourself falling in love once more with a slight inflection or string bend or slip of the wrist by Bonham. If you’re of the sadist persuasion, it’s like jumping into a huge thistle bush and trying to climb through to the other end, hundreds of prickers jabbing your skin, causing tiny cuts, ripping your clothes, and pulling you back – dense, painful, but you love it.
Most bands might write long or complex songs or a combination of both, but few bands have the balls to actually play them live. Led Zeppelin may have had the biggest balls in the history of rock, and regularly featured this in their concerts – it’s just a shame they wrote it at the end of their career. The balls it takes as a four-piece to play something like this, especially when completely coked off their tits, is a testament to just how in sync the band was. They just don’t have bands like this anymore, and they don’t write songs like this anymore. It is an utterly ridiculous piece of music and we should all feel blessed that it was born. If you haven’t heard it, click one of my links and let your head explode.
Unsurprisingly, there haven’t been many covers of this song. Only those mad bastards Dream Theater had a crack at it as part of a medley, while the Jason Bonham band paid homage – also during a medley. I’m sure some rap dudes have probably sampled pieces of it here and there – it seems like exactly the sort of song that would be ripe for such pillaging. Until one of the young pretenders goes all out and crafts something as epic and powerful as this, they’re never going to be accepted as anywhere near the same level as Led Zep.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Achilles’ Last Stand!