Battle of the Bands

By+reviving+a+nostalgic+classic+rock+sound%2C+Greta+Van+Fleet+is+one+of+the+most+popular+bands+today.+But+is+their+sound+too+similar+to+their+precursors+to+be+considered+original%3F

Maya Rubin

By reviving a nostalgic classic rock sound, Greta Van Fleet is one of the most popular bands today. But is their sound too similar to their precursors to be considered original?

Opinion*

Led Zeppelin is one of the best, if not the best rock band of all time. Everyone seems to have a memory connected to their music, whether it be hearing the iconic battle cry of “Immigrant Song,” the head-bobbing chorus of “Whole Lotta Love” or the heart-wrenching opening of “Stairway to Heaven,” (the eternal scourge of guitar stores). 

Each member of the band provides a distinct talent that shapes Led Zeppelin’s music. Jimmy Page’s wailing guitar solos and riffs are parasitic earworms, John Paul Jones’ spanning bass runs hypnotize the listener. As a drummer myself, I will never forget the first time I heard John Bonham’s rolling triplets on “Good Times Bad Times.” Perhaps the most noticeable part of the Led Zeppelin sound is Robert Plant’s sickly-sweet, crying vocals. All of these musicians come together to form one of the most talented and iconic bands ever. 

But now that the band has been broken up for more than 40 years, it begs the question: will there ever be another band that captures the same energy as Led Zeppelin?

Enter Greta Van Fleet.

Greta Van Fleet, a Michigan-based hard and blues rock band, released their debut EP “From the Fires” in April 2017. The album was a hit, reviving a nostalgic hard-rock niche missed far too long. But some critics felt the album was a little too nostalgic of Led Zeppelin, entering “copycat” territory. While Greta Van Fleet is no Led Zeppelin cover band, they definitely wear their inspirations on their sleeves.

Most of Greta Van Fleet’s comparison to Led Zeppelin stems from singer Josh Kiszka, whose voice is nearly identical to Plant’s. In all honesty, I often get the work of Led Zeppelin and Greta Van Fleet mixed up because of the vocals. No matter how many times I listen to “Safari Song,” I always think I’m listening to the former. That being said, Kiszka didn’t necessarily choose to sound like Plant. You can play the drums just like John Bonham or the guitar just like Jimmy Page, but if your voice sounds like another singer, the best you can do is change ranges. And Kiszka does this on the band’s most recent album, “The Battle at Garden’s Gate,” where he sings in a higher register. Ironically, this sparked more comparisons to Canadian rock trio Rush’s Geddy Lee as opposed to Plant. Unlike Lee, singing in falsetto strains Kiszka’s voice, causing more obnoxious screaming to occur than Plant-like cries. As senior and avid Led Zeppelin fan Vinnie Young told me,

I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence that the singers sound really alike, but I don’t have a problem with that. Who wouldn’t want to hear more of that voice?”

— Vinnie Young

Almost everyone loves Plant’s voice. It’s what makes Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin. But his vocal style does not make Greta Van Fleet Led Zeppelin. Plant is known for his funk-inspired delivery, which sounds almost improvisational. As heard on the song “Black Dog,” Plant explosively spits lyrics that weave through the song’s instrumental, creating a captivating and groovy rhythm. Kiszka does the exact same thing on the song “Highway Tune” with impressive, albeit familiar cries.

 

The lyrics of Greta Van Fleet are very similar. While it’s a no-brainer that Led Zeppelin stole a lot of their topics and phrases from 50s and 60s blues, where most of the lyrics are about women breaking a man’s heart or playing with a man’s emotions, using terms like “baby,” “mama,” and ”sugar”.  While this classic style of songwriting is found on many of Led Zeppelin’s best tracks, it’s heavy stylistic inspiration at best. Greta Van Fleet’s revival of the genre is just as guilty as Led Zeppelin, if not moreso. I would go as far to say that often, the lyrics look directly plagiarized when comparing the two. 

When Plant wasn’t singing about heartache, he was telling tales of war and fantasy filled with references to mythology and “the Lord of the Rings” as seen on “Achilles Last Stand” and “No Quarter”. While lacking the same nerdy inspiration, Greta Van Fleet does this on “Heat Above,” with lyrics “Can you hear that dreadful sound? / Fire still burning on the ground / Follow the fearsome sound / As they march to battle, hear the drums pound.” This shows Greta Van Fleet is not hesitant to rip off both primary topics of Led Zeppelin’s lyrics.

The other main similarity I see between the two bands is the guitar. Plant and Page are cut from the same fabric with their blues inspiration. Page’s riffs come straight from the genre, but what makes Led Zeppelin different is how Page applies these riffs into the rock melodies we know today. While Greta Van Fleet shares the same riffs with Led Zeppelin, I was willing to excuse it as an aspect of the genre. Then I heard “Built by Nations,” which sounds like a reformatted version of “Heartbreaker.” While listening to the song, I could hear the words “you can copy my homework, but don’t make it look obvious” echo in my mind.

To maintain a bit of distinction from Led Zeppelin, Greta Van Fleet utilizes some musical differences. The most obvious to me, as a drummer, was the lack of Bohnam-style beats from Greta Van Fleet. What sets Bonham apart as a drummer, both in his time and today, was his use of triplets (three beats played in the same amount of time as one). This creates a more jazz inspired sound as opposed to the sound of most pop and rock tracks. Greta Van Fleet’s drummer, Daniel Wagner, instead takes this route, creating a more rhythmically “flat” sound that dulls the jazzy edge Led Zeppelin had. Greta Van Fleet’s bass section shares a similar property.  While these changes may seem minor, it greatly affects the sound of Greta Van Fleet, especially at the surface level. 

Essentially, Greta Van Fleet puts a radio-friendly spin on the Led Zeppelin style. While many cherish this, true Greta Van Fleet fans should pay respect to its predecessor.