How Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ Influenced the Ramones’ Sound
While Led Zeppelin came to represent everything that was excessive about rock, it didn’t start that way. On Zeppelin’s first album, the band showcased one tight, almost radio-friendly track in “Good Times Bad Times.” And the Zep had an under-three-minute thrasher any punk rocker might embrace in “Communication Breakdown.”
Punks did embrace that song, in fact. But a group like The Damned, with whom Zeppelin’s members had a legendary ’77 encounter, wouldn’t make that known in the late ’70s. Damned drummer Rat Scabies explained how the protocol worked out in an oral history of the Zep.
“By 1976, you couldn’t admit you’d ever liked a band like Zeppelin,” Scabies said in the Barney Hoskyns book. “In 1975, we might even have admitted that ‘Communication Breakdown’ had punk energy.” That track also featured a guitar technique that was a foundation of Johnny Ramone’s work in The Ramones.
Johnny Ramone ran with the guitar style on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’
Whether you consider it hard rock, heavy metal, or proto-punk, there’s something menacing about the Jimmy Page guitar technique on “Communication Breakdown.” The repeated downward picking delivers a uniquely sharp, aggressive sound.
Johnny Ramone considered that style the only way to play. “Down-strumming, no one was doing it at the time,” said the group’s manager in The Ramones: The True Story. “It’s very hard — especially at the speed The Ramones play — to play like that,” Tommy Ramone noted in the same documentary.
In I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir, Mickey Leigh (Joey’s brother) recalled Johnny’s reaction when Leigh played “Communication Breakdown” one day. “You know about downstrokes, huh?” Leigh said Johnny asked him. “That’s how rock ‘n’ roll should be played. All of it! Everything should be a downstroke.”
So while members of The Clash and The Damned claimed they’d want to puke at the thought of Zep, guitar players on the punk scene had clearly paid attention to Page. Zeppelin’s early ’70s performances of “Communication Breakdown” had the essence of what Scabies described as “punk energy.”
A Ramones collaborator called ‘Communication Breakdown’ a blueprint of the band’s sound
Andy Shernoff, the Dictators founder who co-wrote several Ramones songs and recorded with the band, believed Zeppelin had a massive influence on The Ramones. In Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones, Shernoff said that Zep track and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” served as blueprints for the Ramones sound.
Of course, a lot changed between ’68 and ’75. “When [The Ramones] made their first record everything was overblown drum solos and classical rock and explosions,” Shernoff said. While punks often made that point (one Plant accepted), they weren’t listening too closely to Zep.
Was “Immigrant Song” (1970) a symbol of excess? How about “Rock and Roll” from Led Zeppelin IV (1971)? And you can keep going. On 1975’s Physical Graffiti (granted, a double album), Page returned with the tight, heavy “Wanton Song.” And “Sick Again” recalls that early punk energy. All you have to do is stay from Zeppelin’s ’76 concert film. Now that’s excess.