"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
--Captain (Strother Martin)
"Now, what we've got here is a failure to communicate."
--Luke Jackson (Paul Newman)
Clocking in at 2 minutes 27 seconds, Communication Breakdown is just barely longer than the shortest cut on Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album. However in that 2:27 it ironically manages to communicate quite a bit. The song was also a large contributor to the band's success since it was the first single released to U.S. audiences (March 10, 1969), peaking at 80 in the Billboard charts. (Interestingly, Billboard listed it by Communication Breakdown's B-side and album lead-off track, Good Times Bad Times.)
The song opens with a thundrous 4/4 riff on the guitar, overdriven but muted. It wastes no time breaking into the lyrics -- time honoured "boy meets girl, girl teases boy, boy looks for something to destroy" material that eventually became the backbone of punk, although ten years later. But wait, what were the other tenets of punk? Short songs, steady riffs and loud noise. Friends (no pun intended, Zeppelin fans), what we have here is a proto-punk song the likes of which Lou Reed hadn't conjured. Also keep in mind that at the same time Zeppelin I was on the shelves, Iggy Pop and his Stooges were still popping zits and waiting to sign a record deal! Communication Breakdown, possibly one of the first "punk" songs, follows one of the most beautiful acoustic guitar recordings yet captured on vinyl (Kaukonen's Embryonic Journey not withstanding). The talent of Page as a guitarist and Page/Plant/Bonham/Jones as songwriters is made apparent by this brilliant juxtaposition.
Although the song is tucked away on the second side of the record, it managed to make its mark on popular culture. Much like the (oft misattributed) quotation above, snippets of Communication Breakdown have found their way into movies, advertisements, and other songs. To the non-fans of Led Zeppelin, it is one of the most recognizable tracks.
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