Members of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, crafted iconic rock melodies over a decade. Their repertoire boasts some of history’s most unforgettable tracks. However, if you try to ask Jones to recite them or hum along, you might hit a wall. Plant humorously noted that Jones, their bassist, never really paid attention to the lyrics.
Interestingly, Plant mentioned that John Paul Jones seldom tuned into the words of their songs or even recognized their titles. Both Jones and another founding member, Jimmy Page, shared a similar past. Before joining forces in Led Zeppelin, they were acclaimed session musicians in their own right.
Page, though often overlooked, was a mastermind at composing detailed musical compositions. On the other hand, Jones was a versatile virtuoso. Trained in various instruments, Jones was involved in composing, arranging, and performing on multiple instruments ranging from the bass to the mandolin.
So immersed was Jones in the music’s anatomy that he often overlooked the song titles and lyrical content. Plant once humorously recounted, via Louder, that collaborations with Jones often went like, “I’d mention a song, and he’d ask, ‘Which one is that again?’ And I’d explain, ‘The one from Presence.’ To which he’d reply, ‘Not sure about the titles. What’s the key?’ And I’d just laugh, ‘No idea, Jonesy.’”
Imagine asking Jones about the track where Plant sings, “All that glitters is gold.” Chances are, he’d be clueless. But if you said it’s the song where he played five instruments, including three different recorders, he’d instantly recall “Stairway to Heaven.”
In the grand scheme of Led Zeppelin, while Plant’s vocals, Page’s guitar mastery, and John Bonham’s iconic drum beats took the limelight, Jones was the unseen force. He was the backbone of their music. His bass rhythms matched Bonham’s drum patterns and offered a melodic scaffold for Page’s solos. As per Plant, Jones was so immersed in the music’s depth that lyrics and titles just floated above him.
Fast-forward to Led Zeppelin’s final album: Jones and Plant collaborated intensely. While discussing the band’s 1976 album, Presence, Plant highlighted that Jones had a limited role in songwriting. However, by their next project, Jones, equipped with a state-of-the-art synthesizer, was a significant contributor. Alongside Plant, he played a major hand in tracks like “Carouselambra,” “I’m Gonna Crawl,” and “All of My Love.”
Though Jones might not remember the titles of most Led Zeppelin tracks, it’s safe to say that his contributions to In Through the Out Door were close to his heart.