Covers are a funny thing in music. Nowhere else in art is this level of flattery both respected and derided. Copies or recreations of painting or sculpture are often labeled as “influenced by” or worse, a forgery. All the remakes Hollywood keeps ramming our eyeholes with are mostly flaming hot garbage at summertime in New York City. With cover songs, the best ones are often not a note for note recreation of the original, unless it is an underrated artist or a little known song. From ‘Yesterday” to ‘Cum On Feel The Noise’, Covers have earned a place in our musical culture not only as a novelty. Others can take a well-known song and take it to new heights. Mastodon has done some stellar covers (‘The Bit’ from Melvins, ‘Emerald’ by, Thin Lizzy) and has now added all-time classic rock anthem ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin to the mix. Done in tribute to their late manager Nick John on the Stairway To Nick (Reprise Records) 10″ single for Record Store Day 2019, since Nick was a massive Zep fan. Tragically he passed away after a bout with pancreatic cancer in 2018. Mastodon will donate the proceeds from this release to research for that very disease. You can actually say they did it “because Nick John would have wanted it that way”. And you’d be right. He’d be touched.
Covering the most well-known song in rock music history is no easy feat. The song is indelibly burned into the brain of Zep lovers and haters equally. So doing this track at all out of the many Zep songs in the world takes a ton of chutzpah. Still, the band approached it like they do everything else, with great musicianship, and with ultimate respect. The cover is, in fact, a mostly tried and true to the original, save for the guitar solo and some vocalizing by Brann Dailor. It’s a gutsy call to take this approach, but they win out by sticking to the script.
Beautifully recorded, you could mistake the cover for the original through the first half of the song. Everything is tight, right down to the original recorder solo in the intro. Dailor is the star here, as he has been for the last few Mastodon albums. Front and center with his high range lead vocals and surprising with his spot on John Bonham sounding drum parts. He has a different style totally than Robert Plant or Bonzo, of course, but he does justice to them both. Dailor shines especially bright at the end for the impossible Plant vocal acrobatics in the coda. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are solid on the rhythm guitar parts, coming up with Jimmy Page’s army of layers of folk guitars. For the epic and most famous solo ever, it’s a fine take and more akin to the solo in the film The Song Remains The Same, but the shorter recording known from popular bootlegs. There is special care given to the second backing lead guitar melody that is crucial to building the tension at the end of the song. The production is nice and dry, just like all of the Page production work on Led Zeppelin IV (Atlantic). Troy Sanders’ bass line is solid, but it’s one of the more pedestrian Jonesy bass parts to be fair.
A very good cover and a great tribute to their passed on dear friend. You can’t deny feeling the added weight emotionally from the band when you hear the track. Nick John’s face appears prominently on the album cover of Stairway To Nick John, as it should. The band performed an acoustic rendition of the track at his funeral, as it was said to be John’s favorite song of all time. Captured by Gojira’s Joe Duplantier on his cell phone (John also managed them) that recording appears on the B-side of the 10″.
Officially, the RSD release is sold out, but the digital release is coming on May 17th 2019.
8 / 10