Saturday, June 22, 2002

'Skip's Song': Robert Plant song review of the day (No. 9 of 10)

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Today's song is "Skip's Song," named for its author, Alexander "Skip" Spence. As a member of Moby Grape, he and the band first recorded it as a demo on Nov. 6, 1967, while rehearsing new material for the group's second album. In those days, Spence was a really loving guy, those who knew him said. But during the second album's recording sessions, Spence apparently snapped, possibly the result of some drug use. In a well-publicized incident, Spence apparently tried to use an ax on another member of the band. Spence was then institutionalized for six months.

With Spence no longer in the band, Moby Grape chose not to use "Skip's Song" for the second album, Wow. But the song was retitled "Seeing" and used as the final track on Moby Grape's third proper studio album, Moby Grape '69.

Robert Plant has long been a fan of Moby Grape and Skip Spence. The lyrics to the first two lines of Led Zeppelin's bluesy "Since I've Been Loving You" are a play on the corresponding lyrics of Moby Grape's soulful "Never." Since the Led Zeppelin days, he's performed versions of Grape's "Sitting by the Window" and "Lazy Me" and recorded versions of Grape's "8:05" and "Naked, If I Want To" and Spence's "Little Hands." This new cover of "Skip's Song" falls right in line.

The song closes out Plant's new album, Dreamland. Organ and acoustic guitar are the first sounds heard on the track. Generally speaking, "Skip's Song" has a different sound from the rest of Plant's album; sorry, I won't be using the word "soundscape" in today's review. The song jumps from light to heavy in the flash of a drum fill -- and back.

There are backup singers on it that are definitely not Plant; some of them are female! But the male backup voices might be the boys in the band, like bassist Charlie Jones, Plant's right-hand man when it comes to backing vocals on tour these days. Whoever it is highlights the words, "Save me," definitely a jarring phrase when taken into consideration that they were written by Spence while he was still a friendly man.

Throughout the choruses, there are two electric guitars: one strumming the chords and the other playing a country-folk improvisation. The arrangement here was not unlike what Moby Grape guitarists Jerry Miller and Peter Lewis employed on their version of the song.

In the end, Plant's version just fades out. But not eerily so. In a way, it does sort of leave you hanging ...

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