Bass Transcription: Led Zeppelin – ‘Good Times, Bad Times’

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Zeppelin’s Maiden Voyage

If you listen to ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ now it’s hard to imagine that it really was the first track from a band’s debut LP; the confidence, the conviction, the swagger that permeates every note makes it sound like a band with much more experience. But, then again, Led Zeppelin were no ordinary band – Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were both seasoned session players prior to forming the group, able to lock instantly with John Bonham’s virtuoso drumming (the story goes that Jimmy Page initially wanted The Who’s Keith Moon behind the kit but when asked, Moon said he thought that the band would go down “like a lead balloon”, hence the name).

Led Zeppelin – ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ Bass Transcription PDF

The track opens with guitar and bass marking the first two 8th notes of each bar, allowing John Bonham to show off his knowledge of subdivisions – note the unusual five bar length of the intro. The verse is comprised of a repeated two-bar phrase, which alternates between the figure used in the intro and a much busier 16th-note riff that outlines D major and A major triads before ascending chromatically back to E; my preference is to use an open D-string midway through the riff to make the line easier to play at tempo.

The chorus should give you plenty of practice with a variety of 16th-note rhythms, culminating in a one-bar bass fill that shows the clear influence of James Jamerson in its use of 16th-note syncopation and chromaticism (not to mention the tone of JPJ’s bass, which definitely smells like flatwounds).

Verse 2 sounds like we’ve modulated up a tone, and instead of repeating the riff from verse 1 we’re treated to John Paul Jones letting loose on a static F# major chord – from looking at the lines that he plays. it seems like he’s treating it more like F#7, hinting at the minor 3rd and flattened 5th to provide an element of the blues. The second chorus features the same chord progression as the first, albeit up a tone, which means that we have to deal with some unfriendly accidentals when dealing with a C# major chord – bars 29 and 30 feature both E# and F double sharp. I’m sorry.

The second guitar solo (bar 32) signals a return to the original key, and my ears again hear the influence of Jamerson in John Paul Jones’ playing (The Four Tops’ ‘Bernadette’ comes to mind). The final chorus ends with another bass break, this time a clever D major pentatonic motif that creates a shifting rhythmic effect by using a grouping of three notes played in a constant 16th-note rhythm.