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Great Debate: Led Zeppelin Vs. The Who

Which Band Is Better: Led Zeppelin Or The Who?

Led Zeppelin!

-- Brendan Butler

“The Who” is more than a band--it's a likely response people will make when uttered in conjunction with the holy grail of rock, Led Zeppelin. I’m not looking to provoke any fighting in the streets, because it’s damn near impossible to imagine rock flourishing without Townshend, Daltrey and company. But without Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham, why even bother going on?

Both English bands in question were hot button-pushing revolutionaries who, with only a few songs, broadened rock ‘n’ roll to the benefit of everyone. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Love Reign O’er Me” and “My Generation” are the very definition of classic.

“Classic” is the key word here, because it means a quality of a time, when the word “immortal,” on the other hand, means everlasting. The intermingling of blues and folk with rock on an indelible level earned Zeppelin a whole lotta love and an irrefutable quantity of indestructibility.

You never knew what you were going to get from the quartet. How do you go from “Good Times Bad Times” to “Stairway To Heaven” to “Kashmir”? Then there are the heavier elements of the lyrics. Hard rock with a brain is seemingly hard to come by and the fact that the band had such a mystique entices people to actively seek it out. Since the members seldom gave interviews and detested explicating their lyrics, Led Zeppelin remains, to this day, the intangible, shadowy Lords of rock.

The Who is great, but in no way has reached that pinnacle.

So at the end of the day, after you walk in the door, kiss the wife, help the kids finish their homework, eat your dinner and floss, at some point, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and speak the truth.

Zeppelin conquers all.

The Who!

-- J.P. Gorman

Golden God lead singers? Check. Genre-defining songwriter/guitarists? Check. Quiet bass players more important to the band’s sound than they let on? Yep. Self-destructive drummers who changed the way people thought their instrument could be played? Got ‘em.

In case you didn’t know, Led Zeppelin and the Who are pretty much the same band. But we’re here to choose between them, not celebrate their similarities.

I’m going with the Who, main reason being Pete Townshend basically invented rock and roll songwriting. That’s not to say Jimmy Page’s songwriting is worthless, but most of the Zeppelin canon consists of distorted Delta blues paired with a shrieking British lead singer.

Townshend was inventive. “A Quick One While He’s Away” shows more ingenuity (not to mention chutzpah) within one rock song than anything found on early Zeppelin albums, let alone those of their contemporaries. You can’t pick out any one of his solos as easily as you can some of Page’s, but you know those razor-sharp hooks.

Also, Townshend gets points for being the first to embrace the sonic possibilities of electronic instruments. From a performance perspective, he was among the first to play around with feedback, the first to smash his guitar onstage, and let’s not forget the windmill.

Keith Moon did things while playing drums that quite literally weren’t supposed to be possible. He was blowing up drum kits on acid to impress groupies when Robert Plant was still reading The Hobbit at his grandmother’s house. Legend has it that Moon even gave Zeppelin the idea for their very name.

No better band exists to get high to than Led Zeppelin; that fact will forever remain. But I’m taking the broader, longer view. Look at the history, look at the art form, look at the songcraft, and it’s gotta be the Who.

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