As much as Beatles and Stones fans, Who and Led Zep devotees love to lock horns and trade insults over who was the best, blah blah blah. I usually don’t bother entering into the fray because, to me, there’s no point.
Both were monsters. So can’t we just get along?
But just for the hell of it, let’s talk about it.
The theory I always heard (I think from Lester Bangs) was that The Who were for jocks, Led Zeppelin for girls and then boys who read a lot of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.
It’s funny, and might have a grain of truth to it, but way too simplistic to be true.
Let’s try this semi-scientifically.
As innovators, I guess the nod would go to The Who. Not to say Zep wasn’t innovative. Going from ‘Good Times, Bad Time’ to ‘Stairway” to ‘Kashmir’ is no short step. But their main “innovation” was taking the blues and blues riffs and pumping it up to eleven. But let’s admit it, some of those riffs were “lifted” a bit. Not going to use the word “stolen”, but some came close.
The Who’s innovations all came from, well…innovating.
The original “rock opera”. First with the short ‘A Quick One’, then ‘Tommy’, then ‘Quadrophenia’.
Then Townsend started working on another rock opera, ‘Lifehouse’. But when he had trouble getting people to understand what it was about just by TALKING about it, it was quickly abandoned and he had a mild nervous breakdown.
But what came out of those sessions was arguably The Who’s best (and possibly most innovative) album, ‘Who’s Next’. It could have gone the way of Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile”, the greatest nervous breakdown album that there never was, but no….
The first real prominent use of synthesizers, two of the biggest rock anthems of all time (“Baba O’Riley”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”)
As musicians, I guess it’s basically a tie. Depends on your taste. Townsend and Page were both amazing. Page’s riffs and solos probably give him the edge, but how can you not underestimate the windmill aggressiveness of Townsend.
On Bass, well John Entwistle was the first lead bass player the world ever met. I’m not sure that started a good precedent, but it worked for The Who and there was a reason that we’ll get to in a few.
John Paul Jones was simply one of the best multi instrumentalists that ever played. Again, a matter of taste. If you are JUST talking bass, well Entwistle from The Who would have the advantage.
I almost don’t want to go down this road.
John Bonham was a monster. To me the best musician in his band.
An absolute force of nature. Some would say he could’ve made ANY band great. The beginning to ‘When the levee Breaks’ alone proves this.
But Moon. Keith freakin’ Moon. Love his sloppy style or hate it, you could never ignore it. One of the reasons Entwistle played like he did was simply to keep up (or make sense) out of what Keith Moon was doing. And there really was a method to most of his madness. Moon played with the lyrics and MELODY of a song. Strange, but for The Who it worked.
Both long blonde curly maned gods who personified the “frontman”.
Plant probably gets the “innovator” award for his high tenor rock vocal that he couldn’t even keep doing after say, Zep IV.
After Plant every heavy metal frontman had to shriek in the stratosphere so high that dogs would leave the room. And most of them sucked and sounded the same by the way. Again, sometime starting a trend, even though great at the time, isn’t always a good thing.
Daltrey was a fontman with more machismo and interpreted Townsend’s songs like he owned them for years.
And his “YYEEEEEAAAHHHHH” on ‘Won’t Get Fooled again’ gives him bonus points for being the greatest scream ever recorded in rock and roll.
To me it’s as close to a tie as you can have. Zeppelin gets points for knowing when to quit.
But for no good reason, I give it to The who by a nose smaller than Pete Townsend’s.