In the Led Zeppelin catalogue, Houses of the Holy (1973) is one of the albums that’s always received mixed reviews. Rock critics’ largely negative response to the fifth Zep album upon its release certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the band.
Several reviewers pointed to “D’yer Mak’er” as one of the LP’s duds. Writing for Rolling Stone, Gordon Fletcher called the track “a pathetic stab at reggae that would probably get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered playing it in Jamaica.”
While that smacks of overreaction, few would argue “D’yer Mak’er” represents one of Zeppelin’s stronger efforts. As John Paul Jones once recalled, John Bonham was among those who didn’t rate the track highly. And Jones said Bonham’s performance reflected that.
John Paul Jones said John Bonham didn’t try hard on ‘D’yer Mak’er’ because ‘he hated it’
While “D’yer Mak’er” wasn’t a straight take on reggae (see: Robert Plant’s vocal), Zeppelin’s power trio obviously went in that musical direction. The problem, according to Jones, came down to Bonham’s distaste for the genre in general — and the song in particular.
“John was interested in everything except jazz and reggae,” Jones said in Chris Welch’s John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums (2001). “He didn’t hate jazz but he hated playing reggae – he thought it was really boring.” Jones felt it came out in Bonham’s groove (or lack thereof) on the track.
“He wouldn’t play anything but the same shuffle beat all the way through it,” Jones told Welch, adding that Bonham “hated” the song. “It would have been all right if he had worked at the part, [but] he wouldn’t, so it sounded dreadful.”
That sounds like a sad fate for a song with a joke title (from a crack about the cockney pronunciation of Jamaica). After all, engineer Eddie Kramer recalled everyone enjoying “D’yer Mak’er.” And Plant seemed to have fun with his vocal. Yet Jones sided with Bonham on the song’s quality.
Jones also noted his dislike of ‘D’yer Mak’er’
When relating Bonham’s feelings about “D’Yer Mak’er,” Jones noted that he agreed with the opinion of his partner in Zep’s rhythm section. On top of calling it dreadful, Jones noted a flaw in their approach as musicians. “The whole point of reggae is that the drums and bass really have to be very strict about what they play,” he told Welch in A Thunder of Drums.
Yet Bonham didn’t want to take any such strict approach, and thus the backing track suffered. In a way, Jones acknowledged Fletcher’s critique with that comment. (Fletcher called “D’yer Mak’er” “totally devoid of the native’ form’s sensibilities” in Rolling Stone.)
Though the members of Zep were usually in sync, it didn’t always work that way. (No one other than Plant considered reviving “Down by the Seaside” for Physical Graffiti (1975), for example.) So “D’yer Mak’er” kept its spot on House of the Holy.
A few years later, Jones was on the receiving end of bandmates’ critiques — Bonham and Jimmy Page didn’t think highly of the softer tracks on In Through the Out Door (1979). Those were the ones Jones had co-written with Plant.
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