Greta Van Fleet:
A Love-Hate Letter From a Led Zeppelin Fan


What happens when we compare the new and the old?  

By KATHERINE LEONARD 


12.8.2021




In the four weeks of September 2017 that Greta Van Fleet’s “Highway Tune” topped the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock charts, I failed to notice them or their song. I’m disappointed in my eighteen-year-old self for not paying attention to the emerging rock stars of my generation, but I was probably obsessing over the rock stars of my parents' generation instead.

But lately, I have considered the possibility that I did hear the song at some point and wrote it off as a personally undiscovered Led Zeppelin deep cut. Had I mistaken Greta Van Fleet for my favorite band of all time?

It wasn’t until they appeared on Saturday Night Live in January 2019 that I finally acknowledged Greta Van Fleet—I immediately hated them.

I watched as the long-haired and haphazardly dressed Kiska brothers imitated Robert Plant's vocals and Jimmy Page’s riffs. I heard the familiar twang in the guitar, nasality in the voice, and resonance in the purposefully loose-sounding drums and could only think of Led Zeppelin. I promptly searched for Greta Van Fleet’s most popular songs: “Safari Song,” “Black Smoke Rising,” “When The Curtain Falls,” and “Highway Tune.” I flipped through Zeppelin tracks in my head, lining them up one by one: “Immigrant Song,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “When The Levee Breaks,” “Stairway to Heaven.” Each title felt synonymous with another.

I held onto my distaste for Greta Van Fleet for years, up until just a few months ago. I was nearing the end of my annual Zeppelin phase, a time typically tied to peak summer and brought on by the realization that summer will eventually end. It is this distress surrounding change, both in seasons and in my life, that drives me back to the comfort of songs I already know the words to. This was typically the time I would think about returning to school, but with college behind me, mid-summer brought on insecurities that I had tied to adulthood. This particular Zeppelin phase was not necessitated by lack of comfort so much as by the need for confidence. By the fall, I felt I had bled Zeppelin dry by squeezing the courage from their bold attitude and nerve from their lyricism. That was when I found myself in the deepest parts of their discography, listening to their failed and forgotten tracks. “The Crunge,” “Hats off To Roy Harper,” “Royal Orleans”—the worst of Zeppelin. The songs purposefully forgotten, avoided, and abandoned by so many Zeppelin fans, including me. It was only when I found myself listening to my least favorite Zeppelin songs in order to avoid moving on from my much-needed source of comfort and confidence that I decided to find my next step in finally tapering off of my annual phase. I tried to think of a band that I could use to substitute my need for this very particular music, this courageous and unshrinking music that energizes its listeners. Then I remembered Greta Van Fleet.

Their newest album, The Battle at the Garden’s Gate, surprised me. Released in April 2021, the album sounded more like them than it did anyone else, which was interesting considering that I didn’t know who they were if not a Zeppelin throwback band. As I made my way through the tracks, I got a better sense of who Greta Van Fleet actually is: a passionate, energetic, and talented group of kids not much older than me. I listened again and again, eventually downloading the album to my phone so I could keep listening even in the dead zones of the subway.

This album made me feel the way I imagine my parents must have felt as teenagers listening to new Van Halen and Pink Floyd albums on their worn out Walkmans. Listening to The Battle at the Garden’s Gate gave me the feeling of being at the start of the new wave and revival of classic rock. More than anything, I saw value in and felt respect for this album in its potential ability to spark that next wave, an era I’ve always desperately wanted to be a part of. I excused this newfound respect for them with the knowledge that almost all major rock groups began as cover bands, including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Who.

I believe these excuses, and ultimately what prevents me from being a true Greta Van Fleet fan, are rooted in my deep-seated love for Led Zeppelin. What is most important about these revelations, however, is that I stop comparing the new and the old. The things I love about artists from my parents' generation are different from the things I love about musicians of my own. Though their music is very similar, what I like about both Led Zeppelin and Greta Van Fleet is not their ability to mimic one another, but the feeling that they give me. Originality in the music industry is extremely difficult to come by nowadays. If originality ceases to be an option, then reinvention and revival will have to do, and Greta Van Fleet is the revival of classic rock at its best. Besides, if Robert Plant says he’s okay with Greta Van Fleet carrying on the rock legacy, then I can be too.

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