Greta Van Fleet, The Blues, and Cycles of Repetition

Greta Van fleet is a Michigan-based rock band, that has gained considerable traction within recent years. While the band has received praise from critics and fans alike, they have also received a great deal of criticism regarding the authenticity and originality of their music. Take for example this single from their most recent album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army:

After listening to this song, it quickly becomes apparent why Greta Van Fleet has received so much criticism from parts of the music community. Their sound and style as a band are uncannily similar to the seventies rock group, Led Zeppelin. Almost every aspect of the instrumentation sounds directly borrowed from Zeppelin, from the screechy, wailing vocals, to high-strung, bluesy guitar, and the driving rhythm section.

But why I am I talking about this? Several weeks ago in class, we briefly discussed Greta Van Fleet and how they “repeat” Led Zeppelin. I decided I would discuss this issue in a blog post, as I had numerous ideas on the topic and wanted to apply this concept of “repetition” to something that I have thought about extensively on my own time.

It is a well-known fact that Led Zeppelin borrowed extensively from African American blues artists, such as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and more. Many songs on their first few albums were direct blues covers or borrowed heavily from blues songs, such as “Bring it On Home”, “How Many More Times”, and “Whole Lotta Love”. I’m not going to deny Led Zeppelin’s dubious history with plagiarism, but that is not what I want to address here. What I want to address are the unintended circumstances that Led Zed Zeppelin received by channeling black music.

In their emulation of the blues and other traditionally black genres music, Led Zeppelin set them for a cycle of repetition. Historically, blues artists took motifs, elements, and refrains from each other’s music. Take, for example, the songs “Walking Blues” by Robert Johnson, and “Mississippi Delta Blues” by Muddy Waters. Both of these songs were made at different periods of time and yet use similar musical and vocal motifs. This is a prime example of musical ideas and elements getting transferred from one artist to another. The blues chord structure itself is a repetitive, simple one that is constantly changed based on the musician’s whim. This being the case, it is only natural that Greta Van Fleet came around. Led Zeppelin borrowed from black music, something characterized by repetition and cyclicality. In a strange way, they experienced the same cycle that many blues artists have gone through, one of repetition and borrowing. I believe that the harsh criticism of Greta Van Fleet is because many people don’t understand this theme of repetition that is so prevalent throughout the blues. While I personally don’t care for how close Greta Van Fleet sounds like Led Zeppelin, I believe that the cycle of repetition is extremely important to keep in mind when it comes to discussing this band and their place in contemporary music.

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