Despite the psychedelic-influenced breakdowns and freakouts on both “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love,” Led Zeppelin never really dabbled in full-blown psychedelia, probably because they never really felt comfortable with all of that peace and love bullshit.
That said, given that Eastern music was integral to some strains of psychedelia, if for no reason than sheer exoticness, a song like the off-kilter, lilting “Friends” absolutely had psychedelic undercurrents, especially as that John Paul Jones string arrangement swooped in from eternity.
Also helping: a Jimmy Page acoustic guitar riff that alternates between little kids skipping around in a field and the wolf watching them from the tall grass. John Bonham stays away from his drum kit entirely on this one, playing bongos (I guess), while everybody waits for him to bust loose and start pounding away.
All of this initially gives “Friends” a doomy tension, especially as the guitars, string, bongos and Robert Plant’s impossibly high vocals all collide during the first verse:
Bright light almost blinding
Black night still there shining
I can’t stop, keep on climbing
Looking for what I knew
But what makes “Friends” so impressive is that actually gets less tension-filled as it goes on and you realize that Bonham isn’t ever going to leap onto his kit, Page isn’t ever going to add any electric guitars, and Robert Plant is actually singing about, well, all of that peace and love bullshit.
Mmm, I’m telling you now
The greatest thing you ever can do now
Is trade a smile with someone who’s blue now
It’s very easy just
In the end, after you realize that Bonzo had been speeding up the tempo from the very start, “Friends” kinda rams itself into a wall as it spirals towards the beginning of “Celebration Day.”
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