Yesterday someone posted 1985s The Firm on the Facebook Now Playing group page. It was the first time the poster had ever heard it, and there was some back in forth in the comments section about this debut from the band formed by Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Paul Rodgers (Bad Company). And then I came across it today over at Seattle’s Holy Cow Records and it seemed like serendipity, so I bought it.
Chances are that the first time I was actually a fan of anything Led Zeppelin related it was either The Honeydrippers or The Firm, who put out albums within a year of each other and were getting played on KISW. I didn’t fully “discover” Led Zep until around 1987, a couple of years later. By then, of course, The Firm’s two hits “Radioactive” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” had disappeared from the radio as if the songs no longer existed in the material universe and were just a piece of ancient history, no more relevant to most people than Nero’s fiddle playing. I don’t think I ever owned this album back in the day, but I can’t be sure. It certainly seems like something I might have bought, but I simply can’t remember hearing it al the way through.
Musically I didn’t get quite what I expected (or remembered) from The Firm. Guitar-wise Page doesn’t have a whole lot going on. The Paul Rodgers vocals give it a bit of a Bad Company feel, but the songs themselves are definitely not Bad Company style… though both bands play a fairly basic, radio-friendly (flirting with the dreaded “Adult Contemporary”) style of rock. So neither of them particularly stick out. Who does stick out is bassist Tony Franklin, who’s instrument comes across as clear as a bell throughout The Firm, and he does some pretty fancy stuff at times. I’d go so far as to say that he flat-out makes the entire album.
The real question that haunts The Firm, however, is why the hell did they cover “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” on it? I mean, they already had eight decent songs… why add this one? Was it overdue to chart again? And it’s not that The Firm’s version of the song is bad – in fact it’s quite good, once again in particular because of Franklin’s fretless bass. Maybe it was some leftover influence from when Page worked with Plant on The Honeydrippers project the year before. I don’t know. But c’mon Page and Rodgers… you guys have written a lot of great songs. I’m sure you could have come up with another original.
ANYWAY, one thing that interests me about The Firm is that “Radioactive,” their biggest hit, is probably the least Firm-like song on the album. And for some reason “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sounds like a slowed down Don Henley song from the “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” era, though the last minute or so of it is also the most impressive Page’s guitar gets on the album.