Houses of the Holy (1973) is one of the Led Zeppelin albums that has consistently received mixed reviews. The majority of rock critics’ negative reactions to the fifth Zep album upon its release did not go unnoticed by the band.
Numerous reviewers singled out “D’yer Mak’er” as one of the album’s weak points. Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone described the track as “a pitiful attempt at reggae that would almost certainly get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered to play it in Jamaica.”
While that may seem excessive, few would argue that “D’yer Mak’er” is one of Zeppelin’s stronger efforts. As John Paul Jones recalled, John Bonham was among those who did not think highly of the track. Additionally, Jones stated that Bonham’s performance reflected this.
John Paul Jones stated that John Bonham did not make a concerted effort on ‘D’yer Mak’er’ because ‘he despised it.’
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While “D’yer Mak’er” was not a straight reggae cover (see: Robert Plant’s vocal), Zeppelin’s power trio clearly went in that direction musically. 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 fine if he had worked on the part, but he didn’t, and thus it sounded terrible.”
That does not sound like a happy ending for a song with a joke title (from a crack about the cockney pronunciation of Jamaica). After all, engineer Eddie Kramer remembered everyone having a good time listening to “D’yer Mak’er.” And Plant seemed to be having a good time with his vocal. Nonetheless, Jones agreed with Bonham about the song’s quality.
Jones even expressed disdain for ‘D’yer Mak’er.’
As Jones discussed Bonham’s feelings about “D’Yer Mak’er,” he noted that he concurred with his rhythm section partner in Zep’s rhythm section. Along with describing it as heinous, Jones pointed out a weakness in their approach as musicians. “The whole point of reggae is that the drums and bass have to be extremely conscientious about what they play,” he explained in A Thunder of Drums to Welch.
However, Bonham was unable to take such a rigid stance, and the backing track suffered as a result. Jones, in a sense, accepted Fletcher’s criticism with that remark. (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.