Monday, November 7, 2011

Celebrating 40th Anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV

32 Million Copies sold and counting...

Has any album remained more mysterious than Led Zeppelin's  ?

Consider the album cover alone. As Jimmy Page told "Almost 40 years after the album came out, nobody knows the old man featured on the cover, nor the artist who painted him. That sort of sums up what we wanted to achieve with the album cover, which has remained both anonymous and enigmatic at the same time." and if the cover's an enigma, how about the name, 

Four symbols, The Fourth Album, The Runes, The Hermit, Untitled or ZOSO,?

In his 33 1/3 book, Erik Davis suggests the four symbols are Earth, Air , Fire and Water.
But they may just be the Discs, Swords, Wands and Cups of Tarot cards.
There are four guys in the band
Four songs on each side
And it's Led Zeppelin's fourth album



Driven by a bass riff developed by John Paul Jones, "Black Dog" is the first track and first single. Robert Plant says the lyrics are a basic sexual come-on, but many Led Zep fans believe the song pays tribute to the black dog with red eyes that led Jimmy Page down a mountainside to make a deal with the devil.

Another riff-driven single that came out of an in-studio jam as the band was recording "Four Sticks". Ian Stewart of The Rolling Stones joins the band on keyboards but this song belongs to John Bonham and his incredible drumming.

An epic acoustic duet featuring Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention. The lyrics, possibly based on Tolkein's Lord of the Rings apparently are a bit of an embarrassment to Plant. "If it suffered from naivete and tweetness-- I was only 23--it makes up for it in the cohesion of the voices and the playing". On their 2008 tour to promote Raising Sands, Allison Krause sang the Sandy Denny parts.

Probably the most played song on the radio, (and not just because the DJ needed to take a dump) "Stairway to Heaven" has that soft acoustic beginning and hard rock ending that inspired bands like Aerosmith, Guns N Roses and Metallica to come up with their own dynamic epics. The song is made up of bits of guitar pieces Page had come up with and a great deal of lyrics Plant wrote spontaneously.

The opening riff appears to have been borrowed from Spirit's "Taurus".

But then, Led Zep did a lot of borrowing in their day.
There's also the allegations of a backwards message praising "Sad Satan".
Listen for yourself


When Robert Plant says of Led Zeppelin IV, "if the feel was good and it was a little bit out of tune, flat or sharp, it didn't matter. We'd keep it just for the feel", he may have been talking about "Misty Mountain Hop". There's a subtle point at 2:11 in the song when the band loses the groove and a few flat notes, but the song rocks. Fans seems to believe it's a bout a love-in broken up by cops.

Named "Four Sticks" because drummer John Bonham played on it with four drumsticks, this tune has been described as "abstract" by Jimmy Page. It certainly adds to the myth of "Four" surrounding the album.

Plant and Page re-recorded the song in India in 1972. It's a bit of a mess but here you go:

Yet another song inspired by Joni Mitchell. ("To find a queen without a king/ They say she plays guitar and cries and sings") Earlier that year Joni had released Blue which featured a song called "California". In a recent introduction Plant said it was written in an "extreme hippie period about the new hope in California and the new world that was being born with the youth generation".

For the fat drum sound, two mikes were dangled three stories above a stairwell in which Bonham played the drums. The recording was then slowed down for the big thick sound. A cover of an old blues number about the Great Mississippi Flood, the song achieves some of its power from Page's studio magic. There's panning, flanging, backwards echo, and backwards harmonica ( as played by Plant).

I'll give the final word on the album  to the dean, Robert Christgau: As always, the band's medievalisms have their limits, but this is the definitive Led Zeppelin and hence heavy metal album. It proves that both are--or can be--very much a part of "Rock and Roll.

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