Exactly forty-seven years ago, a legendary British rock band released the album that would later come to define their sound, as well as that of an era in rock and roll history. The album was untitled, a decision made by the members of Led Zeppelin, who instead represented the album with four symbols – one chosen by each member.
It was a bold move, especially after Led Zeppelin III was received with mixed reviews from the critics. It’s easy to look back and say, “Well, of course it worked, how could it not?” But that’s only because we can’t imagine a world without hits like “Stairway to Heaven”, “Black Dog”, and “Rock and Roll”.
With its massive commercial and critical success, Led Zeppelin IV cemented the band in rock history. Today, it remains one of the best-selling albums of all time. So let’s take a few minutes and dig into what exactly made Led Zeppelin IV so good.
Led Zeppelin IV was recorded at a country house by the name of Headley Grange, in Hampshire, England. “Black Dog” was named after a dog that roamed the grounds of Headley Grange, and, in my opinion, one of Led Zeppelin’s most interesting songs. This is mostly due to the shifting time signature, syncopation, and tempo throughout the song. A most elusive song for any aspiring cover bands out there.
“Rock And Roll” was released as a promotional single for Led Zeppelin IV in the US. In many ways, this is classic Zeppelin, embracing their blues background, and cranking the dial up to eleven. Chances are, you’ve heard it even if you don’t know it in a car commercial for Cadillac.
“The Battle of Evermore” maintains the ‘light and shade’ aspects of the album, leaning toward the softer, folk-influences also found throughout Led Zeppelin III. Guitarist Jimmy Page wrote the song on a mandolin borrowed from bassist John Paul Jones. Like “Rock And Roll”, it was also released as a promotional single in the US.
The first side of the album ends with what is now one of the most well-known, recognized, and over-played rock songs of all time. Yes, that’s right. “Stairway To Heaven”. The legendary song was written mostly by Page, who laid down acoustic guitar for the backing track. The backing track also included Bonham on drums, and Jones on electric piano. But we won’t get into the real meat of the song here. That’s been done and redone almost as many times as “Stairway” has played on radio stations over the world. Almost.
Side two opens with the Hobbit-inspired track, “Misty Mountain Hop”, with lyrics alluding to student clashes with police involving drug use and possession. This was another track in which Jones played electric piano. But really, you just want to stick around for that piercing Page solo.
The second song on side two, “Four Sticks” may not be as familiar as most. The song got its title from Bonham’s drum pattern throughout the song, which he used four drumsticks to play. Due to this, the song required numerous takes to record, and was only played live once.
The album’s penultimate track, “Going To California” is another soft, folksy, acoustic song, mirroring “The Battle Of Evermore” from side one. Both songs bring the energy down, before finishing on a high note. It seems that, after their third album, Led Zeppelin learned that their love of folk was best delivered in small doses.
Speaking of finishing on a high note, it’s hard to beat “When The Levee Breaks” for a closing number. The song is a non-stop, heavy blues jam with impeccable performances by each member, including Plant’s trademark harmonica. The drums were recorded in a large hall at Headley Grange, which gave them their distinct sound.
Led Zeppelin IV
Without a doubt, Led Zeppelin IV remains the band’s greatest commercial and critical success. And while there still remain many aspects of it that have been left untouched, we’ll have to close the book on it for now. Although, in the future I’d very much like to write about each of the four symbols chosen to represent each member, as well as the tarot card-inspired imagery on the front cover.
As always, comments and suggestions for future posts are most welcome. If there’s anything I missed (which I’m sure there is), that deserves some spotlight, feel free to drop it in down below. Let’s just try and be civil if we do, and treat each other like humans rather than trolls.
Until next time.