Within eighteen months, three British musicians went from virtual obscurity to being part of the best known rock band in the world. By the end of 1971, world domination was such that Led Zeppelin could afford to release a fourth album without any sleeve notes and with no band image or song titles on the sleeve either. It has since been called by fans a variety of names, from the obvious “Led Zeppelin IV” to the less obvious “Runes” after its many Lord of the Rings references, to ‘Four Symbols” or “Zosa”, after its inside cover motif, or plain old “No Title”. Still, on pre-sales it went to #1 all over the world, being released on November 8, 1971, and it stayed at the top of the charts well into the new year.
Over the following decades this album has probably generated enough income from sales to run a small country. It has also won just about every accolade out there; voted the best rock record ever in such illustrious magazines as Classic Rock Revisited, Rolling Stone, Q, Mojo, and even the Pattaya Mail (we just had a vote and Toto, Ron the Wizard, Rick of Bryant, Editor Martin and Led Zeppelin experts Lars Faeste, Colin ‘Mottman ‘Powell, Dai Coe and the Dog said it was a unanimous decision.)
If you had wanted to put together a super group in 1971 all you had to do was call up Led Zeppelin, and there you had it. Out of the ashes of the Yardbirds the band’s last remaining member Jimmy Page created Zeppelin (well, he had to, all the others had left) and the new band did one tour of Scandinavia as ‘The New Yardbirds’.
Page originally joined the ‘Yardbirds’ as bassist, but switched to lead to give the band a duel pronged guitar attack with a certain Jeff Beck on the other axe. Page had long been a top session player and he was the man who gave Led Zeppelin the initial vision as well as musical gravitas. Here was a guitarist who could shred the wallpaper off your walls one second and be as gentle as a snowflake the next.
Robert Plant quickly became the template of what a singer in a rock band should look and sound like. His unique style of whoops, whines, and yells became his trademark and in between all this, with his clear vocals, he could always put across the stories he wanted to tell in his song writing partnership with Page.
Like Page, bass player John Paul Jones also had a previously successful career as a session player but was completely unknown outside the inner music circles. His quiet nature, his bass playing skills, keyboard work, and help with the song writing were integral parts in the band and essential to its well being.
Then behind the drums was the man to set standards of rock ‘n’ roll to the present day, even after his tragic death more than twenty years ago, Mr. John Bonham (I mean even his name sounds like a drummer.) This ‘God of Thunder’ only got the job because he went down with Robert Plant to keep him company on his journey from Birmingham, England, to audition for the band. The rest – as they say – is history.
Is Led Zeppelin’s fourth album as good as its reputation? Has it stood the test of time? Stupid questions I know, of course it has. You get eight tracks here, all of which are classics. The opening one-two also allayed any fears fans may have had that the band might delve back further into its folksy roots after the rather laid back “Led Zeppelin III” of the previous year. But the year of constant touring had honed their natural rocking instincts.
As soon as Robert Plant leads the band off with those immortal lines: ‘Hey, Hey Mama, said the way you move, Gonna make you sweat Gonna make you groove, My, My child when you shake that thing, Gonna make you burn, Gonna make you sting’ ….you know you are off into totally politically incorrect rock ‘n’ roll heaven.
The band comes in with the thunderous riff of “Black Dog” and off they fly, roaring straight the way through without giving you a second to catch your breath, then straight into the opening drum intro to “Rock and Roll.” And what do you expect to get with a title like that? Page just peels off one riff after another, building them up to a shattering crescendo and John Paul Jones backs this up with some of the busiest fret work ever laid down in a studio by a mere mortal of his chosen profession. As for John (Bonzo) Bonham, he is a man at the height of his powers having the time of his life.
Other tracks include the wonderful “Four Sticks”, so called because Bonham gets the sound he wanted, drummed with four sticks simultaneously (obvious when you think about it.) and an acoustic ballad in “Going to California”. Then there is the keyboard orientated rocker “Misty Mountain Top”, which on any other album, by any other band, would be the centerpiece of any collection. However, here it sometimes gets overlooked by its surroundings, but comes across as a real delight in the context of the album.
There is also a raging folksy tale told with Robert Plant giving full reign to his Tolkienesque whims in the wonderful “The Battle of Evermore”, accompanied by some dexterous mandolin playing from Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Plant is able to display his vocal chops in his duet with Sandy Denny (ex-Fairport Convention), who in her illustrious but tragic career had probably never sung so sweet.
The album closes with one of the darkest songs Led Zeppelin ever recorded, “When the Levee Breaks”, a blues as only Led Zeppelin can play, with Plant’s vocals and harmonica play and Page’s guitar to the fore as the others lay down a rock solid spine to the song.
This was Led Zeppelin’s finest hour, and therefore rightly holds the claim to #1 album of all time.
Oh, by the way, it also includes “Stairway to Heaven” (Does anybody remember laughter?)
Jimmy Page – guitar and mandolin
Robert Plant – vocals and harmonica
John Paul Jones – bass, mandolin and keyboards
John Bonham – drums
Rock and Roll
The Battle Of Evermore
Stairway To Heaven
Misty Mountain Top
Going To California
Note: Written by Mott The Dog and Hells Bells. Mott The Dog can usually be found in his kennel at Jameson’s Pub, Nova Park, Soi AR, North Pattaya.