It has now been 47 years since the British Classic Rock band “Led Zeppelin” released their masterpiece of an album known as “Led Zeppelin IV” or “ZoSo”. In 1971 the band had achieved some success, while preparing to create their fourth album, yet hadn't really achieved quite the heights they were looking for, as fellow British bands like “The Beatles” or “The Rolling Stones” achieved before them, who were able to make it big in England, but later huge in America, and worldwide! While becoming like “The Beatles” was never a realistic goal, the band new their hard rock sound could achieve bigger things that they had already done in their initial three albums. The 4 piece band of vocalist Robert Plant, Guitarist Jimmy Page, Bassist John Paul Jones, and Drummer, John Bonham had all the potential in the world, as each band member at that time had tons of talent and were really coming together as a cohesive unit a few albums into their career, and each member would later end up in any discussion of all time greats at their respective positions.
In 1971, the band would head to historic Headley Grange, a popular recording studio in Hampshire, England. Headley was know for its rather remote yet scenic location in the country. The band could concentrate on their music of course, but also hang out together as friends and jam, without the distractions of things you'd find in the big city. Many of the songs that ended up on this album were produced here spontaneously, as the band could get together, have fun, and experiment with different sounds they could easily capture for a quick recording. The countryside also helped influence the lyrics of some of these songs, as well as historical events or classic fantasy novels.
With this particular album review, I want to be clear that much like most music critics or fans, I feel that the “Led Zeppelin IV” album is an absolute masterpiece, and about as flawless as an album can get, and would be graded as an “A plus” , ” 5 out of 5 stars” or whatever perfection grade you could use. My purpose here is to do a track by track review, and why each track has its own brilliance, and why the 8 tracks together in order complete the masterpiece puzzle here, and why this album is seen as such a masterpiece by myself and many others. Here we go ……….
Track #1 – Black Dog
“Hey, hey mama said the way you move
Gon' make you sweat, gon' make you groove
Ah ah child way ya shake that thing
Gon' make you burn, gon' make you sting”
The album starts off with a real banger, a nice introductory jam that packs a punch! “Black Dog” was allegedly named after a dog that hung around the band during the recording sessions here, and the main character in this song is a man acting like a panting dog, going after a woman. Like many romantic quests, the main character ends up not having much success with this particular woman, as she is described as a “big legged woman, ain't got no soul”, who later took the money and car of our main character. While the song is bad news for our panting dog type of main character, the breakdown of the band after each line of the song is delivered really sets the tone for this album. The band is hear to ROCK, and to JAM, and to hit you HARD, even they don't always get the ladies!
Track #2 – Rock and Roll
It's been a long time since I rock and rolled
It's been a long time since I did the Stroll
Oh let me get it back let me get it back
Let me get it back baby where I come from”
Picking up where “Black Dog” leaves off, “Rock and Roll” is another hard hitting banger, and likely the most radio friendly song on the album, as it wasn't too long in length. There are different interpretations to what “Rock and Roll” is about, on the surface you could see it as a celebration of the band rocking hard again after taking some time off. It has also been seen as the band's defiant response to harsh critics of the band's previous albums, and a way of hitting back at those critics. One very popular interpretation was that “Rock and Roll” was about sex or romance, and that it had been a long time since the main character had any success in that area. Whatever the interpretation you want to use is, the song hits hard and later became a staple at arenas and sporting events, and great for a party!
Track #3 – The Battle of Evermore
Queen of Light took her bow
And then she turned to go,
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom
And walked the night alone.
Oh, dance in the dark of night,
Sing to the morning light.”
Perhaps the biggest risk on the album comes in the transition from the blast of the fast hard rocking opening two tracks, to the slow down change of pace that is “The Battle of Evermore”. The song itself can be interpreted as a “Good vs. evil” type battle inspired by both real life and fictitious readings. References to war and specifically books about the Scottish Independence wars made quite a bit of impact on lead singer Robert Plant in crafting the lyrics. Digging deeper, Robert Plant's love of the author J.R.R. Tolkien has a huge influence on this song as well as several others in the catalog. Plant was a huge fan of Tolkien and specifically “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit”. In this song Plant serves as a “Tolkien-esque” narrator describing a battle, that could easily remind you of something from “The Lord of the Rings” or a real life battle that had taken place. A special appearance by the musical instrument the “mandolin” is used here to soften things, but really help describe the eerie and tense mood of the song!
Track #4 – Stairway to Heaven
“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now,
It's just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on. ”
Clearly there has been a ton that has been said and many interpretations of “Stairway to Heaven”, seen by many as one of the all time greatest rock songs of all time, if not the absolute greatest! The interpretations get complicated, as even lead singer Robert Plant admitted the meanings of the song change depending on his mood, or what day of the week it is. Most agree that the beginning of the song deals with a woman who pretty much was getting everything she wanted in life, but not giving anything back, and was very materialistic. Later on in this song there becomes a description of “Two paths you can go on”, which many have interpreted as “Heaven vs. Hell” based on what decisions you make in your life, with still time to change the road your on! In truth, you could give hundreds of interpretations to this song and not really be considered wrong, which is also a big reason why the song has such an appeal. The song at over 8 minutes was not initially popular for radio airplay, yet the sheer popularity and buzz the song generated essentially forced DJs to play this song, which remains on a short list of all time greatest songs in music history!
Track #5 – Misty Mountain Hop
“So I've decided what I'm gonna do now
So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now
Over the hills where the spirits fly, oh, I really don't know”
After a couple of songs that are slower and incredibly deep, Led Zeppelin picks up the pace again with the mythical “Misty Mountain Hop”! While the pace picks up and the song hits harder, we are still left with a brilliant song, but also with multiple interpretations. Some feel it is autobiographical, regarding the band simply wanting to enjoy themselves and immerse themselves in the current day hippie and drug culture, and take some time away from the spotlight. The drugs LSD and Marijuana were very prevalent in those days, and many feel it is about the band partaking in drugs like that, and wanting to avoid the police and authorities from stopping them. A different interpretation again brings back the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, as the misty mountains are a magical place that dwarves and hobbits wanted to visit in these novels. It is probably also fair to say that the band also wanted to connect things going on in their current real lives with similar things that happened to some of the characters in the Tolkien books, and find a parallel.
Track #6 – Four Sticks
“And when the owls cry in the night
Oh baby, baby when the pines begin to cry
Baby, baby, baby how do you feel?
If the river runs dry, baby, how do you feel?”
“Four Sticks” was named in honor of drummer John Bonham, who actually used four drumsticks on his part recording the song, as it was an extremely difficult drum part, and one reason why Bonham I feel is one of the greatest drummers in history. The complexity of the song was moreso from a musical perspective rather than a lyrical perspective. The song also comes closest to an instrumental breakdown, one you may hear at a live concert where a band allows the guitarist to have his own prolonged solo, or in this case, the drummer. A strong transition after “Misty Mountain Hop” , “Four Sticks” essentially serves as an extension of the last song, think of it as mainly an extended instrumental breakdown with emphasis on the drums, and one of the greatest and most difficult drum solos you could think of.
Track #7 – Going to California
“Spent my days with a woman unkind
Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start
Going To California with an aching in my heart.”
One last slow down of the album, “Going to California” takes a rather bleak and lonely tone. It again involves a main character who has been hurt my a girl and a failed romance, and is a bit of a downer. The main character attempts to give an optimistic tone later on in the song, as the idea of “Going to California” for a fresh start is in his mind, and hoping that going there will solve his problems in life, and most importantly find him the right girl, who of course in 1971, would be a bit of a hippie with “flowers in her hair”. This song is also a tribute to singer Joni Mitchell, who Plant and that band was a huge fan of, and the song is essentially sung in her folk-like style, and of course she also loved to sing about California. As far as the album goes, the song is a bit depressing, however, it does represent a calm before the storm of the final track.
Track #8 – When the Levee Breaks
“Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move!”
After the mood gets a bit softer and darker in the previous track, we get hit with “When the Levee Breaks”, which is the final track on the album, which is actually my favorite track! I like to think of the song, as a “fireworks finale” type of track, where the entire band is hitting on all cylinders, and hits you with punch after punch, knocking you out on this final track! The track was originally a blues song from the 1920's about a great river flood, and a song about hard times approaching, but the main character is ready to take on anything despite whatever doom he may be facing. The song begins with a power John Bonham drum solo, which sounds like a march or a procession, as the rest of the band chimes in to join on full blast! To me it completes the puzzle of the album and leaves you fulfilled, and realizing that the album reaches the next level, or the highest level as figuratively the album finally breaks the levee!
The Led Zeppelin IV album is successfully able to capture a roller coaster of raw emotion, and the widest range of musical influence! The album shows how the band can hit anyone hard with a drum solo or guitar riff, but also how a softer mellow side can be pulled off through the wide falsetto range of Robert Plant's vocals! We can always have a debate on where the album, tracks, band, and individual members rank all time, but if this album doesn't put the band on top of the lists, it certainly helps it come really really close!
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