IV

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV — a.k.a. Zoso, Runes, Four Symbols, Untitled or whatever the hell the album with the strange cover sporting a photograph on a war-torn wall of an old man seemingly stooped over, loaded down with a batch of straw on his back (?) is called — is a crowning achievement from one of rock's most enduring legends. Taking elements of the hard rock, blues-based format the band had mastered on their first two albums; merging the suave acoustic/folk musings from the third album; and blending it all with an exotic mix of Indian/Mediterranean stylings and mythological lyrics, Led Zeppelin's fourth album confirmed the inevitable — they were on their way to becoming the biggest musical act on the planet.

Guitarist Jimmy Page, unveiling a flurry of complex overdubs and drop dead dripping textures, was the chief architect, maneuvering his vision to fruition on this record. As a producer, Page skillfully manipulated and molded the band's natural thunder into an intoxicating wall of sound. Robert Plant's wailing voice was a vital part of that sound, effectively becoming a fourth and unique instrument unto itself. This is obvious on "Black Dog," the album's opening track with a stop-and-go arrangement relying completely on the singer's well-paced and screeching delivery. The energy shifts into overdrive with "Rock and Roll," another signature tune that would eventually be mutilated by every garage band in existence. And then in one grand swoop, a mystical mood settles in, mandolins and acoustic guitars howl at the moon, and Plant and Sandy Denny — a member of the seminal English folk group, Fairport Convention — exchange verses in the dramatic, "The Battle Of Evermore." As if everything for this band climaxes during the fourth round, the first three songs meticulously set the stage for the album's magnum opus, "Stairway To Heaven."

Despite the fact that "Stairway To Heaven" would go on to be the most overplayed song in the history of FM radio, it was never released as a single. This undoubtedly helped push the fourth album up the charts, peaking at number two in the U.S. Beyond the first four cuts, there's a bountiful helping of prime-cut Zep to maintain the momentum. The invincible keyboard work of John Paul Jones, weaving in and out of Page's smooth guitar lines, tastefully eases "Misty Mountain Hop" forward; four drumsticks and the powerful foot of John Bonham drive "Four Sticks;" the folksy meanderings of Page and Plant reveal yet another side on "Going To California." The record closes out suitably enough with the epic, "When The Levee Breaks." And while Led Zeppelin would go on to produce other classics of this caliber, nothing would ever capture the band's pure essence and strength as well as the notorious fourth album — no matter what you want to call it.

~ Shawn Perry

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