Within eighteen months three members of this band had
gone from total obscurity to part of the best known rock band in the
world. By the end of 1971 world domination was such that they could
release their fourth album without any sleeve notes, no band image or song
titles on the sleeve either. On pre-sales, it went to #1 all over the
world, being released on November 8th and staying at #1 into the New Year.
Over the years it has probably generated enough sales
to run a fairly large country. In the last thirty-two years it has won
just about every accolade there is to get. Voted the best rock record ever
in such illustrious magazines as ‘Classic Rock Revisited’, ‘Rolling
Stone’, ‘Q’, ‘Mojo’, and even the Chiangmai Mail. (We
just had a vote: Toto, Ella Crew, Andy, and Led Zeppelin experts Lars
Fieste, John Boon, Graham Rudd, Dai Coe, and the Dog - it was unanimous.)
If you had wanted to put together a super group in 1971
all you would have had to do was put together Led Zeppelin. Out of the
ashes of the ‘Yardbirds’ founding member Jimmy Page created Led
Jimmy Page originally joined the ‘Yardbirds’ as
bassist, but switched to lead guitar to give the band a duel pronged
guitar attack with a certain Jeff Beck on the other axe. Jimmy Page had
long been a top session player, playing most famously on the Kinks’
‘You Really Got Me’ famous guitar riff that almost invented heavy
Robert Plant had quickly become the template of what a
singer in a rock band looked and sounded like. His unique style of whoops,
whines, and yells became his trademark. With his clear vocals he could
always put across the stories he wanted to tell in his song writing
partnership with Jimmy Page.
Bass player John Paul Jones also had a previous
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; of course it does. You get eight
tracks, all of which are classic. The opening one-two of the first couple
of tracks allay any fears of fans that thought they might delve back
further into their 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
‘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 then comes in with Black
Dog’s thunderous riff and off they all fly roaring straight the way
through until you go without a second to catch your breath into the
‘Rock and Roll’ opening drum intro. What do you expect to get with a
title like this? Page just peels off one riff after another, building them
up to a shattering crescendo. 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 John Bonham gets the sound he wanted for the song
drummed with four sticks simultaneously. An acoustic ballad in ‘Going to
California’. A keyboard orientated rocker in ‘Misty Mountain Top’,
which on any other album, by any other band, would be the centerpiece of
any collection. There is also a raging folksy tale told with Robert Plant
giving full reign to his Tolkien whims in the wonderful ‘The Battle of
Evermore’, with some dexterous mandolin played by Jimmy Page. Robert
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 Robert Plant’s vocals and harmonica play and
Jimmy 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 any body remember laughter?