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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV CD (album) cover

LED ZEPPELIN IV

Led Zeppelin

 

Prog Related

4.38 | 799 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars All that glitters is gold

While Led Zeppelin have made many superb albums, their fourth is for me their finest achievement. Other albums have song songs which approach, and may even exceed the quality of the recordings here, but there is a consistency to IV (Zoso, Untitled, Four Symbols.. call it what you will) which tend to be lacking in most of the bands releases.

From the opening a-cappella "Hey hey mama said the way you move .." introduction to "Black Dog" to the "Going down now, going down" conclusion to "When the levee breaks" the album oozes quality and attention to detail. Led Zeppelin IV brings together the best of the heavy blues metal of the second album with the lighter acoustic sounds of the third.

"Stairway to heaven" is naturally the focal point of the set. This track single handedly justifies Zep's prog related tag. The apparent simplicity of this song stems from its opening acoustic section, where Robert Plant offers one of his finest vocal performances. Once Jimmy Page switches on his electric guitar though, this magnificent piece is transformed into one of the true classics of the 20th century. There is an old cliché which opines that familiarity breeds contempt, and "Stairway to heaven" sometimes suffers from this malaise. This has been exacerbated in recent years by the plethora of cover versions which have been produced, including an album dedicated to over 20 versions of this song alone, of which Rolf Harris's is probably the best known! Despite the Led Zeppelin version never having been released as a single, the song is as globally familiar as the most famous works of the Beatles. None of this however can in any way diminish the absolute perfection of the original. On the inner sleeve of the LP, "Stairway." is the only song to have its lyrics published. Incidentally, the song did eventually breach the singles chart when a superb version by the Far Co-operation, a collaboration involving members of Foreigner and REO Speedwagon, was released.

It would be entirely understandable if the rest of the album paled into insignificance when asked to sit alongside Led Zeppelin's finest piece. The fact is though that there are many fine compositions and performances to enjoy here. "Black dog" has the same opening impact as "Whole lotta love" did on the second album, Page's incisive guitar licks, conceived by John Paul Jones, complementing Plant's assured vocal. The a- cappella sections were reportedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac's excellent single "Oh well". "Rock and Roll" may be an appropriate title for track 2, but the incessant driving wall of sound which backs this straightforward retro rocker, demands a constant increasing of the volume throughout. Incidentally, the piano here is played by Rolling Stones road manager, Ian Stewart.

The radical interpretation of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy's "When the levee breaks", which finds this blue standard transformed into one of the heaviest, most powerful songs Zep have recorded, makes for a magnificent conclusion. The song originally related to a 1927 incident in the state of Mississippi, but retains its pertinence in view of mere recent events in New Orleans.

The late Sandy Denny's (of Fairport Convention) contribution to the folk based "Battle of evermore" may sound improvised, but the quality of the final product belies such a conclusion. Unusually, Jimmy Page switches to mandolin (an instrument he was not familiar with) for the entire track. The songs has variously been described as being inspired by JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the rings", the cold war, the battle between night and day or good and evil and even the Irish national anthem! Incidentally, Denny was the only guest singer ever to appear on a Led Zeppelin album. indeed she is allocated a fifth symbol on the inner sleeve. A similar folk based feel is present on the Joni Mitchell tribute, "Going to California".

The temptation is to revere every track individually, and while they stand in their own right as an individual pieces of excellent, it is when they are heard in the context of the album as a whole that they take on their true significance. This may not be a concept album in the traditional sense, but it is a complete work in the way of any symphony or rock opera. Essentially, that is where the relationship of Led Zeppelin IV with progressive rock lies. Not in the individual chords or "Rock and roll" or the thundering drums of "When the levee breaks", but in this magnificent work which is not only Led Zeppelin's finest, but one of the great albums of our time.

Easy Livin | 5/5 |

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