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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV CD (album) cover

LED ZEPPELIN IV

Led Zeppelin

 

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4.38 | 815 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
5 stars There's little doubt Led Zeppelin's fourth album became one of the most recognized and popular rock albums of all time, with something like a hundred various reissues and sales ranging from somewhere around 32 to 40 million depending on who's counting. Several tracks have been named on Rolling Stone and others' Top-XXX songs of all time lists, and the immortal "Stairway to Heaven" will live on in rock legend for generations to come. Like it or hate it, this is one of a small handful of quintessential rock albums that pretty much has to belong in any serious modern music fan's collection.

Despite the band's reputation as a hard-rocking blues-based group, this and their first album bear the strongest marks of the band's folk influences. Jimmy Page's associations with everyone from Keith Relf (Yardbirds, Renaissance, Illusion) to Sandy Denny (Strawbs, Fairport Convention, Fotheringay) to Annie Briggs are reflected all over songs like "Bron-y-Aur Stomp", "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" (co-credited to Briggs as it should have been), "The Battle of Evermore" (on which Denny appeared), "Stairway to Heaven" and "Tangerine", and all bear the strong mark of folk influence.

That's neither here nor there really, lots of British bands from that era were influenced by folk including the likes of the Rolling Stones and even Black Sabbath. It's just another explanation for the monumental appeal of the songs on this album, steeped as they were in a musical style that is almost by definition one of mass popularity.

Undoubtedly a lot of copies of this album were sold in the early days simply so people could get their hands on "Stairway to Heaven" since it was never released as a single in Europe and was mostly only available in the form of promo copies even in the U.S. I doubt there's anyone alive in Europe or North America who hasn't at least heard this song once or twice. For those of us who grew up in the seventies it was pretty much impossible to spend an afternoon listening to the radio without hearing it at least once. Only years later when I started to really get into the U.S. band Spirit did I discover what more astute music fans already knew; namely that Page had lifted his guitar intro to the song almost note-for-note from the Randy California tune "Taurus". Didn't seem to make any difference to California, who had chummed around with Page in the band's early days when Zeppelin were touring the U.S. building up a fan base there and who also introduced to his guitar-mounted theremin, an instrument Page would employ himself on "Whole Lotta Love" from the band's second album. I've read other claims that the band lifted chord progressions for the song from an old Chocolate Watchband tune (a band Page was certainly familiar with having appeared at shows with them while a member of the Yardbirds). But that doesn't seem to matter much in the grand scheme of things since it was the deadly powerful songwriting duo of Page and Robert Plant that turned a rather simple little tune with a wicked guitar riff into one of the greatest rock classics ever recorded.

Personally I find "Rock and Roll", "The Battle of Evermore" and "Going to California" to be much more lasting songs than 'Stairway', which passed into terminal overexposure before 1971 had even run out and which Plant eventually divorced himself from, at least in live shows. "Rock and Roll" combines two interwoven and blistering guitar riffs with one of John Bonham's more inspired performances and Plant's slightly uncontrolled crooning and jaunty piano bars from John Paul Jones for what can only be described as an almost perfect rock anthem, ranking in that category with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode".

And "The Battle of Evermore" has been copied and covered so many times by musicians of such a wide range that it almost deserves a place in the same rock history tome that will someday hold the tale of 'Stairway' and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Like those songs, this one transcends rock and enters it's own plane of musical definition, not quite a rock tune but not exactly folk or anything else either; instead, it combines elements of those along with the blues and a longstanding British tradition of showmanship and musical craft to form a timeless gem.

"Going to California" is a little harder to justify as a classic, although most music fans from the seventies probably won't have a problem calling it that. Clearly this is one of the more folk-oriented Zeppelin tunes thanks to Jones' mandolin and Plant's bard-like, storytelling vocals. But really this is an on-the-road touring song, written by Plant and Page in the wake of several U.S. tours that included extensive travel to California. Plant has also hinted he had Joni Mitchell in mind when he penned the lyrics. Mitchell was hanging out in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon with Graham Nash around the time Zeppelin were heavily touring the West Coast and surely had some interaction with her given the Canyon's reputation for being a haven for musicians at the time, including many British bands that came around to hang out with the likes of Mama Cass and Frank Zappa, so the Mitchell connection is believable though never conclusively confirmed as far as I know.

Really though there aren't any bad songs on this album; in fact, there aren't even any pretty decent songs. Every one is a monster classic, and each would have easily climbed the charts had they been released as singles. "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll" were singles and did chart, while "Stairway to Heaven", "Going to California" and "The Battle of Evermore" remain FM radio favorites even today some forty years later.

Obviously Led Zeppelin IV is an essential classic; I can't even fathom calling it anything less. If somehow you never managed to travel above the Earth's surface and observe sunlight during your life it's just possible you haven't listened to this album yet. Doubtful, but possible. If that's the case then I strongly suggest you invest in large doses of vitamin D to counteract your sunlight deficiency-induced rickets, and then go get yourself a copy of IV and get your head straightened. You'll be glad you did.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 5/5 |

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