Monday, July 18, 2011

Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin
Atlantic SD 19129

I've opted for the conventional moniker of "Led Zeppelin IV" for this album, which as you probably know has no official title aside from 4 symbols representing the band members.  I rarely play it, but last month I attended a pops concert by the high school orchestra that my kid plays in.  One of the songs they tackled was "Stairway to Heaven" which I found amazing since that would never have happened when I was in high school.  In my high school Led Zeppelin was actually considered kind of dangerous.  It was common knowledge that Jimmy Page was a Satanist and the band's bad behavior on the road was well-documented.  This sounds ludicrous nowadays, but my school was in a conservative suburb and fundamentalist Christians outnumbered the stoners by a ratio of at least two to one.  The first time I heard this album in its entirety was at a high school party.  That also seems kind of ludicrous since this is a terrible party record.  It is loud and gloomy and you can't dance to it.  It is mostly suitable for standing around drinking beer and acting like you are older than you really are, so I guess it wasn't a bad choice for the kind of stupid parties I used to go to.  The kid who played it was a total dork, but he gained credibility in my mind for spinning it at his party which just goes to show how naive I was.  I didn't even realize that the record was already more than five years old at the time, it sounded cutting edge to me.  Given that none of us was really aware of punk/New Wave yet, maybe it still was edgy.  It is not like Blue Oyster Cult or Aerosmith were any better.  I've never been a fan of the group although I have most of their albums.  I always resented that they were so much more successful than the Yardbirds from which they emerged and I hated the rock star bombast associated with them.  When I want to hear some heavy hard rock I'm more likely to reach for Nirvana or Sleater Kinney.  I have to admit though that this album is impressive and deserves its classic status.  My favorite track is "The Battle of Evermore" in which Robert Plant duets with the immortal Sandy Denny.  It is a folk-flavored tune with Tolkienesque lyrics, it sounds like a cross between Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band.  English folk rock is also the basis for the most famous song on the record, "Stairway to Heaven."  I loved this song back in the 1970s.  I played it over and over when I bought this album.  Unfortunately it has been the object of so much parody that it is hard to take it seriously and I've heard it so many times that I don't really hear it anymore when I listen to it.  I still think it is a brilliant song though, a true folk rock synthesis with some dazzling guitar work.  Folk-rock is also prevalent in "Going To California" which has some of my favorite Led Zeppelin lyrics.  My other favorite track on the album is Memphis Minnie's "When The Levee Breaks" which I think is the band's best blues song and perhaps the most underrated song in the Led Zeppelin canon.  It boasts a great Plant vocal and thunderously powerful music - I love Page's wailing guitar.  Of course the band did not abandon their heavy metal roots completely.  "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll" are lumpen-rockers driven by John Bonham's ham-fisted drumming and killer riffs that will appeal to any fan of "Led Zeppelin II."  They are played incessantly on classic rock radio and I'm truly sick of them.  When it comes to rockers on this record I prefer "Four Sticks."  I don't know why that song is not more popular, it sure beats "Misty Mountain Hop" which I find tedious.  I even dig Bonzo's drumming on it.  To me this record seems as much a hippie relic as "Sgt. Pepper" but people still seem to love it.  I don't, but it doesn't give me any pain unlike say the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers.  Recommended to Fairport Convention fans who prefer "Tam Lin" to "Who Knows Where The Time Goes."

1 comment:

  1. Your memories of hearing the album for the first time are similar to a high school party where everyone was drunk and/or taking themselves too seriously. However, I love Led Zeppelin to this day, so our respective appreciation of the band have taken different paths since then. "Ham-fisted" is definitely not how I would describe Bonham's drumming, but to each their own. "Battle of Evermore" is my favorite song as well, but I also love "Misty Mountain Hop" (and "Four Sticks"). Oh, and I hate the Eagles too!