led zeppelin when the levee breaks

Led Zeppelin – IV

Theres a lady whos sure, All that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

From their 1969 debut LP onwards, everything Led Zeppelin did was explosive, serial detonations that blew holes in the Rock stratosphere. Equally evident was their breathtaking eclecticism: blues (“I Cant Quit You Baby”), folk (“Babe, Im Gonna Leave You”), Indian Scales (“Black Mountain Side”), even proto-punk (“Communication Breakdown”). The astonishing Led Zeppelin II was heavy on Heavy (“Whole Lotta Love”) yet the band still found room for acoustic odes. With Led Zeppelin III, the group took their biggest risk to date, packing the album with acoustic tracks that mystified their fans. It blasted off with the fearsome “Immigrant Song” but offered pastoral alternatives and folk hollers.

But its Led Zeppelin IV that remains the most perfectly realized display of of their potency and range. Combining the electric density of II and the acoustic lacework of III, their fourth untitled record blended blues rock and wistful reveries to create their monumental, majestic magnus opus and the third biggest selling album of all time.

It was definitely not an easy task to accomplish. The band was exhausted by the constant touring in the USA and needed a break. After checking out several studios they headed out to Headley Grange – a three storey stone structure in East Hampshire which many band visited since- along with “Sixth Rolling Stone” Ian Stewart. It was the remarkable setting there that inspired the band to do things differently and that was perfectly captured in this record – there were no serious drugs around at the time, according to them. John Bonham’s massive drum sound was recorded in the hallway with a single microphone dangling down the stairwell; Robert Plant’s ancient English lyrics to “The Battle Of Evermore” were written in front of the fireplace in the drawing room; Jimmy Page’s screaming guitar solo on “Stairway to Heaven” played while leaning against a pair of speakers playing back the track at ear-shredding volume. None of this would have happened in the stale, cold confines of a studio.

However, re-mixing the album proved inevitable since technical changes at the studio destroyed the sound the band was aiming for. It took them almost 6 months to deliver the mixed tapes for mastering. The album was then delayed by Atlantic Records who feared it would harm sales to release an untitled LP. It was finally ready to be released on November 1971, a year since the band had begun recording. By the time people were losing their minds over it, Page had already started demonoid riffs for the next Zeppelin album. By late April, the band was working “Houses of the Holy”, new horizons opening before them as IV was assuming its place in rock legend as the greatest hard rock album ever, the singular peak of Zeppelin’s career, truly music of the Gods, immortal.