Led Zeppelin is a heavy metal group from the 1970s that pioneered early metal and many other styles of music. Led Zeppelin IV was the most popular album by them because it had the acclaimed best rock song of all time called Stairway To Heaven, my favorite rock song by them called When the Levee Breaks and a good rock and roll anthem called creatively enough, Rock and Roll. There were five other songs on the album such as Black Dog and Misty Mountain Hop that might not have been as popular but were also well made songs. Here is an analysis of one of rock and roll’s most definitive albums.
Led Zeppelin IV was released by Led Zeppelin on November 8, 1971. There was no title printed on the album cover, so it could be called a wide variety of different names, but it is usually called Led Zeppelin IV because the first three albums were all titled with numbers. It could also be called the Hermit, though, due to a picture of a hermit on the front cover or Zoso because the Zoso symbol was something that Jimmy Paige frequently used. Led Zeppelin IV is not the only popular, classic rock and roll album with a somewhat ambiguous title. The Beatles White Album was called the White Album because the album was white, but the originally album title was actually just “The Beatles”. The Beatles also made a couple of compilation albums called the Red and Blue albums because of the White Album, but that’s a different story and we’ve already passed the 1960s.
Led Zeppelin IV is the third best selling album in America at twenty three times platinum. Led Zeppelin recorded many of the songs on the album at the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio, which led to a relaxed atmosphere. Many of Led Zeppelin’s songs for Led Zeppelin IV were recorded in only a couple of takes.
They did the mixing for the album in Los Angeles, but it was not satisfactory so they did more mixing in London, which led to a several months’ long delay. They recorded three songs called Down By the Sea, Night Flight and Boogie With Stu that did not make it onto the album but were instead added to the Physical Graffiti album they made later on.
Led Zeppelin III had received a poor reaction from people so instead of putting a title on the album each of the four members put a symbol in the liner jacket. According to Jimmy Paige, names and titles did not mean a thing so much as the music itself. It would later come to be known as Led Zeppelin IV. Led Zeppelin is not the only music group with numbers for a substantial number of its album titles. Chicago made around two dozen studio albums and most of their album titles had numbers.
A press agent who worked for Led Zeppelin told Led Zeppelin that after a year of not touring or making music releasing the album without a title would be “professional suicide”, but Led Zeppelin had enough confidence in their music to know that even without a title their fourth album would be popular.
The record company really wanted for Led Zeppelin IV to have an official album title, but Led Zeppelin still refused because they wanted their albums to be used as a reference to where they were at the current time while the reviewers sometimes gave them dour reviews and would use their previous albums as a reference.
Led Zeppelin IV did not have any official identification so they went against commercial standards controversially. Due to how many different album titles Led Zeppelin IV could possibly have, it is difficult to identify. There is also no writing on the front or back of the album cover and there was originally no identification number on the spine of the album.
Jimmy Paige came up with the idea of having every band member put their own original symbol in the album liner jacket. To avoid “taking crap from the critics” according to Jimmy Paige he decided to put a symbol on the album. Since it was their fourth album and they had four band members each one put a symbol of their own choosing onto the album.
Jimmy Paige has never explained why he chose the symbol of Zoso but he has said that Zoso is not actually meant as a word. Some people think that the symbol was used as early as 1557 to represent the planet of Saturn.
The bass player for Led Zeppelin named John Paul Jones got his symbol from John Koch’s Book of Signs book. It represents a person with confidence and competence. John Bonham got his symbol from the same book, which was three rings that represent mother, father and child but inverted represent Ballantine Beer. Robert Plant’s symbol was a feather in a circle to represent the supposed mu civilization. Sandy Denny who was a vocalist for the song called The Battle of Evermore got a smaller symbol that was three triangles touching at their points. During concerts in winter of 1971 after their fourth album was released they had they had their four symbols projected onto some of their equipment. Only Paige and Bonham’s symbols were sometimes retained after the tour, though.
The picture on the album cover was bought in an antique shop by Robert Plant, put on the wall in a rustic, suburban house and photographed. It was supposed to bring out a city versus country feel. It was a message to look after the earth and not pillage it. It was also meant as something to savor by the buyers of the album. It was chosen as one of ten classic album covers to be put on a special set of stamps in 2010.
the hermit on the inside of the jacket was inspired by a tarot deck. The character of the hermit was played by Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin’s movie called the Song Remains the Same. Different versions of the inside cover album art exist. It has a hermit climbing a mountain and sometimes the six pointed star can not be seen on the lantern that the hermit is carrying. Also, you can see the face of a black dog in the rocks under the hermit. The lyrics for Stairway To Heaven with their unique type face was discovered by Paige in a magazine. He had somebody make an album of the type faces, so they could write the lyrics.
Led Zeppelin IV was the best album by Led Zeppelin in terms of critical success and as a consistent seller. Robert Christgau gave it a B and compared it to Grand Funk Railroad, but he would then give the album an A in 1981 and called When the Levee Breaks Led Zeppelins’ definitive song. Q Magazine gave Led Zeppelin IV five out of five stars and also praised When the Levee Breaks in particular. Allmusic.com would call Led Zeppelin IV the definitive hard rock album of the 1970s. Led Zeppelin IV has frequently made lists by Rolling Stone Magazine and Guitar World as one of the best albums of all time.
Now for an analysis of each of the songs by me on an amateur basis.
Black Dog starts off the album as quite a rocker. It is a song about sexy shenanigans and could be referencing a black woman. The guitar will stop and go while trading the spotlight with Robert Plant’s screeching vocals.
Rock and Roll is even better than the previous song and the first song on the album that I really like. It is one of the best rock anthems that I have ever heard with some really energetic guitar and vocals. you can tell from the thunderous guitar intro that this will be a great song.
The Battle of Evermore starts with an acoustic guitar intro and some distant sounding vocals from Robert Plant. It is a ballad about a battle. The song is much softer than the previous two songs. It is very atmospheric and makes a reference to Ringwraiths who wear black, so it could be a reference to Lord of the Rings. A female vocalist accompanies Robert Plant on vocals.
The next song is the classic Stairway To Heaven. It starts out very soft but builds up over the course of eight minutes. The guitar is acoustic at the beginning of the song. It picks up at two minutes and fifteen seconds. It is a song about somebody who is trying to find joy or their own “stairway to heaven”. Stairway to heaven could also be used to describe the way the guitar gradually builds up over the course of the eight minute long song. At five minutes and thirty seconds it builds up again with an epic, blistering, bluesy guitar solo from Jimmy Paige. The guitar licks he hits at six minutes and forty five seconds could only be described as incredible enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It is followed by some passionate vocals from Jimmy Paige and then winds down with the chorus sung one more time by Plant. What a song. However, my favorite song is still to come.
The next three songs are all short to make up for the epic length of Stairway To Heaven. Misty Mountain Hop has a groovy guitar riff that is instantly recognizable to anybody who has listened to enough classic rock radio like I have.
Four Sticks has a very prominent drum beat. The guitar is incredibly repetitive but also groovy. The drums are definitely the most memorable part of this song. A snare drum is used and a cowbell can also be heard. A foot pedal is kicked quickly like a good bass riff.
Going To California is the shortest song on the album at only three and a half minutes and one of the two softest songs along with The Battle of Evermore. Jimmy Paige plays an acoustic guitar and the song has a classic, country feel.
A heavy drum beat sounds and a very bluesy, southern guitar sound is played as When the Levee Breaks thunders in as the last, in my opinion, best song of the album. Teh guitar sound that is played at one minute and ten seconds is jaw dropping. Robert Plant does not start singing until a minute and half into the song but his vocals that range from melancholy to a screeching, dying animals are some of his best ever. At three minutes and fifty seconds the guitar part that always nails me with its bluesiness goes again. The drum beat is tremendous. The song is heavy as black matter but as bluesy as a desolated wasteland. In the last couple of minutes Robert Plant sings a shout out about going down to Chicago. It should be “up” to Chicago, since this song is about the Great Migration of the 1920s, but I would like to be the first person to welcome Led Zeppelin to our proud city of gangsters, basketball, enough hot dogs to keep Jo Carpenter satisfied and deep dish pizza with tomato sauce in a revolutionary new place, on top of the cheese.
Now let me collapse as a I finish writing this epic analysis for an album of epic proportions.