Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Welcome back to YDCS! I’m a little late with this third installment in Led Zeppelin month, but I’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming next week with Led Zeppelin IV as the closer on this magnificent month of rock music. Stay tuned next month too for more classic rock albums! This week we take a look at Led Zeppelin III. Released in 1970 approximately one year after the release of Led Zeppelin II, the third album is a more eclectic look from the band that incorporates elements of folk rock into their well-known blues and hard rock sound. Much of the material for Led Zeppelin III was recorded while the band took a hiatus in northern Wales to recover from the heavy touring and production cycles of their first two albums. Maybe it was the slower pace of life and closeness to nature that caused the stylistic shift in their music, but Led Zeppelin III is the most in-line with the creative songwriting and technical mastery of later Led Zeppelin releases that came to define the band.
Led Zeppelin III was one of the most awaited albums of 1970, and that’s saying something considering that Paranoid, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Let It Be, Idlewild South, and more were all released in the same year. That’s one year for music and speaks to the frenzy that Led Zeppelin had created over the course of the nearly two years they had been active. When Led Zeppelin III finally released, it was met with confusion. Many critics were unsure about this new “softer” sound in a way. There were some critics that said that the shift was a welcome change from the last two albums and that the hard rocking moments were just as good as before. Personally, I fall between the two camps on this album. I appreciate the musicality of this album as a stand-alone album only. Within the context of Led Zeppelin’s discography, Led Zeppelin III is like my black sheep, sandwiched in between two powerhouse albums. Having said that, there is still a lot to love about this record. There are many moments where the band displays more musicality than they ever have before and it holds up as a great classic rock album. Enjoy!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Immigrant Song: Wooooo boy! I know I said it about the last album too, but Led Zeppelin really knows how to open an album. When you hear that screeching wail, you know exactly what you’re in for; a hard rocking Zep track! As a rock track, “Immigrant Song” really can’t get any better, but this song almost feels out of place on this album. This feels like a regression from Led Zeppelin II, and for a band that strove to innovate and change their sound, that’s not a great thing. Musically, this song is solid. The instrumentation is superb, dynamic and every other adjective that I can’t fit here, but it’s just not right. I’m giving this song two ratings, one as a song only and one within a greater context of the album because I can’t think of a fairer way to do it. Dad’s Rating 9/10 as a song, Dad’s Rating, 5/10 within the context of the album
Friends: This is what I’m talking about when I mean that “Immigrant Song” feels out of place. We go from a classic hard rocker to a folk influenced song with a full string orchestra accompaniment. This song is much more stereotypical of the style of the rest of the album, and when consistent, is more representative of what Led Zeppelin always wanted to become. I like “Friends” a lot. The acoustic guitar is really interesting and almost hypnotic in the way that it drives the song. Plant’s vocals are at, at times, atmospheric on this track, really giving it an ethereal feeling. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Celebration Day: The tape running together from “Friends” into “Celebration Day” is a really cool transition and is done well enough that if you’re just listening to the album, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was one song! This is a return to a more blues rock-oriented sound found on the first and second albums, but it has enough folk elements to fit cohesively with the album, particularly in the guitar line. “Celebration Day” is a good song, but not a standout in the band’s catalog. It’s worth a listen if you’ve never heard it before, but in my opinion, “Friends” is better. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Since I’ve Been Loving You: Alternatively, this song could be titled “Led Zeppelin Learns How to do a Proper Power Ballad.” They finally did it!! It took them two albums, but they made a proper ballad, and when they finally got around to it, they did it right. The first thing that I heard when I listened to this was the similarity to early Pink Floyd songs. The grandeur of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” can’t be overstated. The band made it feel like this is their opus in a very similar way to contemporary Floyd. There’s a great keyboard line that features more prominently than we’ve really heard before, and the instrumentation is just great on this song. Page tore out one hell of a solo on this song that I’m sure influenced power rockers for the next decade, then the band expertly pulled the song back, just to unleash a furious sound again. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Out on the Tiles: This is a Led Zeppelin track if I’ve ever heard one. “Out on the Tiles” is one of those songs that you can just immediately attribute to the band after hearing about five seconds of it. This a stereotypical Zep track, and my favorite part actually comes in the breakdown towards the end. I could actually listen to that on repeat. It has a little bit of funk and enough attitude to nod your head along to. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Gallows Pole: “Gallows Pole” is another example of the folk-rock sound that features heavily on this album and follows along the same vein as “Friends” and “Celebration Day.” The addition of a banjo to the backing instrumentation, coupled with primarily switching over to the acoustic guitar, gives this song a great folk drive. I don’t really have much more to add on this song. It’s really tight and a good deep cut! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Tangerine: We’re sticking with the acoustic guitar on the next song, and “Tangerine” is the first time I’ve heard anything that sounds remotely like the legendary “Stairway.” Listen to the verses of this song, hold that in your mind, then come back next week and listen to “Stairway to Heaven.” I think you’ll find that “Tangerine” foreshadows what would come. On to “Tangerine” specifically, this is a beautiful, simple song that pulls from the band’s time on retreat in Wales and features influences from American country music with an added “wah” effect to give it a more rock-focused sound. Dad’s Rating 8/10
That’s the Way: “Tangerine” runs right into “That’s the Way” with no break, and the two should really be listened to together for the best effect. The little bit of rock sound that was present in “Tangerine” is nearly vanished in “That’s the Way,” turning this into almost a purely country/ folk track. I criticized “Immigrant Song” for feeling out of place on this album, and I can see this song receiving similar criticism for skewing too far in the folk direction, but I think it’s closer to what the band intended the sound of the album to be. This is a beautiful song that I find more to like on every listen. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp: The Stomp named for the cottage where the band stayed during their retreat, Bron-Yr-Aur. “The Stomp” is probably the most folk-oriented song on the album, but Plant’s vocals give it a little more of a bluesy vibe. If you’ve ever wanted to get introduced to a folk sound in a very listener-friendly way, Led Zeppelin does it perfectly here. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Hats off To (Roy) Harper: The experimentation has begun, and it started with Roy Harper. The closing track on Led Zeppelin III features heavily distorted vocals a la “American Woman”, a typical folk guitar line, no percussion, and no bass. This whole song is carried by Plant and Page, and somehow it works?! This is where I draw the line to start the band’s experimental phase. This is an unusual song and worth listening to just to hear the beginning of the band expanding out on their way to find their pinnacle. Dad’s Rating 6/10
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