Led Zeppelin – Untitled (1971)
We’ve made it through June and Led Zeppelin Month! We’re on the last album in the Led Zeppelin I-IV Anthology this week, and now is as good a time as any to bring up the fact that “Led Zeppelin IV” isn’t actually the name of the album we’ve been building towards. After poor reception to Led Zeppelin III, the band decided to release their fourth album without a title or any text on the outer record sleeve, effectively making this an untitled album. For ease of reference, we’re going to follow long-standing tradition here and call the untitled fourth album Led Zeppelin IV. No more beating around the bush, let’s talk about the album.
Led Zeppelin IV is what I would describe as a culmination of three years-worth of evolution, learning, and finding themselves as a band. Think back to Led Zeppelin I and the sound on that record. The album was brash, loud, and uncomplicated. It was also an announcement that these gents were here to rock. Led Zeppelin II took the sound of the first album and started to refine it, moving from a bluesier sound to a folksier sound. Led Zeppelin III expanded on the early folk influences of II and started to show more musical dynamism and thoughtful songwriting. Finally, Led Zeppelin IV pulls all of that together into an album for the ages. It’s dynamic, musical, thoughtful, complex but accessible, and is the culmination of a journey. This wasn’t the band’s last album, and they would go on to have more successful albums in the future, but this album is where all of those albums start. Enjoy the climax of our journey through Led Zeppelin’s early discography and one of the most important rock albums of all time.
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Black Dog: Every single Led Zeppelin album up to this point has opened with a really strong start, and “Black Dog” is no exception to that rule. Make it four in a row! “Black Dog” was released as one of the singles for the album and has gone on to be one of the songs most synonymous with Led Zeppelin. Musically, the song sounds different to most rock songs of the early 1970s and stands out because of its odd time signature. It also features a call-and-response throughout the song that wasn’t a commonly employed musical technique in rock at the time. Lots of musical experimentation going on with this song, and that theme will carry us through the album. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Rock and Roll: “Rock and Roll” is a great rock track. It actually stands out among rock tracks for me. The energy in this song is contagious and helps it stand out from the crowded field of “simple rock songs” from the early 70s. That energy really is the most important part of this song. Sure, it relies on the Led Zeppelin-tested blues rock base with loud guitars and wailing vocals on top, but this sounds more refined than what we’ve heard on early albums. The blues aren’t quite so forward and the instrumentation has its dynamic moments. This shows that the band really has developed and incorporated different techniques into their music across the four albums we’ve covered. Dad’s Rating 7/10
The Battle of Evermore: There’s quite a lot going on with “The Battle of Evermore,” and I think the best way to look at it is by breaking it down into elements. The lyrics are great and based on high fantasy themes, particular the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The stringed instrumentation (a guitar and mandolin in this case) provide the perfect mix of folk rock to, what could almost be considered, an adventure song found in a movie or the pub of a fantasy world. Plant’s vocals weave you through the story with exceptional attention paid to the highs and lows. This is probably the most progressive piece in the group’s catalog up to this point, and it is a really good song. If you’ve never had a listen, don’t skip this one. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Stairway to Heaven: Wow. I get goosebumps every time I listen to “Stairway,” and if it’s not the best rock song ever written, it’s in the top 5. There are NO words to describe the pure emotion behind the lyrics, nor the exquisite instrumentals. I honestly don’t want to write about this song because I will never do it the justice that it deserves; I would prefer to let it speak for itself. Take seven minutes, put headphones on, and immerse yourself in “Stairway.” That’s all I feel I can say without insulting this beautiful song. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Misty Mountain Hop: We’ve moved on to the B Side of Led Zeppelin IV, and it opens with “Misty Mountain Hop.” There’s a lot that I like about this song, from the heaviness compared to “Stairway” and “Evermore” and how refined it sounds compared to some of the earliest rockers from Zep. The heaviness on this song actually reminded me of Deep Purple songs from around this time. There is one unsettling part of this track for me, and that’s the vocal harmonies during the verses. I think they were meant to clash, but it was surprising to me from, particularly from Zeppelin. I appreciate the effort to try new musical techniques, so it gets points for that, but the execution was a little odd. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Four Sticks: “Four Sticks” was one of the songs that I had never listened to before I put the album on, and it’s a great track! It has a really interesting, drum-driven feel that makes the song like it’s consistently racing forward and Jones’ bass work is really solid on this song. There aren’t many places where these guys really get the chance to shine through on this album but they made the most of that opportunity here! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Going to California: “Going to California” is exactly the kind of song you don’t expect to come from Led Zeppelin unless you’ve been following the progression of their music. This is a beautifully performed ballad with a great folk rock influence. This acoustic track is simple and elegant all the way through. Plant’s vocals shine through on this song, and the modulation that they did to them on the chorus shows that they’re not done experimenting with new techniques to make their music sound better. Dad’s Rating 7/10
When the Levee Breaks: This was the only cover on this album, taken from an old blues classic of the same name by Memphis Minnie. The blues are immediately apparent with the introduction of the harmonica, the slower pace, and blues chord structure, but this feels like a more refined way of incorporating it into rock music. Where they had previously just played blues tracks on rock and roll instruments, this feels like there was specific attention paid to the composition to give the original a rocking sound. Job well done. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Thanks for sticking with Led Zeppelin Month! Next week we move into July and back to regular programming with a different artist every week. Next week: Jefferson Airplane!
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