Why do a post about Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album now? Well, why not? I don’t really need a specific reason ever to write about great rock music, especially this 1971 classic. But the fact I’m musing about this album today is not entirely a coincidence either.
Yesterday, I went to an old-fashioned record store not far from my house, Revilla Grooves & Gear, and purchased three records – my first “new” vinyl albums in three decades! I’m saying “new,” since this great store almost exclusively sells previously owned vinyl records, as well as vintage Hi-Fi equipment – a place to get lost and find true treasures! And, yes, by now you probably figured it out: one of the LPs I got is Led Zeppelin IV, which until yesterday I had owned on CD only.
The first Zeppelin tune I ever heard was Stairway to Heaven, which must have been in the late 1970s. At the time, I was starting to take (Spanish) guitar lessons. The song’s acoustic opening was an immediate draw, and it wasn’t long thereafter that I asked my guitar instructor to teach me how to play it – took a while to figure it out! In fact, I’ve been practicing it again lately. But I’m no longer playing as much as I used to and have lost a good deal of dexterity, so doing it justice nowadays is not easy!
Since an 8-minute song is a tough proposition for any mainstream radio station, they always faded out Stairway during the transition to the hard rock section. I still vividly remember when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I thought, ‘oh no, how could the band have ruined this beautiful acoustic masterpiece with this aggressive hard rock ending?’ Well, then, I primarily was into folk/acoustic guitar music and hardly listened to hard rock, except perhaps Deep Purple, though I don’t exactly remember whether I had already “discovered” them.
Anyway, in my case, Zep definitely was an acquired taste, including Led Zeppelin IV. Initially, I would mostly listen to Stairway, in part to play along with my acoustic guitar, and stop the tune as it transitioned to the hard rock part. But soon I did not only start to “accept” the hard rock ending, but came to realize how absolutely brilliant the tune’s build and transformation is. I also noticed that the other songs on the album weren’t “so bad after all!”Today, Led Zeppelin IV is one of my favorite albums from one of my favorite bands.
While Stairway to Heaven is the most obvious song that comes to mind when thinking about Led Zeppelin IV, there is a lot of great additional music on this album. It all starts with the opener, Black Dog, which was also released as the record’s first single in December 1971. The song features one of the coolest riffs in rock, which I was surprised to read was credited to John Paul Jones, not Jimmy Page. The single’s B-side, Misty Mountain Hop, also has a great riff. In this case, it was Page who came up with it.
Another standout on the album is The Battle of Evermore. Written by Page, this folk tune nicely illustrates that Zeppelin was more than just a terrific hard rock band (of course, Stairway shows that as well). The song, which has a mystic feel to it, features acoustic guitar and mandolin, and Robert Plant singing duet with Sandy Denny. Denny, an English singer/songwriter, was best known as the singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention.
In addition to the many great songs on this album, I also like to highlight John Bonham and his drum-playing. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a drum expert, if I would ever start taking up the drums, which I actually have considered, Bonham would definitely be one of my idols. And once I would reach an appropriate level, I would try to learn the drums part for Stairway – I imagine a steep climb! Apart from the great guitar parts, I’ve always admired Bonham’s drumming on the song.
And what better way to finish this post than with Stairway. Here is a terrific clip of Zep’s performance of the iconic song at Madison Square Garden in July 1973. It’s taken from The Song Remains the Same, the concert documentary released in October 1976.