Mystery surrounds “Led Zeppelin IV”, but still a classic album


Roman Harrison, Columnist

Few albums present an energy and variety as well as Led Zeppelin’s 1971 album known as Led Zeppelin IV. I phrase it this way because the album is actually untitled. On the inner sleeve of the record, where the title usually is, are four symbols, each picked out by an individual member of the band, with secret meanings. This is only part of the mystery that surrounds the fourth Led Zeppelin album and, in my opinion, their best.

         The album opens with a sort of whirring noise, a very peculiar one that sounds vaguely like the strumming of a guitar. It begins to fade as it speeds up, eventually leading to a moment of silence. Out of that silence bursts the phrase “Hey hey mama, said the way you move, gonna you sweat gonna make you groove,” and with that Led Zeppelin is off to the races with a powerful song full of unique music by their one-of-a-kind musicians, including Robert Plant, with piercing vocals, John Bonham, delivering raucous drums, John Paul Jones, thumping away on his bass guitar, and Jimmy Page producing incendiary guitar as only he can. Few songs convey an energy quite like “Black Dog,” the opening track on an album full of varying moods and tempos. 

           The second song is “Rock and Roll,” an equally energetic track opening with John Bonham slapping out a tightly knit beat of drums and cymbals. Then along comes Jimmy Page delivering an onslaught of guitar riffs and John Paul Jones beating the tempo down. Out bursts Robert Plant with his often mimicked but never duplicated vocals. After “Rock and Roll” comes “The Battle of Evermore,” the first of many deviations of tempo heard of the album- one written by Jimmy Page with Robert Plant adding in lyrics taken from a book he was reading on the Scottish Independence Wars, a subject he was very interested in at the time (and still is.) The song has a very folky feeling with little instrumentation, except Page’s tremendous mandolin playing. “The Battle of Evermore” also features the only female vocal on a Led Zeppelin recording provided by Sandy Denny of the band Fairport Convention, and what a powerful vocal it is. In terms of female vocal performances on a track, I place it up there with Clare Torry’s performance of “Great Gig in the Sky” on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which I also place near the top of all-time great albums. 

            Closing out side one comes perhaps Led Zeppelin’s greatest and most recognizable song, “Stairway to Heaven.” In an almost Elton John-Bernie Taupin collaboration, Jimmy Page produced the music while Robert Plant wrote the lyrics. The song is about, as Plant has been quoted saying, “a woman who took everything without giving anything back.” ”Stairway” is a powerful song that starts out slow and acoustic but slowly amps up before it explodes into a robust Page guitar solo paired extremely well with Plant vocals, then finally slows back down to the line that opened the song “She’s buying a stairway to heaven.” That final line, while being acoustic and quiet, is one of the most powerful Plant mustered throughout the song. 

              The first two songs on side A include “Misty Mountain Hop,” a raucous number that features John Paul Jones on electric piano which creates a very unique sound, and “Four Sticks,” an equally rambunctious song that derives it name from John Bonham’s use of four drum sticks in the playing of it. It was only played live by the band once. These songs are then followed by my personal favorite off the album, “Going to California,” an acoustic ballad inspired by Joni Mitchell of whom Plant and Page were both fans. It is a beautiful song about trying to find the perfect woman- only to find that she does not exist. The final song on the album is “When the Levee Breaks,” a blues song that features heavy drumming from Bonham. It is a very strong track with unique instrumentation and is the perfect way to close out this album. 

          Few albums embody the 1970’s rock genre as well as Led Zeppelin IV. One of my top five albums, it’s variety fits and satisfies any mood. Led Zeppelin’s instrumentation is truly second to none, and this album will forever be remembered.