Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
For sheer impact, immediacy, concision, endurance, influence and intrinsic Zep-ishness, Led Zeppelin IV is unbeatable. Of all their records, Zep’s fourth album, released in late 1971, remains their most admired work. From Page’s unimpeachable riffs, through Jones musical invention and Plant’s clarity of vocal to that titanic John Bonham drum sound, IV still emits a freshness that belies its age.
Black Dog’s machismo, Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Bonham-propelled brutality, Plant’s honeyed, evocative Sandy Denny complemented vocal on The Battle Of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven’s mainstream-slaying production and dynamism and that’s just side one. After defining metal and folk-rock, IV’s encore was to unwittingly provide hip-hop with When The Levee Breaks, source of its ultimate breakbeat.
The almost impossible-to-copy rhythmic swing of opening track Black Dog (4⁄4 time set against 5⁄4) was a key indication of how far ahead of the rock game Zep were. Back in the day, bands such as Grand Funk Railroad were touted as being successors to Zep’s heavyweight crown, but they were light years behind the grace and timing of something like Black Dog.
On Misty Mountain Hop, Jones’ electric piano provides the central riff while John Bonham makes an exemplary contribution, with some riotous fills, and Plant gets back on the hippie trail, with a tale of being busted in the park( ‘crowds of people sittin’ on the grass with flowers in their hair – hey boy do you wanna score?’), making it a harder-rocking brother to gorgeous hippie anthem Going To California.
The epithet ‘tight but loose’ has always accurately described the band’s aesthetic. Squeaks, scrapes and microphone bleed were not errors to be corrected in Page’s production ethos, but rather characterful and inherent ingredients of the feel. That, and the world’s biggest fuck-off drum sound ever committed to tape. Much has been written on the technicalities of this recording – basically two microphones hung above Bonham’s kit set up in a three-storey-high hall – and it’s not too much of a stretch to venture that Headley Grange, where IV was recorded, is the fifth member here. This ambience positively saturates the none-more-familiar finger-picked figure that introduces Stairway, the band’s finest recorded moment, near enough adding delay, such is the size of the reverb.
It’s been both loved and loathed in equal measures, but nowhere is Page’s supreme understanding of rock dynamics better illustrated than on Stairway, with a song that teases and caresses and then climaxes with nothing less than the world’s greatest ever guitar solo.
All that glitters is not gold. But this is. This is what we came here for.