Skip to main content

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III - Album Of The Week Club review

In which Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retreat to the Welsh hills and come up with something less bombastic for Led Zeppelin's third album

Led Zeppelin III
(Image: © Atlantic Records)
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III

(Image credit: Atlantic Records)

Immigrant Song
Friends
Celebration Day
Since I've Been Loving You
Out on the Tiles
Gallows Pole
Tangerine
That's the Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Hats Off to (Roy) Harper

Ah, the so-called “acoustic album”. Earlier in the year, John Bonham had warned the press that Led Zeppelin's next album would be more acoustic. In fact, six of the 10 tracks on the third album were built around the sweet ’n’ bitter strains of Jimmy Page’s acoustic Harmony guitar as the band touched on everything from traditional bluegrass (Gallows Pole) to country blues (Hats Off To (Roy) Harper), to a folk song so upbeat you could square-dance to it (Bron-Y-Aur Stomp). 

To emphasise the rustic nature of the album, Zeppelin even changed their appearance, growing facial hair to Hobbit-like proportions and wearing clothes that made them look more like hippie farmers than sex gods. 

Some critics accused the band of jumping on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young acoustic-rock bandwagon. Page called them “pathetic”, noting that acoustic guitars were all over the first two albums and arguing that they were at the core of everything the band did. The reviews so incensed the guitarist that he refused to grant any press interviews for the next 18 months after the album’s release.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

Join the group now.

Background

It was singer Robert Plant’s idea to head for the hills – the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, to be exact. The 22-year-old remembered an 18th-century cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur he had visited in his youth, and felt it would be great place to temporarily escape life in the fast lane and commune with nature. 

Plant extended an invitation to his co-writer, guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, and in the spring, the two men took their women, instruments and supplies to the bucolic retreat to recharge their batteries and “get back to the garden”.

“It was time to take stock, and not get lost in it all,” Plant said later. And what better way to keep it real than at a place with no electricity, candles for light, water from a stream and an outside toilet?"

“We were so far ahead that it was difficult for people to know what the hell we were doing,” Page told journalist Brad Tolinski in the 2012 book Light & Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page. “Critics especially couldn’t relate to it. Led Zeppelin was growing. Where many of our contemporaries were narrowing their perspective, we were really being expansive. 

"I was maturing as a composer and player, and there were many kinds of music that I found stimulating, and with this wonderful group I had the chance to be really adventurous."

Other albums released in October 1970

  • Atom Heart Mother - Pink Floyd
  • New Morning - Bob Dylan
  • Chunga's Revenge - Frank Zappa
  • Trespass - Genesis
  • Tumbleweed Connection - Elton John
  • Be A Brother - Big Brother and the Holding Company
  • Bloodrock 2 - Bloodrock
  • Looking In - Savoy Brown
  • Share the Land - The Guess Who
  • Shooting at the Moon - Kevin Ayers
  • Skid - Skid Row
  • U - Incredible String Band
  • UFO 1 - UFO
  • Warhorse - Warhorse

What they said...

"What’s great about it, though, the Zep’s special genius, is that the whole effect is so utterly two-dimensional and unreal. You could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens of Outer Space with the TV sound turned off. And believe me, the Zep made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly." (Rolling Stone)

"While there are still a handful of metallic rockers, III is built on a folky, acoustic foundation that gives the music extra depth. And even the rockers aren't as straightforward as before: the galloping Immigrant Song is powered by Robert Plant's banshee wail, Celebration Day turns blues-rock inside out with a warped slide guitar riff, and Out On The Tiles lumbers along with a tricky, multi-part riff." (AllMusic)

"If the great blues guitarists can make their instruments cry out like human voices, it's only fitting that Robert Plant should make his voice galvanize like an electric guitar... Plant is overpowering even when Page goes to his acoustic, as he does to great effect on several surprisingly folky (not to mention folk bluesy) cuts. No drum solos, either. Heavy." (Robert Christgau)

What you said...

Warren Bubb: What an album. It just gets better with time like a fine wine. Immigrant Song is a great opening track in the vein of previous albums, then a change with Friends, Celebration Day and Tangerine. Still hate Hats Off To Harper though.

Damian Keen: Of course, it’s Led Zeppelin, and it’s one of the first six albums, so it’s one of the best albums of all time. Except for Hats Off To Harper. That’s terrible.

Philip Qvist: Not their greatest album but I still think it is a fantastic album in its own right. Immigrant Song is a great rocker that gets the pulse going, while Since I've Been Loving You is my favourite Led Zep song - and I still maintain this is Jimmy Page's best solo.

As for the rest - well who cares if the bulk of it is acoustic; with one exception they are mainly fine songs. Easily their most underrated album - a solid 8.5/10.

Dave Ferris: This album is like a never-ending treasure chest. I believe my first copy that I owned was a used cassette. I loved the intensity of the Immigrant Song as the opening track. I would settle into the album. I remember that I loved Gallows Pole from first listen, and how Bonham made a simple acoustic tune into a rocker by the end of the song. 

Since I've been Loving You has always been a signature Zeppelin blues song. When the reunion album called Celebration Day was released I went back to the original track and came to love that. When Cameron Crowe made his movie Almost Famous, he wanted to include Tangerine in the soundtrack. Lastly, for me, I have come to love the harmony vocals on Bron-Y-Aur Stomp

I started my journey as a Zeppelin fan in college in the 80's. But, with every listen, a new appreciation for a different track catches my attention. Pretty damn awesome for an "Acoustic" album.

Adrian Bolster: Not my favourite Led Zep album, but it does contain my favourite track, Since I've Been Loving You. What an astonishing track, squeaky pedal and all. When Tangerine is played in Almost Famous it makes the film almost perfect!

Bill Griffin: III is the first Zeppelin album I tried listening to. I loved the cover but didn't get it at all. Not the light or the shade.

It wasn't until 1976 with the double whammy of the film The Song Remains The Same and the album Presence that I started to figure it out. Then I saw them in 1977 (on their second-to-last North American show ever) and was fully indoctrinated.

III ended up being one of my favorite albums period. Even Hey, Hey What Can I Do, a song that mysteriously didn't make the album, is excellent. That brings up Hats Off To Roy Harper which maybe should have been replaced by Hey, Hey but then where would Hey, Hey have been sequenced? I like it the way it is. Physical Graffiti, maybe?

Brett Deighton: I’m not sure I would be taking my hat off to Roy Harper, well, the song anyway. Given that the rest of the album is a masterpiece, I’m willing to forgive them this little indulgence. I particularly love the variation on here. Immigrant Song to Friends is a great example.

Roland Bearne: The first time I ever earned any holiday money, I went straight out to one of the record shops in town – the Plakke Buttek Beim Palais in Luxembourg – and bought this and Hemispheres by Rush. My first two albums. I adore this record. I can't really review it as it's one of my musical great loves and as such brooks no dissection... "if music be the food of love, play on."

Hai Kixmiller: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page go into the Welsh mountains as Rock Gods and emerge as "Hippie Farmers."

After shocking the music industry and some stalwart rock icons (well... Keith Moon, anyhow) Led Zeppelin ruled the rock genre in '69-'70 with a blitzkrieg of loud, raucous, blues rock guitar, bombastic drumming, sexually charged screams, moans, and screeches, mixed with a good pinch of gravel and attitude.

In the span of 10 months, Led Zeppelin released arguably the best debut and sophomore rock albums ever. But nearly a year after attaining the peak of Rock'n'Roll Olympus, the mighty Zepp commit an act that threatens to isolate fans and critics alike, an act as controversial as Bob Dylan... (gulp) plugging in an electric guitar. Led Zeppelin made an acoustic album. Well, half an album anyways.

I can see how Led Zeppelin III, at the time of its release, could have been misunderstood. Lacking much of the raucous loudness of its predecessors, it's easy to understand why head-nodding, foot-stomping, fist-pumping, jump around and smash things rock fans like myself are put off about it. But the truth about this album is that it perfectly encapsulates the influences and essence of who Plant and Page are as musical artists. 

Today, as I listen to this album as part of a library of music that I find absolutely essential to defining the music I love. Led Zeppelin III is a great album. The music takes you on a ride that reflects eastern music, folk music, rock music and the Welsh countryside which probably inspired it. If you're more of an energetic rock fan, like myself, Led Zeppelin III is not an album you can just drop the needle on and really enjoy it. It requires three, four, maybe even five listens to really start enjoying it all the way through.

Jonathan Novajosky: I will just come out and admit it: I have never been a huge Zeppelin guy (don't excommunicate me). Maybe I just got tired of hearing some of their hits overplayed on the radio. Plant's vocals are great, and the bluesy feel is something I generally enjoy; but I'm still not sure what is holding me back. Despite that, I liked this album. 

The only song I knew was Immigrant Song, so coming into Led Zeppelin III without knowing the rest of the songs gave me a chance at a real first impression. Gallows Pole was a track I enjoyed along with the soft acoustic sound from That's the Way, which was probably my favourite song off the album. There are still some songs I can do without, but Led Zeppelin III at least gave me some hope that I can get into the band a little more eventually. 7/10

Richard Cardenas: Great choice. My youngest, who is into classic rock, had been reluctant to get into Zep. Because he’s a guitarist, I gave him this record to listen to. It’s just a great guitar record and he’s taken to it. I’ve heard him plucking away so I think he’s on his way.

Uli Hassinger: Compared to the first two records, this album was surprisingly different because of the country and folk influences. I prefer the predecessors and the three following albums and would rate them higher. It does't belong to the masterpieces of the band to me. Outstanding is Since I've Been Loving You. It's not only one of the nicest blues ballads but maybe the greatest performances of Robert Plant. His voice is so smooth, fragile and expressive. I love it. The whole album I would rate with 7.

Wade Babineau: The album that tends to get overlooked, as it's sandwiched between LZII and LZIV. My uncle was huge Zep fan, and when my musical tastes were expanding and I started into the Zep catalog, all he said was give this a chance to grow on you. Thankfully I heeded his advice and it's solid from top to almost bottom. I couldn't get my head around Hats Off To Harper and still can't. Solid 9/10...1 point off for HOTH.

Mike Knoop: Disclosure: By the time I came of musical age, Coda was on the walls of the record store, so I discovered Led Zeppelin after the band was gone and their discography complete, so there was no anticipation (or disappointment) for what the next album would sound like. That said, I think III is when Led Zeppelin transcended being a great rock band and became a musical entity with no peers or competition.

But first, a few words of praise for Hats Off to (Roy) Harper, apparently the generally most disliked song on the album. For me, this is where the studio genius of Led Zeppelin really shines through. They had reworked (or plagiarised, depending on your viewpoint) blues songs before and successfully turned a couple of them into classic rockers like How Lotta Love and How Many More Times. Conversely, Hats Off... becomes an even swampier, more frightening blues. Jimmy Page sounds like he's sharpening a blade on a whetstone rather than strumming a guitar and Robert Plant's voice sounds like it's coming from a transistor radio in the trunk of a car sunk in a lake with a dead body inside.

For me, this is when Led Zeppelin stopped aping the blues and reinvented it in their own image. Hats Off to (Roy) Harper begat When the Levee Breaks. When the Levee Breaks begat No Quarter, (not a blues song, no, but equal in its foreboding sense of doom) and No Quarter begat the devastating masterpiece In My Time of Dying.

For me the only "meh" moments are when they could be confused with someone else. Since I've Been Loving You is another lumbering blues that has finally grown on me thanks to Robert Plant's vocals and Jimmy Page's solo. Tangerine sounds like the Yardbirds leftover that it is.

Other than those two minor quibbles, it's genius start to finish. Blazing barnstormer Immigrant Song is a funny way to kick off an acoustic album, but acoustic in the hands of Zeppelin doesn't have to mean soft, or even necessarily pretty. (We'd have to wait for the next album's Going to California for that.) Gallows Pole and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp are both stompers, though very different; one terrifying, one joyous. 

Friends is a harbinger of future vertigo-inducing fun-rides likes Carouselaramba and In the Light. Celebration Day and Out On The Tiles rock without sounding anything like rock up to that point. And That's the Way is one of beautiful yet most melancholy songs ever written and the first time that the band seemed more upset about something other than leaving a good thang behind.

In short, III locks down the template that defines Zeppelin's best albums; for me, III through Physical Graffiti. OK, let's make it through Achilles Last Stand.

Gary Claydon: What's to say. It's a classic, a mellowed out Zep with a more relaxed recording schedule than the first two albums and influenced by the visits to Bron-Y-Aur and the surroundings at Headley Grange. Many people have written about III far more eloquently than I ever could so I'll leave it there. 

Except to say, I'm not sure why people have such a problem with Hats Off To Harper. OK, it's not the bands greatest three minutes and 40-odd seconds but I think it fits in with the overall vibe of the album. It's just a swampy blues jam between Page and Plant based loosely around Bukka White's Shake Em On Down, and the song title was simply to give a mention to Roy Harper, who was a friend of and admired by the band, particularly Page. Nothing to get really.

Roy Bish: Brilliant album. Retained the blues feel with Since I've Been Loving You, and the power with Immigrant Song and Celebration Day. It also provided a platform for them to experiment with folk rock. I love Bron-y-Aur Stomp and frequently play it when walking my dog. I really love this album.

Randy Banner: I'll probably be pilloried for heresy on account of this, but as much as I love Zeppelin, this has always been just an "ok" album for me, especially sandwiched in between the twin pillars of greatness that are II and IV

While Immigrant Song, Since I've Been Loving You, and Gallows Pole are required listening, the other tracks range from the very good (Friends, Celebration Day, Out On The Tiles) to the serviceable (the nearly interchangeable Tangerine and That's The Way) to the nearly-unlistenable (sorry, Mr. Harper). 

All in all, this makes for a very uneven listening experience for me. It's not a bad record as a whole, by any stretch; it just doesn't hold up as well for me when compared to other albums in the discography. 6/10

Gary Lindley: An absolute masterpiece. A merging of folk, rock and blues and containing some of the greatest tracks ever recorded - Immigrant Song, Since I’ve Been Living you, Gallows Pole, That’s The Way - genius.

John Davidson: While this is not Led Zeppelin's finest album, that still puts it head and shoulders above most others. Delivered between the expansive blues rock of II and the world conquering epics of IV, III is more of a curate's egg with full blown rock, blues, and folkier tones all vying for centre stage.

As with most albums it benefits from repeat listens and once the immediate delights of Immigrant Song, Celebration Day and Since i've Been Loving You have faded a little, gems like Gallows Pole, That's the Way and Tangerine offer up their own subtler delights. The final two tracks have never really landed for me but a solid 8/10 seems fitting.

Julie Plumpton: Zep were definitely my big brother's favourite band, so I was not unfamiliar with their sounds. Robert Plants screeching vocals on Immigrant Song will be instantly recognisable to fans of School of Rock. It's a powerful rock anthem. I loved the laid-back blues intro of Since I've Been Loving You and the way Plant's vocals play along with the melancholy guitar riffs, one of my favourite tracks on the album. The album may not have pleased die hard Zeppelin fans, but in my opinion it reeks of pure class and musical talent and shouldn't be overlooked.

Mauro Lucke: What an album!! The sheer range of styles is breathtaking! No band nowadays would dare to do something like it! From fierce songs like Immigrant Song to folk rock on That's The Way to blues on Since I've Been Loving You. And it contains, IMO, the single most underrated Zep song: Out on the Tiles. A masterpiece of an album! To say the least!

Martin Millar: This is a great record though I remember it was sort of overshadowed at the time by the albums around it. It was hard to compete with Led Zeppelin II and IV. Fantastic record anyway. When I saw them play in Glasgow they used the opening riff from Out On The Tiles as an intro for Black Dog. That was brilliant. Fuck, I'm old.

Carl Black: This is one my dad had in his collection. Many happy hours turning the thing inside the sleeve around. Unfortunately this was whilst listening to the Iron Maiden and AC/DC records he had in his collection. He had a couple of Led Zep albums but this was the go-to one. I've never really bonded with The Zep so I was keen to give this another go. After listening to this again I've found out why. It's not the music. A couple of years ago I heard Immigrant Song on the Simon Mayo radio show but in mono. All I heard was John Paul Jones's bass. Wow. What an incredible talent. So complex. Not given anywhere near the credit he's due. 

We know Jimmy Page is a diva on the axe and this album is no exception to that statement. John Bonham's performance is amazing but perhaps not showcasing his talent fully (this is going to go down like a lead balloon!) It's Mr Plant vocals I don't like. Vocals are always a make or break In a band. Take Celebration Day, wonderful in every aspect. And then the singing kicks In. Wailing and thrashing about like a unattended fire hose and so off the beat that he either sounds drunk or he's singing another song. Forgive me but it's Mr plants fault I've not liked Led Zep as much as everyone else. Please forgive me.

Shane Reho: Could Led Zeppelin do anything wrong? Not here. This album shows them switching gears from the heaviness of LZ II, and creating an album that's just as good if not better than either of the two before it. From the somewhat misleading opening Immigrant Song, the fun time that is Celebration Day, their best slow blues jam (Since I've Been Loving You), to the more laid back songs like Tangerine and That's The Way, this album never shows any signs of weakness. Even Hats Off to (Roy) Harper is well worth it. Shout out to the cool cover as well. 10/10.

Final Score: 8.98 ⁄10 (503 votes cast, with a total score of 4517)

Join the Album Of The Week Club on Facebook to join in. The history of rock, one album at a time.