When Led Zeppelin set off to record their fourth album, their main goal was to prove that they were more that just popular. They wanted to reaffirm their talent and strike down any critics who believed that any of their fame was based on raw hype. And after nearly 50 years, it’s safe to say that the pioneers of modern Hard Rock and Metal succeeded.
With the iconic voice of Robert Plant and the impeccable abilities of drummer Jon Bonham (a man I believe to be the greatest rock drummer of all time), Led Zeppelin released this 8-track album in 1971 and to universal appeal. The album starts out hard and fast. In the first two tracks, every band member is doing their part at full capacity. And both tracks, “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll,” quickly became known as two of Zeppelin’s best ever.
But as the Battle of Evermore starts, the music slows down and then occurs a transition from hard and gritty to something more traditional and even folkloric. It was this that inspired the oddball album cover, apparently designed by the band to create a dichotomy between the portrait of the English countryman and the ripped white wallpaper of a London flat. It fits the music perfectly because after the beautiful Stairway to Heaven concludes, then starts Misty Mountain Hop, a ballad that, to me, seems like a song based on daily life, something done by other British rock bands in “Day in the Life” by the Beatles and “Parklife” by Blur.
And then finally, the album ends with “When the Levee Breaks.” Other than “The National Anthem” by Radiohead, I can’t think of a better, more intense crescendo-based rock song than this one. I know it wasn’t originally created by them (original recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie), but their version stands alone. You can feel a sort of tension about a levee somewhere faltering while the band delivers one of the most emotionally-involved performances I’ve ever heard.
It ends and you stare at the album cover again thinking about the antique shop clerk that sold Led Zeppelin that painting and about what that clerk is doing nowadays. That would be a good Vice video profile. They should get on that soon.