What can you say about Led Zeppelin that hasn't already been said? One of the most popular bands of the 70's, they were all conquering with their brand of blues-rock. We've all heard the tales over the years; from riding a Harley Davidson through a hotel foyer, doing things to women with baby sharks, trying to do things to women which involve a great dane dog and some bacon (Use your imagination) and becoming the subject of rumours of Faustian pacts because your guitarist has an interest in Aleister Crowley, they pretty much set the bar for rockstar debauchery.
Released in 1970, this album was the third in the Zeppelin armoury and marked a slight change of direction for the band. The majority of the songs on here were acoustic. This is because they were written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant whilst in seclusion at a Welsh cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur. With no running water or electricity, they couldn't really plug into their amps and let rip. Hence why the majority of the material is acoustic. This lead critics to accuse the band of trying to rip off Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but there were acoustic guitars on the previous albums so it's not like it was a rip-off job!
Another thing about the album was it's packaging, especially the cover art. These days, it's all mp3's and CDs which means that the cover art is usually nondescript with the odd exception but back in the days of vinyl, the cover art was usually something special - in this case, there was a disc behind the cover which you could turn and it would make pictures appear in pre-cut out holes on the front cover! It looked all trippy and no doubt provided plenty amusement for stoned fans of the band! It's a shame you don't get anything like that any more, but there isn't much room for packaging these days. I know that vinyl is making a comeback, so you never know. Things may start getting good again.
Anyway, back to the music. The album opens up with what is possibly one of Zep's finest moments - "Immigrant Song". It's basically the sound of a Viking death squad, something which was realised in one of the "fantasy sequences" in the movie The Song Remains The Same. Like "Whole Lotta Love" of the previous album, it serves as the rocking opener, the song that grabs your attention. The only problem with it, is that it is too short. Seriously, we need to make this song a bit longer! This then leads into the first acoustic song - "Friends". Played in open-C tuning (CGCGCE), it has a neat little vibe about it, almost like a campfire jam session. Which I guess it was if the cottage they stayed in had no electricity or amenities. Still, it's a great song. However, the next song - "Celebration Day" is a bit nondescript, even though it has a decent beat to it and some good guitar work. Thank God that "Since I've Been Loving You" comes afterwards to bring our interest levels back up. This would end up replacing "I Can't Quit You Baby" as the slow blues song when played live. Shame that "Out On The Tiles" isn't as striking. Sure it has a swagger to it and no doubt went down live but we'd heard stuff like this before. So far - with the exception of "Immigrant Song" - it seems that the electric stuff has been a bit run-off-the-mill and not really an expansion of the material on previous albums. End of Side 1.
Side 2 begins with "Gallows Poll" which was actually inspired by a folk song called "The Maid Freed From The Gallows". It's the story of someone about to be hung but the hangee is trying to stall the executioner from performing the deed on the premise that a relative will bribe them not to do it (It doesn't work and the poor hangee gets their neck stretched). This, for me, is the best song on the album as it's arranged so well. After that, it's "Tangerine". A nice song, very chilled and relaxed. "That's The Way" comes after and isn't as good. I dunno, it just doesn't resonate with me. "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp" folows after that - and after previously hating it, I'm now drawn to it's infectious shuffle and stompy rhythms! It pretty much sums up the folk influence on the album. It's always good to try new things. Unless you're death metal, in which case, stay as death metal. Final track "Hats Off (To) Roy Harper" is quite experimental - Plant's vocals (Which were comprised of out-takes from the recording sessions) are put through a vibrato amp and synced alongside am acoustic slide-guitar riff and the whole thing is indeed very trippy. Roy Harper was an English folk singer BTW.
Production-wise, it's perfect, as is the musicianship. Plant's vocals are awesome on this. You can tell that the two years of touring honed the band and made them better musicians. After this, they'd go on to become one of the top acts of the 70's whose influence is still felt today. Great stuff.
Top Track: Gallows Poll.
8/10 - Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
This album is on iTunes.
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