Monday, September 04, 2006

Album Review #1: Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin established themselves as a major force in music by the time of their 4th and untitled album. Led Zeppelin IV is not only one of their greatest, it's one of the greatest in rock history. The RIAA lists it as the third best-selling album in US history - from any genre. I think it deserves the acclaim it so often gets.

Unlike many rock groups, each of Zep's members bring a distinct personality to the group, contributing their own musical stamp, and none of them are simply keepers of rhythm. On IV, they establish themselves as masters not only of music, but as masters over music as well. Usually, the time dictates the boundaries of the music, whether 3/4 or 4/4. But Zeppelin mixes it up with some 3/4 time (I think) within a 5/4 song - on Four Sticks - and on Misty Mountain Hop a 3/4 melody is repeatedly squeezed into a 4/4 time span over 16 beats, the 3/4 melody is repeated 5 times with a beat left over, leaving the listener with the impression that the beat changes. Black Dog's vocal breaks are bookended with guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer John Bonham's musical starts and stops at unexpected places in the musical flow. Try to predict the cymbal crashes while tapping your foot to see what I mean. John Paul Jones follows Page on the bass flawlessly.

All this adds up to some very catchy tunes that disrupt the listener's ability to tap his foot with any regularity. These are musical coups pulled off almost magically, and only add to Led Zeppelin's images of mystery and dark story telling. Speaking of this, The Battle Of Evermore is a Tolkienesque tale of middle earth fantasy and the combination of guest folk singer Sandy Denny's vocals and Jimmy Page's heavily reverberated mandolin drive the imagery home. Denny and vocalist Robert Plant swap and intertwine passionate vocals, alternating between being complimentary to and clashing with one another, creating an eerie, haunting sound.

Although Rock and Roll is a straightforward rock tune, Zeppelin performs it like nobody else could. With its use in Cadillac TV commercials, it is grafted into American culture. Stairway To Heaven is not only the group's most popular tune ever, it is viewed as the greatest rock song ever, and is the most requested number in radio history. It is also the song every aspiring rock guitarist desperately wants to play. Going To California is another example of a fine folk tune in a rock format and the powerful When The Levee Breaks is as good a blues song as it gets. Bonham's pounding bass drum and Plant's harmonica are foundational to the blues feel.

Jimmy Page is reported to have been a session guitarist on about 90% of all rock records to come out of Britain during the 60's invasion, and his mastery of production and studio technique shine through on this album. His layering of sounds and overdubbing guitars form almost an impressionist version of music. Listening to IV is a must under headphones. I know of no other album where every single track is routinely played in regular radio rotation 35 years later; this includes all other greatest hits records. Led Zeppelin IV is a must for all rock record collections.


At 11:39 PM, September 16, 2006 , Blogger Sigmundson said...

Hmmm sounds great... but what if you play it backwards!!!



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