Album Review: Led Zeppelin – IV (1971)

In December 1970 Led Zeppelin moved into the newly opened Island Studios in Basing Street, London and began work on their fourth album. After the initial sessions the band decamped to Headley Grange and used the Rolling Stones Mobile to finish the eight songs that made up the album as well as several others which surfaced some years later on Physical Graffiti.

One of Zeppelin’s most well known tracks, ‘Black Dog’ leads the album off with a riff that was written by John Paul Jones and not Jimmy Page as many believe. They took the structure of the song from the Fleetwood Mac track ‘Oh Well’ and it has since been copied by several other bands. Possibly most notably Whitesnake for ‘Still of the Night’. Ironically Jones came up with the riff when searching for something that would be difficult to copy or dance to. The title which has absolutely no relevance to the lyrics refers to a labrador which often wandered around Headley Grange during the recording process. The second track ‘Rock and Roll’ like the opener became a staple part of the live set and is basically nothing more than a standard twelve bar blues stomp, albeit a good one. Despite its simplicity it is often cited by many as a favourite and one of the best Zeppelin songs. I wouldn’t disagree. The first slightly disappointing track on the album for me is the third track ‘The Battle of Evermore’. I’m not sure why but it just doesn’t sit easily for me after the bombast of the first two tracks and feels like a backward step towards the third album. Featuring a vocal from the excellent Sandy Denny it probably suffers from its placement on the album. Side one closes with ‘Stairway To Heaven’. A classic track which it is very difficult to say anything original about as everyone knows it inside out and back to front. So I’m not going to try !

‘Misty Mountain Hop’ gets the second side off to a great start with more Tolkien influenced lyrics and a great riff that drives the song along nicely. The weakest track on the album is ‘Four Sticks’ which gets its name from the fact that Bonham used four drumsticks instead of the usual two. According to the band it was the most difficult track to record on the album and took several more takes to perfect than any of the others. Personally I just don’t like the vocal. The exact opposite can be said though of ‘Going To California’. It has always been one of my favourite Zeppelin tracks and Plant delivers a beautifully wistful and folky vocal whilst Jones contributes some mandolin and Page sticks to the acoustic. The song is widely regarded as being about Joni Mitchell. Final track ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is another Chicago blues type track that Zeppelin moulded into something original. Various effects were used during the recording process which give it its distinctive sludgy sound. The track was played at a much faster pace for recording and then slowed down, also Plant’s harmonica was reversed to give an echo prior to the instrument coming in. The initial mix of the album was not up to standard and the album was remixed before release. However, for some reason ‘When The Levee Breaks’ was not remixed and the original mix was used. This may explain why it has a different feel to the rest of the album.

Whatever you call Led Zeppelin’s fourth album it can’t be argued that it is a classic rock album and deserves its place amongst the most respected albums in the history of rock music. However, for me it is not quite as good as Led Zeppelin II.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM January 2011

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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