I’ve had countless conversations with friends over what is the best Led Zeppelin album, and every single time they’ve lost and I’ve won. Now, I’m not going to just argue my case for Led Zeppelin IV being their best album but best album of 1970s rock to EVER exist.
Led Zeppelin are a band that by no means need much of an introduction. They’re one of the most iconic and successful rock bands to date, despite only being active as a cohesive band for 12 years. (rip at my chance of ever seeing them for a reunion tour). Whilst many rock bands of the 70s took a while to pick up and emerge fully onto the scene, Led Zeppelin exploded almost from the get-go with their music rocketing into the charts right from the release of their first self-titled album. For a band that released zero singles in the freshmen years of their career, you can’t deny that in a time of glam-rock and with punk on the rise, they brought something to the table that was the complete antithesis of what was rising to popularity at the time.
The 70s rock scene was one of eccentricity and elusivity. If you try to explain or define 70s rock it’s simply impossible. There were more sub-genres than ever and, coming off from the tail-end of Woodstock from the 60s, the psychedelic vibes and sounds still hung around for a good decade and even made it into the early eighties. Yet there were also bands like ACDC, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath that dominated the scene with their harsh, hard-rock sounds which bear zero similarities to the hippy blues-rock from the ‘Misty Mountain Top’ boys. This is what makes the album Led Zeppelin IV so important and the epitome of 70s rock. There’s an abundance of genre influences that range from the wildly popular hard-rock of the time, to the wistful ethereal hippy drug-induced vibes that I find nothing short of captivating. It shows their skills and capabilities as a band as well as displaying their range, confirming them as one of the most inventive and experimental bands of all times, that thrust themselves into their craft and become in their own right, pioneers of this abstract interpretation of rock.
‘Stairway to Heaven’ is undeniably the signature track for the band and coming in at a big daddy 8 minutes long, it’s earned a hefty reputation from its cinematic prowess, a mixture of rising acoustic snares from Jimmy Page and soft lilting vocals from Robert Plant. The beginning of the song is a huge step from the rambunctious and urgent sounds that we saw on the 1970 previous album, Led Zeppelin III. This foreign approach to a Page produced record is echoed throughout the first few minutes of the song, before we have a sudden return to the more populous Zeppelin for the few remaining minutes.
Most of the songs on the album comfortably exceed the 4 minute mark, my personal favourite from the album ‘When The Levee Breaks’ is the longest track at 7 minutes (this is totally my comfort song and takes me places). It borrows the sounds and lyrics from the original McCoy and Memphis Minnie in which they used embellishments of Spanish tuned guitar finger-picking styles. Page remodelled the record and created a new guitar riff for the band to feature on the album, yet Bonham swoops in and makes the song his own with his statement drumming, the defining characteristic of the song and, to this day is the most widely sampled drum-beat in popular music.
It’s rare you get an album that has zero skips, an album you can listen to all in one go and not feel like one or the other pips the post for best record. The lack of a title record eliminates any bias towards the most ‘popular song’ and the lack of singles make it easy to not run to one particular record, minus the big tracks. Kicking off with a record like ‘Black Dog’ which of course includes the high-pitch trademark vocals, a gritty electric guitar riff and a bold brutish drum beat that makes you want to head bang to no ends, timeless gold-medal stuff. Oh and not to mention the lyrics starting off with ‘Hey, hey Mama said the way you move/Gon’ make you sweat, gon’ make you grove’ the sexiest rock song to EVER exist. Period.
Even though the album was released 8th November 1971, it’s still a favourite of mine and a staple amongst my vinyl collection and features on pretty much every single playlist in my library and is just all-round sensational. I could totally talk all day about it and not run out of things to say. To me this is 70s rock at its best.
Led Zeppelin IV is available to listen to now via Atlantic Recording Corp. Check out ‘When the Levee Breaks’ down below.