Now here’s a challenge – write something about an LP that’s been written about solidly for 41 years and counting. Led Zeppelin IV is the LP and I find it horrifically difficult to write about.
I’ve known the LP since I was roughly 15 when I taped it off my dad’s business partner’s copy, although I didn’t get around to buying my own copy until the millennium . I remember my first impressions of it today, I remember loving the stop / start of ‘Black Dog’, the epicnessiosity of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and the whimsy of ‘Battle of Evermore’. To be honest that’s pretty much where I still stand today.
It is funny when you know an LP as well as IV, I find that I don’t actually tend to listen to it, it’s just there; I mean I would probably nominate it in a Top 30 Rock LPs I own sort of way, but I genuinely can’t remember the last time I played the sucker – especially not that big sappy track that finishes the first side of the LP! Listening to it afresh though is an interesting exercise.
Let’s number the things I loved most today:
- The down tuning, drone bit, seconds before the vocals start on ‘Black Dog’
- The drum sound on ‘When the Levee Breaks’ (along with every other sentient being on Earth)
- The keyboards on ‘Misty Mountain Hop’
- The Tolkien whimsy of ‘Battle of Evermore’ and the sheer joy in the way Sandy Denny’s vocals stack up against Robert Plant’s.
- The absolutely perfect cover art.
You could play it to me again tomorrow and I’d name a different four, but that’s the joy of a giant LP like IV, the point of it even. Everyone knows how hackneyed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is, but listening to it again is an entirely different matter; It is just brilliant. If you can bring yourself to suspend disbelief past the ‘bustle in the hedgerow’ stage, this is a great track, it is all very well talking about how Black Keys’ ‘Little Black Submarines’ apes this song**, another entirely to listen to the thing. The reason that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is a bit of a cliché is simply due to what a great, popular, original and powerful track it actually is; clichés do always exist for a reason. No matter how yearningly preposterous ‘Stairway…’ is if you look at it in the cold light of day, Plant’s impassioned vocals, sell me the song instantly, from the first words right up until the climax he really means every last syllable. Add in a great band and simply perfect guitaring and you can see why it stuck.
In fact if I were being ultra-critical the only tune out of the 8 that I would actually pick holes in would be in Plant’s vocals for ‘Four Sticks’, the music I like, I just find Percy too high-pitched and irrelevant here. If forced at gun-point to chose my two fave tracks from this LP (an unlikely situation I admit, but it is always best to be prepared^) I’d go for the hyper-hormonal , cat-in-heat of ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It’s a bit like being asked to pick your favourite two children though* there may be different answers each time.
Some other general thoughts on listening to this LP under controlled conditions for the 1014th time (estimated) – just how amazingly good and clear the production is, how well Ian Stewart could play boogie piano and just what a completely unreconstructed hippy Robert Plant always was at heart (‘Going to California’, particularly).
If you know and love this LP then my words here are fairly pointless, but all I would urge you to do is to play it again straight through without distractions and actually listen to it again – you may well be surprised by the results. I don’t mean put it on while you do your taxes, catch up on your marking or watch sport in the background – I mean properly listen to the sucker! I did and I emerged with a brand-new love for it again.
Classics – listen to them, don’t just know them! (is the slogan I will be running for MP / senator under) – Vote 1537, I got all the moves!
*obviously if you had more than two, I have two – so it’s just a question of ranking.
**it does and it’s cool, but it couldn’t hold its head high in this company for a second.
^ I can see the headlines now ‘Three dead in Led Zep choice killer horror’