Close the doors, put out the light
You know they won’t be home tonight
The snow falls hard and don’t you know
The winds of Thor are blowing cold
Prophetic words – reggae, funk, infant bottoms, songs about postmen (sort of) it has to be Led Zeppelin Houses of The Holy. Not an album I’ve cared to spend much time with since I bought it in 1996, but I don’t think I’m alone in this.
The follow-up to Led Zeppelin IV (no pressure, boys!), this was the first Zep LP to have a title and, I’ve read, the first Zep LP to have move overdubs than ensemble recording on. I’d say it’s by far their most progressive rock feeling album too. Proof? just listen to some of those chord changes and odd bass-y bits and guitar twitches and twists of opener ‘The Song Remains The Same’. Funny song to open the LP with, if you ask me*, I’d have plumped for ‘The Rain Song’, personally. Anyway, ‘The Song Remains The Same’ just doesn’t really coalesce into anything, it feels more like a rehearsal, or a necessary foundation for, a later glory, rather than a fully realised song in its own right; which apart from two moments of genius I think holds pretty true for Houses of The Holy wholly.
I’m afraid there are some abominable moments here, I know this sort of talk could eventually see me dragged from my bed at night and burnt inside a giant wicker Peter Grant but I am 1537, I must speak the truth no matter what the consequences. In fact let’s put this whole farrago on trial:
Exhibit A for the prosecution is ‘The Crunge’, an abominable faux James Brown number, with pants lyrics and an unfunny punch line about ‘taking it to the bridge’ (shudders). The opening few bars do strike me as being rather sampleable though, but surely that’s all that can be said for it.
Exhibit B for the prosecution is ‘D’yer Mak’er’ which is so dire that it’s very existence is predicated upon the old horrendous ‘D’ya make her / Jamaica’ joke, beloved of old farts comedians when I was growing up. To be fair it’s marginally better than ‘The Crunge’ simply because it doesn’t suffer from that joke about ‘taking it to the bridge’. but that’s a hollow victory. We didn’t want cod reggae, cod funk, all of which you battered guys, all we wanted was a one way hell ride to Valhalla.
Exhibit A for the defence is ‘No Quarter’, by far my favourite tune here. A John Paul Jones master class in atmosphere, which appears to be about, umm, Viking post men? this is perfection, pure and simple Page, Plant and Bonham reigning in their bombast perfectly to serve the tune. ‘No Quarter’ would have made any Led Zeppelin album it was on even better by its very presence. I feel cold every time I listen to it, it’s that good.
Exhibit B for the defence is ‘The Rain Song’, gentle sweet and melancholic it really is another genuine pleasure. The music is beautiful enough to make me swoon and I like the Mellotron in there. It is the longest song on the LP but far too short at 7:39, I wouldn’t mind listening to this for days.
Exhibit C for the defence is ‘The Ocean’; although Led Zeppelin’s cheeky sampling of the Beastie Boys ‘She’s Crafty’ almost cost them 1537 bonus points on this cut – I can’t believe the B-Boys never sued! Maybe they didn’t because it was such a good track, hitting a great drum and guitar groove. There’s also a genuine wide-eyed mysticism present here that a lot of Houses of The Holy reaches for but doesn’t quite achieve. It’s also the beneficiary of Jimmy Page’s most uninhibited playing on the album, as well as the brilliant ‘la la la la’ section.
Okay so the defence wins, but not by a huge amount, ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ and ‘Dancing Days’ both being perfectly serviceable but not inspired; that’s the problem with Houses of the Holy, Led Zep just raised the bar so high that two genuine classics and another really good ‘un just seems like a poor return from them, possibly because for the first time there were a couple of real lows mixed in. The winds of Thor were blowing cold, but fear not the goddess Idun was about to bring us spring in the shape of Physical Graffiti.**
*Zeppelin didn’t for two main reasons a) they were all-conquering rock Vikings who didn’t need any help conquering all, and b) I was 14 months old when this came out.
**Idun being the Norse goddess of spring and renewal and the keeper of The Apples of Immortality – how damn cool is that?! I misread it as The Apples of Immorality at first too – either way, give me a bite!