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.

Target audience
Target audience

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.

Led Zep Houses Holy 03

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.

How arty am I?
How arty am I?

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.

Zoso nappies: a missed marketing opportunity if ever I saw one
Zoso nappies: a missed marketing opportunity if ever I saw one

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.**

Led Zep Houses Holy 04

369 Down.

Led Zep Houses Holy 02

*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!


37 thoughts on “Houses Of The Wholly Holey

  1. Along with Physical Graffiti this is my favourite Zep. But even then, I don’t necessarily disagree with your appraisal here! I see where you’re coming from. And the lego climbing up the rocks in the distance is some of your best work.

      1. Thanks Scott – that was the best thing that happened to me last night, getting that one right. I really should get out more..

      2. I’m sure Lego art is more exciting than what most people get up to in the evening. Better than the TV anyway…

        I have to say I thought you would have liked this album more than you do.

      3. Noooo! I feel like the kid in ‘Invaders From Mars’ – I’m the only sane one, every one else has had an alien probe inserted into their necks and is being controlled by aliens from the planet cod-reggae and I CAN’T CONVINCE ANYONE I’M TELLING THE TRUTH!

        (as revisited by Wolfsbane in the mighty, mighty ‘All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place’)

  2. Loved this post even though I disagree regarding your “abominable moments.” Maybe you had to be there to really appreciate some of the quirkier moments (yep, that’s what I’m calling them), but to me “The Crunge” and “D’yer Maker” was evidence that Zeppelin could have a laugh, which wasn’t always apparent back in the days when many bands seemed mysterious, and they were at the top of that list. Note that, even though I didn’t get the album when it was released…I was only 7 at the time…I did own it by ’79 or ’80 and Zeppelin has been my favorite band for 35 years. I try not to get defensive about them since not everyone will love the sounds they created, but I’m very pleased that you noticed the progressive elements on this album. As a huge prog-rock fan that’s one of the things that always appealed to me about it.

    Always happy to chat about Zeppelin, so thanks for this excellent post.

    1. Hey Rich! Okay we can settle for ‘quirkier’, no problem. I think my issue with HOTH is as a comparison with previous and future glories, it pales for me, apart from three slices of outright genius. Always good to have you in the discussion!

      1. Sorry that you only hear three “slices of outright genius.” For me this album is every bit as impressive as anything else in their catalog…a catalog where every album has its own unique personality. A guitarist friend played “The Rain Song” at my wedding ceremony as the wedding party walked down the aisle. That song, along with “Over The Hills & Far Away,” “The Song Remains The Same,” “The Ocean,” “No Quarter,” “Dancing Days” and “D’yer Maker” are all essential Zeppelin songs, and the others are still enjoyable if not all-time greats. Guess we’ll just agree to disagree on this.

  3. I love HotH. Love love love. The Ocean is probably one of my favourite Zep songs. Which is ridiculous, because how do you even begin to choose such a thing. Anyway.

    My Weirdest HotH Moment:

    It was August of 1994. I was in Exhibition Stadium in Toronto to see Harry Connick, Jr. on his Funk tour (for the album ‘She’). I’d met Harry earlier that day, shook his hand. Nice guy. Anyway, the Leroy Jones Quintet opens up. Y’all know he was the lead horn in Harry’s band at the time, so that Dude was having a long night playing two sets. So. The LJQ ends their set and it’s time to wait while they set up for Harry. Somebody throws in a CD to help the crowd pass the time. Yup, you guessed it. HotH. Incongruous? Yes. Did it disorient a lot of the old people in the crowd who were all excited that they were gonna see Harry’s big band that night [they ultimately wouldn’t because it was his FUNK TOUR, it said so right on the ticket!) and they were PISSED]? Oh yes. But still, that was a big sound system, and those songs sounded glorious blasted loud like that.

    HotH. Perfect warm-up for a Harry Connick, Jr. concert.

  4. I had a HotH t-shirt at 18 – bums and all. My mom HATED it (so I of course kept wearing it out of spite)! I wore that thing until it fell apart.

      1. Haha, I also had (actually still have and wear!) a Tragically Hip t-shirt with the cover from their album Fully Completely… alot of naked tatas on that shirt. I think my mom blew a gasket, but I was out of the house, so there!

  5. I think I’m more of a fan of Houses of the Holy than you are, but reading this post made me question my fandom. I think “No Quarter”, “The Ocean”, and “The Rain Song” are all so very perfect that I can look over the blandness of the rest. I don’t mind their faux funk in “The Crunge”, but “Dy’er Maker” is just way overplayed on FM “classic” rock stations. And just kinda lame in the grand scheme of things.

    In comparison to Physical Graffiti it pales. Pales like those pale butts on the album cover.

  6. Utter brilliance. Not necessarily HotH, I’m broadly in agreement there. No, the cut-through moment here is without doubt Zoso safety-undies. Do it. Do it now. The market is worldwide and multi-generational. Grandchildren of Boomers and the Baby Boomers themselves. A new frontier (and derriere) beckons.

    1. Thank you – I could really have made them some proper money too; in these days of declining sales bands need to diversify. Nappies (which I remember being a cripplingly expensive commodity) are ideal!

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