The band tired from constant touring and not that happy with the reviews for Led Zeppelin 3 took their time to make Led Zeppelin 4. They recorded some pre rehearsed material in London and then set out with the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit to an out of the way Victorian House where they could write and record in peace.
This gave the band the opportunity to take breaks between recording sessions and allowed them to bond over writing. After finishing recording they headed back to London to take care of the overdubs. The album was released in November 1971 and was an instant success. It was a top 5 album everywhere it was available and just continued to sell. It spent over a year on the charts in some countries and even today almost 40 years later is still a constant seller.
The album opens with “Back Dog” a hard rock/blues number that opens with Plant singing and a blistering guitar line. Jimmy Page’s guitar line is so layered that at times it sounds like a Moog and not a guitar. Page’s solo towards the four minute is a classic.
“Rock and Roll” is one of the most recognizable songs in, well rock and roll history. The drums are straight out of the 1950’s while the guitar lines are 1970’s metal. Ian Stewart, the long time Rolling Stones pianist and stage manager, sits in on piano here playing great boogie woogie piano. An undisputed classic.
Two hard ones so time to tone it down, a trick Zeppelin used frequently when recording. “The Battle of Evermore” plays like Irish folk music. Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention adds a dimension to the song by sharing vocal duties with Robert Plant. She’s the perfect foil for him as she matches him note for note. Jimmy Page gives the song a more folksy sound by layering mandolin over the guitar parts. The over tracking of the vocals in the last minute of the song give it an ethereal feel.
Closing out side 1, which arguably may be the greatest side of any album ever is “Stairway To Heaven”. The song is really three songs in one, an acoustic beginning which goes a little more up tempo, followed by one of the great one minute guitar solos of all time and then a ninety second Zeppelin hard rock ending.
Side two opens with “Misty Mountain Hop” is a mid speed Zeppelin song that had some success when it came out but was overshadowed by the four songs on side one. The opening keyboards and guitars never seem to sync with each other and hat gives the song a great rolling feel.
“Four Sticks” so named because John Bonham played the song using four drumsticks instead of the usual two is another excellent song on the album. The song has an Eastern feel to it. Page switches effortlessly from electric to acoustic guitar on this one which breaks the song down into easily digestible segments.
Next up is the folkie “Going To California” which may have been about Joni Mitchell. This is the second mandolin song on the album, “Battle Of Evermore” being the other. On this one Jimmy Page stays with the guitar and John Paul Jones handles the mandolin duties. There are no percussion tracks and therefore no John Bonham on the album.
“When The Levee Breaks” opens with drum pounding, harmonica and a great guitar hook. It’s back to hard electric blues. The song is based on an old blues song and the band gives Memphis Minnie a co – writing credit for some of the lyrics. The song might be the densest song in the Zeppelin catalog, Vocals phase in and out. Harmonica bits float by. This song should best be listened with headphones in an unhurried atmosphere. Every time I listen to the song i pick up new elements I hadn’t realized were there in the last listen.
Led Zeppelin 4 was the band’s best selling album and was the band that made them an arena act. It p[laced 66th on Rolling Stones top 500 albums of all time which is ridiculous. It fits in somewhere in the top 20 or so, where exactly is impossible to say. One of the must have records in Rock and Roll history.