Band: Led Zeppelin
(The album is known by several names, though it is officially untitled. Some of the titles it has been referred to include ZoSo, Led Zeppelin IV, Four Symbols and Runes.)
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Zeppelin's finest work ranges from the soft acoustic-ness of "Going to California" to the thunderous "When the Levee Breaks," not to mention the Hobbit-inspired "Battle of Evermore.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is a top 20 album, no doubt about it. This is a criminally low rating.
Best song: "Stairway to Heaven" is the easy choice here, though there isn't a bad song on the record.
Worst song: "Misty Mountain Hop" is the worst song on the record and it's still pretty good.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
When I tell people that I'm not the world's biggest Zep fan in the world, I almost always relay this story:
In between "The State" and "Reno: 911!," Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney-Silver (and Michael Ian Black, though he didn't do "Reno") had a show on Comedy Central called "Viva Variety." It was basically a spoof of East European variety shows, complete with silly accents. It only lasted a season.
Anyway "Viva Variety" had audience members come onto the stage and play some quiz-type games. In one game, the cover of "Physical Graffiti" was used as a backdrop for a game called "Plant or Animal?" In this game, a five-second sound would play and the audience member would have to guess whether the sound was an animal mating call or Robert Plant from a Zeppelin record. The audience member barely got any of them correct, because Robert Plant's voice sounds more like a whale's whistle or a spider monkey's howl than it sounds like a human being's voice.
This is not a good thing.
I've extrapolated this in different ways, eventually coming to the conclusion that Zep would be much better if only Plant wasn't the singer. If Page went on tour with John Paul Jones, Bonham's kid and Glenn Danzig, it'd be the best band ever. Danzig singing "Immigrant Song?" Sign me up!
With that said, Led Zeppelin IV (my preferred title) is a masterpiece of songwriting and production that makes Plant's voice seem irrelevant. In fact, this is the Zep record where his voice sounds the most normal, probably because he doesn't wail as much as other records. "Going to California" is a nice example of that, as is "Battle of Evermore." Both feature very little screaming and a lot of whispery Plant vocals.
My other complain with Zep has always been that every song is either about Plant's penis or "The Hobbitt." This record is certainly no antithesis to that, as the track listening goes:
- Song about Plant's penis with badass guitar riff
- Song about rock and roll, therefore partially about Plant's penis
- Song about "The Hobbitt" with mandolins and a guest vocalist
- Eight-minute song about "The Hobbitt"
- Song about "The Hobbitt" that features a sweet organ
- Song about Plant's penis as regards to "crying time"
- Song about Plant traveling and his penis
- Old blues song. Has nothing to do with Plant's penis and/or "The Hobbitt
They're not exactly doing "Blowin' in the Wind" here.
Nevertheless, this record is great. The sound that Zeppelin is known for was realized on this record. The riff-tastic "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll" (fit with a walking bass line) are the logical extensions of the Yardbirds sound. "Battle of Evermore" is a pretty little olde English folkish song, drawn on basically two chords. "Four Sticks" and "When the Levee Breaks" are showcases of John Bonham's brilliance, with "Levee" specifically having the powerful resonant bass drum.
It's the production of the drum sound that is so impressive. That is an example of production enhancing the record. This is when Page's famous 16-track guitar sounds is best. The sizable guitar sound flows on the three parts of the first side closer, the incomparable "Stairway to Heaven." Even though the lyrics are straight up D&D bullshit ("If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now, It's just a spring clean for the May Queen"), the record is great. It goes from soft to hard in an instant, rocking one of the best solos ever.
Led Zeppelin IV is the place where "Zep as hard rock/blues band" met "Zep as band that experiments too much." It's a perfect storm of strong production ("Levee," "Stairway," the echo of "Black Dog," etc.) met the new instrumentation ("Misty Mountain Hop," "Battle of Evermore," etc.), which, in turn, met the riffing and musicianship of the band. Even Plant's voice can't ruin the fourth Zep record.
Still, I'd prefer Danzig;s voice.