In 18th installments of my CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES I’m yet to cover a Led Zeppelin album, but that changes now with the incredible Led Zeppelin IV. Released in 1971, their fourth album is my favourite of theirs and features eight incredible songs. Every album after this in my opinion struggled to match the greatness of the songs on this album, aside from perhaps Physical Graffiti. But there’s no doubt when I say this one album contained their best work, their most consistent songs and their most focused and driven playing.
The song Black Dog opens the album which features one of the most complex and exciting riffs that Led Zeppelin ever came up with. It was John Paul Jones that initially thought of it, having wanted to compose a riff that people found hard to dance to. You take away the drums and he succeeded. The band came up with so many infectious riffs in their career and Black Dog, along with the following song Rock And Roll, are two of their all time best. Rock And Roll is a song all guitarists should learn to play at some point. The song is a pretty straight forward blues number but the opening drum sequence can really throw you off when you’re trying to play along. It’s almost like they deliberately tried to throw a spanner in the works with that one, but it fits the song perfectly. Looking back at their entire catalogue it’s easy to say that this song stands out as one of their most explosive. And it’s as addictive as hell.
- Black Dog
- Rock And Roll
- The Battle Of Evermore
- Stairway To Heaven
- Misty Mountain Hop
- Four Sticks
- Going To California
- When The Levee Breaks
Things head in a more mellow direction with The Battle Of Evermore which features singer songwriter Sandy Denny on guest vocals. The song has a distinctive folk feel to it with Jimmy Page playing mandolin on the song which resulting in John Paul Jones playing acoustic guitar. It’s a song that doesn’t stand out initially compared to the others but the more you listen to it the more you fall in love with it. Stairway To Heaven comes next which is probably my least favourite song on the album, yes you read that right. I’ve always considered this song overrated especially compared to the other songs on the album. I know it’s seen as one of the greatest songs of all time but I’ve never bought into that. While the guitar solo section in the final third of the song is exciting to listen to, everything else really doesn’t do that much for me. Just my opinion.
Things return to excellent form with Misty Mountain Hop. The song begins with John Paul Jones on electric piano and it’s yet another Zeppelin riff that latches itself onto your mind and refuses to let go. Plant is exceptional here. Four Sticks comes next but for me it’s always been the one track on this album that doesn’t seem to quite fit. Based around a riff that continues from start to finish with not much else going on, the song ends up feeling repetitive. Everything is righted with the next song, Going To California which is one of the best songs in the Led Zeppelin catalogue. The song doesn’t feature Bonham at all, instead going down the folk route the band had previously visited in The Battle Of Evermore. The song is absolutely beautiful and doesn’t need a catchy riff to stay in your head. The blend of Plant on vocals with Page on guitar and Jones on mandolin is exquisite, resulting in one of the best songs on the album.
When The Levee Breaks is the final track and I don’t think the band could have picked a better song to end on. Anchored by Bonham’s incredible drumming, which was recorded at the bottom of a stairwell at Headley Grande in Hampshire, which is where the band recorded a lot of the album. The unique sound of the drums were created by the natural reverb located at the bottom of the stairwell. That combined with the vocals, guitar, bass and harmonica create one hell of a song and one of the greatest songs of all time, period. I also consider it the best Led Zeppelin track by a country mile, and that’s saying something because their entire catalogue is full of so many gems.
Overall Led Zeppelin IV is a masterpiece even though I’m not a massive fan of Stairway To Heaven, at least compared to the hype surrounding it. When looking at their whole catalogue this is probably their most consistent album from start to finish and at eight songs in length it really hits the spot quickly. There’s no messing around, it’s to the point. The band would go on to reproduce the greatness found on this album on their 1975 album Physical Graffiti, which will be the focus of a future CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES article without a doubt, but Led Zeppelin IV really sums the band up perfectly. Catchy riffs, screaming vocals, beautiful playing and exciting ideas. It’s a must have for any record collection.