Led Zeppelin - IV

by Jack Kiser Rating:10 Release Date:1971-11-08
Led Zeppelin - IV
Led Zeppelin - IV

One of rock’s most iconic records to date, 1971 debuted the legendary IV, which spotlighted hard blues rock and ambitious amplification to cement the English quartet as the genres most worshipped deities. While an entire review can be solely dedicated to the legacy that “Stairway to Heaven” generated, each track is lead footed and encompasses textbook compositions for classic rock radio. The track list of their most widely cherished project allowed for moments of unexpected intimacy, but nevertheless, was surrounded by ominous rumble. Bonham’s thunderous entrance, the squealing frequency of Page’s Gibson Les Paul, swallowing bass riffs from JPJ, and Plant’s unmatchable, ubiquitous vocal presence, one would have to designate a Johnny Cochran-like defense to argue against this being the greatest rock album of all time.

The mid to late sixties promised ripe fruits of an explosive, exponential rock phase for the foreseeable future. The ushering of sunshine pop and the psychedelic attitude seemed to give the world a glimpse of what was to come. This was fully embraced by the early musical experimentation of Page’s first band, The Yardbirds Additionally, the early adaption of proto-punk was chalk-full of scattershot chaos and lo-fidelity reverb from pioneers like MC5, the 13th Floor Elevators, and, the Who.  However, the oxymoronic initial ascent of the Led Zeppelin channeled signature delta blues from legends like Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters. The mentioned aura is particularly exemplified in early classics like “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “You Shook Me” off their first LP. From them on, the magnanimous power quartet only continued to become heavier and more labyrinthine with their compositions up to their third studio record. Personally III is one of my all-time favorites, even though a share of the songs are earthy, bucolic odes that put Page’s acoustic framework center stage. While much of Zep’s back catalogue illustrated an unfamiliar territory for traditional rock airplay, IV was the delicately golden brown turkey, perfectly basted for the world’s listening audience to sponge up.

Their headbanging magnum opus of IV was practically the first of its type. With the exception of the irregular disarray from domestic groups like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Doors, Zeppelin’s British Rizla rolled vehement blues rock and picturesque lyrics of overcast countryside to a mass audience that were salivating for the next big thing. The roaring ambiance remains as the integral focal point of the record, but a handful of tracks softly embellish folkloric allegories that are blissful and awakening. Without any introduction necessary, the infamous opening track “Black Dog” commences with Plant belting out his signature “Hey mama like the way you groove” phrase that is nothing short of sinister. The tempo is slower, but well-adjusted to harbor beefy blues guitar riffs. With such a superb opening, the ground thumping inauguration sets the cavalier rocker aesthetic for the longevity of the record. This is then followed by Bonham’s discernable open hi-hat/snare combo to appropriately greet us with “Rock and Roll,” one of the most heavily rotated Zeppelin songs to date. Judging by the title of this, it seems impossible to expect anything less. As mentioned before, the cryptic folklore presents itself in numerous compositions, specifically “The Battle of Evermore” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” John Paul Jones and the other three pay Peter Jackson a handsome tribute on the third track with country elements including ukulele and dubbing vocal harmonies from Plant. The fictive imagery is additionally seen in John Paul Jones’s syndicated keyboard piece with “Misty Mountain Hop.” One can envision beautiful women with “flowers in their headsets” properly illustrating the calm atmosphere that it reaches. This infectious downshifting scale and the continuous upheaval of percussion bolsters its clout for being one of the most creativly fictive rock songs of the early 70’s. “Going to California” channels early III, with the likes of “Tangerine” and “That’s the Way” that takes the listener on an acoustic voyage across the American countryside for promising opportunities in the west coast.  Of course, with my unconditional worship for all items John Bonham, “Four Sticks” is this record’s “Moby Dick.” The excellent execution with noticeably challenging syncopation work is hard to ignore, especially since it is front and center. Lastly, my personal favorite, “When the Levee Breaks” is a thick serving of heart-skipping bass dominant rhythm and blood-stained harmonica wailing. It is an admirable interpretation on legendary delta blues full of molasses smothered production and lamenting uncertainty.

Did you really think I was going to leave out “Stairway to Heaven?” Of course I wasn’t. The strategically placed fourth song, clocking in barely over eight minutes, encapsulates every liner note that is used for rock songs today. The tranquil nature of the opening sequence is greeted with earthy flutes and single sliced guitar chords. The legendary crescendo into the screaming Page guitar solo we all willingly air guitar to, is hard to be contested with as one of the greatest solos of all time. Plant’s conclusive fade out of “When all are one and one is all To be a rock and not to roll” is haunting and leaves the listener in an unparalled state of bewilderment (in a good way). Aptly named by Rolling Stone as one of the “500 best songs of all time” I would suspect it be top 5, however it would be archetypal for it to be overshadowed by a conventional Bob Dylan or Beatles composition. Still, let’s all take a moment and appreciate the grandiose masterpiece that has molded the talents of our favorite rockers post 1971.

During my reviews, I try to separate my personal feelings I have with an artist or group while writing these evaluations. However, Led Zeppelin is different and presents quite the obstacle. All of the world, myself included has cherished this legendary super group since the discovery of the genre. So much innovation, creativity, and groundbreaking penmanship was brought to us on a silver platter that we didn’t deserve. IV was revolutionary in every since of the word, setting templates for rock and many genres to come. While the group was disbanded long ago, it is safe to say that their iconic status will never die. To be a rock….and not to roll.

Overall Rating (3)

5 out of 5 stars

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