OAAR: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

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Led Zeppelin at the time of their fourth album, Led Zeppelin IV could probably have been the first true Opportunity Assassin band because rather than coming up with album titles, they simply numbered them, making our lives far easier when figuring out which came first. Luckily for us, however, four albums in and Led Zeppelin still hasn't phoned in a single album. I'm pretty sure I've established this already, but these OAARs on Led Zeppelin's discography is the first time I'm hearing these albums in their entirety and not only am I surprised that they are still as obviously important now as they were when they came out but also that even in the age of vinyl, we've been given some of the greatest album experiences to date. That brings me to what I can easily consider to be the best Led Zeppelin album that I've experienced so far and while I'm sure it's painfully obvious to those of you Zeppelin fans out there, I'll break some of the high points down for the rest of you who, like me, have yet to experience the magic that is Led Zeppelin IV.

Zeppelin IV starts off being yet another Led Zeppelin album bringing forth another iconic Zeppelin tune in "Black Dog." Of course it wouldn't be Zeppelin if they rested on their laurels, so they brought forth an even more iconic tune, "Rock and Roll" to follow it up. Finally, we get the song that everyone who's not deaf knows which is the exceedingly famous "Stairway to Heaven." What's the chance of Led Zeppelin's most notable track not getting a score of 5? If you said anything other than "zero" or one of its synonyms, then you obviously haven't been paying attention to anything we've said so far and you should probably quit now before you make an even larger fool of yourself. Anyway, nothing more needs to be said about the perfection of "Stairway to Heaven" so let's flip the album if you will and move on.

"Misty Mountain Hop" is one of those songs that often times falls by the wayside when people start lining up the greatest Zeppelin songs of all time, but it shows why Robert Plant is so incredibly amazing. Moving between the repeated three notes (plus harmonies) and his vocal freestyle riffs shows a creativity that can only be reproduced with an equal amount of genius or a large amount of drugs plus a good helping of talent. "Four Sticks" is one of the very few Zeppelin songs I'm discovering I haven't heard yet at one time or another. As I'm finding out, when Zeppelin moves away from the normal, the result can end up being a lot of fun, especially the combination of the drum beat and the guitar riff. This must be a studio track or something, though, because the vocal part doesn't even really sound like Plant.  I especially love everything about "Going to California," especially Jimmy Page's use of mandolin. Led Zeppelin IV is easily one of the best if not the best Zeppelin album of all time, but we still have a long way to go so I'm sticking with a discography score of 4.

Author: Jake

Is it really Led Zeppelin IV? Just IV? Is it Zoso? Do we care?  No.  What Led Zeppelin's fourth album is is the best collection of the band's varied sounds.  Sadly, that will almost always be an oh-by-the-way fact behind it being "that album with 'Stairway' on it".   The fact that "Stairway to Heaven" is one of the greatest (and most famous) songs of all time – and that without the drums or bass entering until the song is half over! – has forever been offset by the legion of guitar playing wannabes who know only the first melody, but play it as a badge of pride.  Know this: if a song released in 1971 can be a joke in a movie in 1992 (Wayne's World) and still be understood in 2012, chances are it's a pretty damn good song.  And it is.  There's something that seems to be unique about long, complicated songs with multiple extensive melodies (think "Free Bird" or "Hotel California" or "Layla") that gives them a timeless edge.

Aside from containing the band's most famous song, thought, IV is in many ways a perfect homage to the many influences that made up Led Zeppelin.  The blues roots are most obvious on "Rock and Roll", especially with Page's trademark 'sloppy' guitar soloing, but are also very much present on "Black Dog", where phrase and answer verses showcase Plant's vocal ability as well as the band's overall knack for unique phrasing – here using a 5/4 time signature to create a very original melody.  Where Zeppelin's sound peaks on this album (the raw session sounds don't bleed through on songs like "Kashmir" or the opus "Achilles' Last Stand") the songwriting once again outperforms expectations.  "When the Levee Breaks" has always lands in my top two of favorite Zeppelin songs, as the wailing harmonica and grungy, heavy lead riff actually provide a window into the sound that would eventually become known as heavy metal.

My largest appreciation of this album has always been for Page's guitar work, and although oddities like the mandolin in "Going to California" or the subject matter of the now Tolkein-cult classic "The Battle of Evermore" swallow some of Page's genius, it shines through plenty on all the other tracks.  Despite an all-star lineup of songs, IV gets downgraded in the overall marks department for two reasons.  Incredibly, it isn't Zeppelin's best album overall; that nod goes (perhaps even more incredibly) to the double-disc Physical Graffiti.  Moreover, the subtle flavors that allowed for Led Zeppelin II to mature with time are almost wholly absent from IV.  Your first aural tour of the album will evoke immediate and visceral reactions that will not be tempered or augmented with age.  I've probably listened through IV at least a hundred times, and I still enjoy it the same way I did the first time I heard it.  Sometimes, though, it's nice to know exactly what you're getting with an album, and Led Zeppelin has never had any pretensions as far as that goes, even if there is a bustle in your hedgerow.
Author: Pete

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