A fact of the music industry that many artists despise is that a critics’ response to a new effort is almost as important as the response the fans will give. Why? Quite simply, a reviewer (especially a well-known and respected one) has the power to sway millions of people into either purchasing said artists’ latest offering, or labeling it as run of the mill and convincing the public at large to move on and await the next Beatles, and all with the typing of a single, solitary article. Many musicians have succumbed to break-downs when presented with a negative review (such as Mr. Eric Clapton, when Rolling Stone
derided Cream as painfully average), and honestly, who could blame them? Every word that the wielder of the poison pen inscribes will be read by millions, and as if a breakdown of all your hard work wasn’t enough to induce fits of panic, many, many more citizens will decide upon your reputations’ cleanliness (whether or not you “sold-out”), a reputation that will inevitably follow you for the rest of your career, or until you release your next album. So. It’s fairly obvious it takes talent and valor to stay calm in the face of one of these literary demons, isn’t it? Better than many, English giants Led Zeppelin know this dilemma quite well, and so does their junior offering, Led Zeppelin III
Many people know this album as the record that contains the immortal ”Immigrant Song”
. Usually, this is about as far as the average self-described “Led-Head” has cut their little baby teeth into prior to purchasing the album. And why not? It is
a hit song if I’ve ever seen one. Galloping rhythms, trademark Robert Plant wails, groovin’ drums and bass, etc. And yet, this is possibly the most over-valued song on a very under-respected album. While many of you sit back and attempt to take in the blasphemous statement I’ve just made, allow me to elaborate. The track is undoubtedly a Zeppelin classic, but it is fairly over praised. Only two-and-a-half minutes on length simply can’t compare to the mournful genius of something like the seven-and-a-half minute long blues masterpiece “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
. It is obvious that length doesn’t necessarily equal quality, but in those seven minutes, the band says far much more musically than the opener ever could, banshee-wailing or not.
That’s all good and dandy. But how does the opening paragraph apply to this album?
A fair question. When this album was released in 1970, many were expecting the dumbed-down formula used in Zeppelins’ previous efforts. What better way to disprove that theory than to release a full-length album, consisting mainly of acoustic/folk numbers? Obviously, these two amazingly contrasting paths didn’t sit well with many a smug reviewer. The album was derided as inconsistent, self-indulgent, and it was even proclaimed that many of the songs lack personality and simply run together. Quite frankly, dear readers, this is a far as the truth as it is possible to get without winding up on the abandoned set of The X-Files
. Many audiences were delightfully surprised, as the folk happenings of the sixties were still being felt, and looked back upon with fresh wonder and amazement. It was only 1970, you know. Acoustic guitars run rampant through ”Friends”
, and John Paul Jones, Zeppelins’ all-purpose musician extraordinaire, contributes a string arrangement of titanic proportions. On a side-note, I’ve always found a certain System of a Down number to sound oddly similar to the string arrangement provided by Jonesy. No accusations of plagiarism will be filed by me, but you know. There are no shortage of electric songs, however, as made very clear by “Celebration Day”
. This is a prime example of the under-rated group of songs I mentioned earlier. Interesting lyrics and vocal delivery are the order of the day, topped off with warped mandolin playing over a twisted guitar riff and a very lyrical guitar solo by Jimmy Page. Another example of a fantastic electric performance is unquestionably “Out On the Tiles”
. Mr. John Bonham gets credit for the odd time-signature utilized in the tune, and it also happens to boast a contagious chorus. Many of you may be wondering another question. If it’s so under-rated, then why isn’t it as popular as Untitled (IV, or Zoso, if you like)?
This is another fair question. A bit less intelligent, but justifiable nonetheless. The reason for the albums’ under-whelming popularity is because of the degree of quality Zeppelin put into other albums. For example, Untitled
contains “Stairway to Heaven”
, which is Led Zeppelins’ most well-received achievement, like it or not. Led Zeppelin III
simply doesn’t contain any massive, epic anthems that could compare, unlike other offerings such as Physical Graffiti
and/or Houses of the Holy
. In fact, the only song that could be construed as “epic” is the aforementioned “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
, which boasts phenomenal guitar playing by Jimmy, and tasteful keyboard manipulating by John Paul. This is not to say this album is lacking in any sort of value the others’ contain, at least not as a whole.
Whilst many a rocker dug back into their native lands folk roots, not many can claim to have presented something as jaw-dropping as the song called “Gallows Pole”
. The song begins with a mournful major-to-minor guitar chord progression, before Robert makes his entrance with an equally depressing vocal accompaniment. So how is it any different from the rest?
Well my friend, by the time the song makes its exit, a banjo, a backing vocal choir, and a crazy man on a drum set have joined in on the romping acoustic fest, which has distinctly dark undertones in the lyrics. Before I continue, I would like to address a running myth about the album. There are rumors that on the original vinyl printing of the album, you will find (if you look hard enough) an inscription stating the phrase, “So Mote It Be”. This is an Aleister Crowley reference, a man whom Jimmy was fascinated by. These rumors are completely and one-hundred-percent true. Indeed, Mr. Page would even purchase a mansion once belonging to the heroin addicted magik-man where hundreds perished in an accidental (?) fire. Fun facts rule.
Pedal Steel guitar playing is an art unto itself, one that tends to intimidate many a budding guitarist all over the world. While the man himself often derides his own attempts at this technique, I beg to differ with Jimmy Page’s assertions that he could “barely get the damn thing to squawk”. Evidence supporting my theory presents itself in the gorgeous and haunting song, “Tangerine”
. Apparently about love, the past, and that supreme nostalgia more than one human is familiar with, the song contains fantastic twelve-string guitar playing, as well as a very notable groove courtesy of Mr. Bonham.
And now, the high point of the album. A song so magnificent, I indented before I felt ready just to give it its own spotlight. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”
is without a doubt the best song on the album. Incredible
picking and playing by Mr. Page permeates throughout, while Bonham utilizes any object he can find, turning it into a percussion instrument. A “wacky” bassline adds to the songs already blue-grass infested twang, and as Robert sings about his dog named Strider, Jimmy displays blue-grass chops of epic proportions on his jangling Martin acoustic. The aforementioned “average Led-Head” is probably wondering right now how I could ever say that a blue-grass song has a snowballs’ chance in Hell at being better than their beloved “Immigrant Song”
. My answer to such a fiend would be to simply open their mind to the possibility that an acoustic song can say more in three minutes than a ten-minute guitar solo (I’m looking at you, “Free Bird”
) could ever hope to. While such a song may be uncommon, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”
without a moments hesitation deserves such an illustrious title. Besides, I named myself in part after it. It has to rule.
Closing an album well is quite the daunting task. And if there is a low-point on the album, it is “Hat’s Off to (Roy) Harper”
. Twisted blues is the only definition I could think of to apply to this acoustic blues cover, and like “Gallows Pole”
, it contains sinister undertones of massive magnitude. The song can become dull quite easily, but on a good day can charm the hell out of any blues enthusiast.
In closing, Led Zeppelin III
offers a lot that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re looking for epic blues, delicate acoustic songs, and even blue-grass anthems, the album will not fail to please you. And to all ego-centric reviewers, perhaps it is worth mentioning that even Sgt. Pepper
garnered bad press? Ponder that a while.
Charming acoustic work
“Since I’ve Been Loving You”
Not So Ups
May wear thin to some
^ What did you expect???