By 1973, Led Zeppelin was firmly entrenched as the worlds’ biggest rock band. Two years prior, they released what is considered by many to be their magnum opus, a magnum opus that had no use for a name. Things had changed, and as Led Zeppelin entered the studio to record their follow-up, it seemed they had little to no intent on attempting to create another Stairway To Heaven
or When the Levee Breaks
. With a new notion towards writing music, the band retreated to the sanctity of Stargroves, Mick Jagger’s personal studio to write and begin recording. It was a time where Led Zeppelin had the world on its’ knees, and the people of the world eagerly awaited what was sure to be Led Zeppelin V
. What they and generations after got was something else.
My first encounter with this mythic album came just as I began my descent into the mystifying and somewhat hedonistic world of Led Zeppelin. I was young, and could have been more than satisfied with yet another Whole Lotta Love
, or better yet another Stairway to Heaven
. However, from the moment I saw the album cover of 1973’s Houses of the Holy
, my adolescent mind was warped from my original perception towards the album, which was built upon the expectation that blues rock and Led Zeppelin were a permanent marriage. Perhaps it was the effervescent color scheme of the cover, perhaps it was the abundance of naked children. But whatever it was, I knew the album I had my heart set on wouldn’t be quite like I had expected.
Less than ten minutes after my initial sighting of the album, I was on my way out of the record store, CD in hand, ready to put it to the test. As the first song began to play, it occurred to me that it’s title, The Song Remains the Same
, had become something of a Zeppelin slogan on T-shirts and wallets and the like. After about a minute and a half of intent listening, it was effortless to understand why. The song, while presenting a thunderous beat and complicated bass figure, was quite clearly a guitar orchestra. As Jimmy painted a rich and bright texture, I sat spellbound, noting Bonham’s subtle skills and Jimmy’s furious fretwork. As the song dropped sharply in tempo, only to subsequently pick up speed again, it became more than clear to me that the band that had created Dazed and Confused
was dead, possibly for the better.
While one could logically assume that the ensuing track to such an opener might be just as fast-paced, the band that created the album had other plans. I ran to my lair upon my arrival, furiously informing my sister (the only soul present at the time), that “no calls!” were to be accepted should I be the target. As The Rain Song
showed itself, I slipped back into a tranquil mind frame, allowing the layers and layers of sonic texture to wash over me in a dense and serene storm. Midway through the seven-minutes-plus tune, I found myself wondering where an already quite diverse album could possibly go next. Where it would go, so would I.
To rock proficiently, a band requires many things. A competent rhythm is a must, but a fantastic one is preferable. A guitarist must be tasteful, eloquent, and mind-blowing, all wrapped up into one very refined style. Perhaps most important out of the entire mix is a distinguished vocalist, one that can hold one’s attention span hostage with the phrasing of a single note. Needless to say, such a recipe isn’t perfected all too often. Examples can be cited, however, in songs like Money Talks
, Won’t Get Fooled Again
, and Rocked You Like A Hurricane
, all of which I had more than a passing familiarity with when I first heard Over the Hills And Far Away
. Folk music was something Led Zeppelin could do quite well, as they had proved on previous releases. This, of course, was something I had expected and known. What caught me by surprise was the dazzling rock tune that emerged from the shell of its’ apparent prologue. By the time the proto-blues guitar solo had said what it had to say, I was quite certain the tune managed to live up to, and even best the songs whom held the rank I had hoped it would join.
Led Zeppelin wasn’t the only band proving its worth in 1973. Aerosmith released their self-titled debut in January, and a Syd Barret-less Pink Floyd came up with a little album entitled Dark Side of the Moon
. The difference between Zeppelin and their peers was that while Aerosmith was the epitome of a green rock and roll band, and Pink Floyd was the epitome of a pretentious, intriguing one, Led Zeppelin simply were. By this point, the band had been together for five years, and as such had built a depth as musicians. Even though this album marks the beginning of the groups’ endless experimentation, at this point they were still a fairly straightforward rock and roll band. Mostly.
is about as far away from straightforward rock as it’s possible to get. Described by Page as “a send-up to the godfather of soul, James Brown”, the band frankly fails miserably to capture that eccentric and energetic charm that the man they were attempting to emulate so effortlessly exudes. As I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and listened to Robert’s inquiry as to whether or not I’d seen the bridge, I began to realize that the band I worshipped was not without fault. Man
, were they not without fault. The weakness of the track even managed to spill over into the slightly less uncomfortable though nevertheless still slight Dancing Days
. Warped slide playing permeates throughout, as Plant describes an oddly surreal background for an even more eccentric tune.
Even though I was rather pre-mature pertaining to the Zeppelin repertoire, I began to piece together the overall, prevalent sound of the album as a whole. I had spent weeks prior to the purchase pondering just what it would sound like. I researched the album endlessly, and studied the lyric to each individual song. I recall that my attempts were fruitless, and the numerous times that I stole my parental figures’ automobile in order to check out books had been in vain. As I listened, the answer came to me. The sound of the album was experimental. Vain as this definition is, believe me when I say that this is the best way to describe it that comes to mind. All eight tracks, even the face-value rock numbers, sound like experimental pieces of music that were collectively thrown together on an album that was supposed to have another Stairway to Heaven
. The faux-reggae of D’yer M’aker
(pronounced “Jamaica”, though heavy on the British accent) confirmed my theory that as the public craved more of the same, Zeppelin gave something new.
You can feel the tension. The mysticism and foreboding that No Quarter
offers is nothing short of astounding. While Jimmy releases a high-voltage, almost swampy riff into the heavens, John Paul dominates with his infamous mellotron, and sends the urgency of the song into your soul in a way that seemed impossible mere moments before. The drama is very real. In stark contrast, what is served with The Ocean
is a side of swagger. Perhaps realizing that their latest offering might be a little un-orthodox, Zeppelin provides a rocking tune that seems like it would fit perfectly on Untitled
. The puzzling thing is, when grouped with the songs the preside on Houses of the Holy
, even it’s pulsating rhythm and structured, bluesy main riff sounds distinctly alien compared to Black Dog
, a song that it would have gone hand-in-hand with.
While Zeppelin albums tend to come and go with me, some staying longer than others, one that has always remained closer to me than most in undoubtedly Houses of the Holy
. Many might feel the need to retreat to the comfortable classics, or might just feel better staying the hell away from the band in general. Well, I can understand and sympathize with both groups’ and their reasons. My
rationale is different, however. The experimentation found on this album is neither self-indulgent, nor forced. Even though it is slight in some places, it inexplicably draws my attention the most, presumably like crystal meth. It isn’t painfully dull, nor anything short of perfect. The album to me represents musical experimentation done correctly, and songwriting done ingeniously. And for those who feel the need to avoid this, I sit smugly with my headphones turned to ten; comfortable in the fact that you truly know not what you’re missing.