Led Zeppelin III Review
After the heavy bombast of their first two albums, Led Zeppelin III caused consternation among reviewers and fans alike. This was similar to Bob Dylan going electric but in reverse. How could Led Zeppelin release an album of acoustic folky numbers after establishing themselves as proto-metal with the searing electric blues of Led Zeppelin I and II? Of course, looking back today, we know that their was much more to Zeppelin than bone-crunching riffs. Even on the first pair of albums, their was plenty of evidence pointing towards their lighter side but maybe the world wasn’t ready for nearly an album’s worth.
It’s ironic that Led Zeppelin III, seen as their acoustic album, should start with one of the most abrasive rockers in their career. Immigrant Song starts with an almighty wail from Robert Plant and is carried along by Jimmy Page’s galloping riff underpinned by the lock-tight rhythm section of John-Paul Jones and John Bonham. This tale of Viking invasion has become one of Led Zeppelin’s most enduring songs and yet is something of an anomaly on the album.
Friends is more representative of the tone of the rest of the album with its layered acoustic guitars building to an early synthesised crescendo. The moral meaning of the song a leap in maturity from the sledgehammer innuendo that runs throughout Led Zeppelin II. As the closing refrains of Friends leads into the opening guitar salvo of Celebration Day, we’re off on a deceptively slack yet tight rocker. Only the four components of Led Zeppelin could produce such an off kilter riff and turn it into a minor masterpiece rather than a mess. Likewise, in the hands of lesser musicians, the slow blues of Since I’ve been loving you would be an exercise in boredom. Led Zeppelin add melody to the blues and Jimmy Page, in particular shines on this song.
Out on the Tiles is the only misstep on Led Zeppelin III and its only a minor misstep. Robert Plant’s lyrics sound a bit rushed and dated and the melody just say fits the song. For most bands this would be a highlight but Led Zeppelin aren’t most bands.
After Out on the Tiles, Led Zeppelin III is all acoustic. Gallows Pole is a barnstorming interpretation of an old folk song which slowly builds to a frenetic finale. Tangerine is a solo Jimmy Page composition from his Yardbirds days and fits perfectly with the tone and pace of the album.
That’s the Way is one of the best songs in Led Zeppelin’s considerable catalogue. Another layered acoustic effort with a strong melody, the song’s lyrics have been open to much interpretation. Part statement about the band’s treatment in America and part comment on the ecology and environment, the song is a master stroke from the increasingly productive song writing partnership between Page and Plan.
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp names the cottage in Wales where the band retired to write much of the material on Led Zeppelin III and other album. Not only is the song a ode to Bron-Y-Aur, it is an affecting tribute to man’s best friend with Robert Plant mentioning his blue-eyed Merle, Strider. Great guitar playing and who could knock the sentiment when the object of affection is a border collie?
Led Zeppelin III ends with he curious Hats Off to (Roy) Harper. Robert Plant’s voice is the subject t much distortion here as he rattles through the lines to a number of old blues songs. A strange end to an outstanding album.
Many people are put off by the acoustic reputation of this album fearing it won’t deliver the rock n’ roll thrills of other Led Zeppelin cuts. My advice is don’t be put off. This is a truly great album and Led Zeppelin’s second masterpiece.
Rated Sound gives Led Zeppelin III a rating of 9/10.
Led Zeppelin III (1970) Track Listing
1. Immigrant Song
3. Celebration Day
4. Since I’ve Been Loving You
5. Out On the Tiles
6. Gallows Pole
8. That’s the Way
9. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
10. Hats Off to (Roy) Harper