Led Zeppelin IV Review
The fourth album recorded by Led Zeppelin wasn’t given an official title and has been known as Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin 4, Four Symbols, “the one with the auld bloke carrying the sticks” and “the one with Stairway to Heaven”. For, indeed, this is the one with Stairway to Heaven but we’ll just refer to it as Led Zeppelin IV.
It’s probably Led Zeppelin’s most famous album, not just because it includes probably their most famous song, but it also happens to be one of the finest collections of rock music ever released. Heavy metal, hard rock, blues, folk, hip-hop, rap; they’re all in there. OK, I was just kidding about the last two, but the point is that Led Zeppelin IV is more than just a rock album. Led Zeppelin managed to take a number of disparate influences and blend them into a coherent sound.
The album opens with Black Dog and Rock and Roll; two of the best rockers you’re ever likely to hear. Black Dog’s complex riff was constructed mainly by John Paul Jones, who wanted to write a song nobody could dance to. The song has everything that good rock and roll should have – powerful delivery, loud guitars and more than a touch of the ridiculous about it. The solo at the end is marvellous too. A brief drum solo heralds the start of Rock and Roll before Jimmy Page launches into, what is on the face of it a basic rock n’ roll riff. The song is elevated to new heights, however, by the musicianship of the band.
Mandolins accompany guitars as The Battle of Evermore fades in. This epic tale with more Lord of the Rings imagery from Plant, again walks the line between the sublime and the ridiculous but falls firmly in the former. The track is further embellished by Sandy Denny’s haunting vocal contribution. Rock music doesn’t have to have electric guitars to be heavy.
Heavy electric guitars do make a song heavy, however, and the second half of Led Zeppelin IV kicks off with the distinctive descending riff to Misty Mountain Hop. Plant’s hippy drippy lyrics contrast with some trademark powerhouse drumming from John Bonham. This is an ode to the Welsh mountains where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant prepared much of the material for this and other Zeppelin classics such as Led Zeppelin III, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.
Four Sticks makes use of a great Jimmy Page riff and some interesting Eastern percussion. The track was successfully revisited for the Page/Plant collaboration No Quarter over twenty years later, where the Eastern influences were more fully explored.
Going to California shows Led Zeppelin’s softer side on a Joni Mitchell-inspired acoustic track that once again showcases some great work on the mandolin from Jimmy Page,
Led Zeppelin IV ends with the swamp-rock of When the Levee Breaks. This proto-grunge classic was co-credited to Memphis Minnie and is an example along with Whole Lotta Love of how Led Zeppelin plundered the blues for this material. Unlike the Led Zeppelin II song, the band gave credit immediately.
So we have an album of only eight tracks, including Lord of the Rings lyrics, mandolins, released without any information on the sleeve. This must have died on it’s backside, right? Not a bit of it. Led Zeppelin IV was a huge commercial and critical success and is considered one of the best albums ever released. Who am I to argue?
Rated Sound gives Led Zeppelin IV a rating of 10/10.
Led Zeppelin IV (1971) Track Listing
1. Black Dog
2. Rock and Roll
3. The Battle of Evermore
4. Stairway to Heaven
5. Misty Mountain Hop
6. Four Sticks
7. Going to California
8. When the Levee Breaks