Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV
I call Led Zeppelin IV, (aka “Zoso”) “the one with all the good riffs.” Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham are at their height on this record, each laser focused on their instrument and the songs. The result is Zeppelin’s tightest, and understandably, most famous album.
It’s easy to talk about why this record works, as that’s largely self-evident: the songs are unforgettable. “Black Dog” sounds like Robert Plant rubbing his cucumber-stuffed jeans against your ear, while “Rock and Roll” and “Four Sticks” bring John Bonham’s signature beat-the-shit-out-of-the-skins drumming, which feels both physically abusive in its sonic punch and almost martial in its strict lock-step beat. “The Battle of Evermore,” and “Misty Mountain Hop” feature some fun with Lord of the Rings references and musical experimentation courtesy of the band’s secret weapon, John Paul Jones. Then, of course, there’s the master himself, Jimmy Page, who brings the heat with complex, pentatonic, earworm level riffs.
And then there is “Stairway to Heaven,” a song so famous that it’s virtually a pop-culture parody. Pushing eight minutes, the anthem weaves together Jimmy Page’s hybrid picked, augmented chord softness, ascending like Dante and Beatrice up the golden stairs, with Robert Plant’s romantic poetry and surrealism, all of which builds to a monstrous double-neck guitar solo and a passionate loss of restraint. It’s complex, never smug, visceral, but plays it cool until it no longer needs to.
It’s easy to talk about why this record works, as that’s largely self-evident: the songs are unforgettable.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that this album accompanied me closely in high school, as I played air guitar like I needed to save the world and banged the shit out of air drums. But, then I grew up a bit. As Led Zeppelin got embroiled in a tangled legal battle regarding “Stairway to Heaven,” I learned about their well-documented plagiarism of songs and generally unpleasant behavior. I was appalled. The gold stopped glittering.
I can’t deny this record as tight as they come, sonically varied, musically compelling, and viscerally satisfying, but I don’t have to give Led Zeppelin a straight pass. When I play “Stairway to Heaven,” now it’s no longer the celebration it was; and that sucks, because it’s so much goddamn fun.
And, In case you’re wondering, I do know how to play “Stairway to Heaven” on guitar.
Until all the glitters is gold.