50 years ago today Led Zeppelin released its legendary untitled fourth album
Generally known to the public as "Led Zeppelin IV." The album, which has never left the FM airwaves, still plays like a greatest hits collection, featuring such instant era-defining classic rock staples as
"Black Dog," "Rock And Roll," "The Battle Of Evermore," "Stairway To Heaven," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Four Sticks," "Going To California," and "When The Levee Breaks."
Upon release, "Led Zeppelin IV" spent four weeks at Number Two unable to displace either Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On and then, Carole King's Music. It was the last studio album Zeppelin released while still a working band that failed to top the charts.
All told, "Led Zeppelin IV" spent 14 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 32 million copies worldwide -- including 23 million in the U.S. alone. The album is currently the fifth best-selling album of all time in the States.
Robert Plant recently chatted with Australia's The ProjectTV show and recalled how Led Zeppelin's massively framed six-foot-five-inch late-manager Peter Grant actually held up cue cards for him: "It’s a long song, okay? And I also know that I have a little bit of trouble remembering lyrics this was back in ’72, ’73. So, our manager, who was quite a formidable personality, he’d come to the front of the stage in the middle of it all and he’d have the lyrics, Anyway, it was very funny. I can’t remember what verse goes where. I know there’s something about ‘bustle in the hedgerow’ and then all that stuff. The conjecture around that song is hysterical."
10 THINGS TOY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT LED ZEPPELIN IV (courtesy of Ultimate Classic Rock and Led Zeppelin FAQ author George Case)
1. They had a good reason for not including their name or faces on the cover:
"The cover wasn't meant to antagonize the record company," Jimmy Page told reporter Brad Tolinksi in 2001. "It was designed as our response to the music critics who maintained that the success of our first three albums was driven by hype and not talent. So we stripped everything away, and let the music do the talking."
2. The opening sounds of 'Black Dog' are a byproduct of studio technology:
As Case explains, "Page did a lot of overdubbing, so when you've got three separate tracks of guitars to be played together, they have to get synced. It's the sound of the tape rolling. He could have cut it out, it's just them getting lined up from the separate takes and all." Instead, the guitarist left them in, thinking it sounded like "the massing of the guitar armies."
3. Robert Plant's the only one moving at normal speed on "When The Levee Breaks":
Much has been made of the Headley Grange stairwell that helped capture that massive 'Levee' drum sound: "People wonder how that sounds so planetary, but there was a natural echo there, and then they put more on it. They also slowed it down in the mix so it sounded really booming, had this huge reverb to it, it's almost physical when you listen to it." In fact, "The only sound on 'When the Levee Breaks' that's recorded in natural time is Plant's voice, everything else is slowed down just a little bit to make it really heavy."
4. If you had to pick the least popular song on the album, it would probably be "Four Sticks":
Although he's quick to label it "a very tough call," Case mentions in the book that the rhythmically tricky 'Four Sticks' is probably the least essential of all the songs on IV. "I don't think it's bad at all, but I think of all the songs on the record it's the least listenable." Perhaps the band agrees: "Seven of the eight songs from that album are on their 1990 box set, and 'Four Sticks' was the one that didn't make it. Compared to the other tracks on there, it just doesn't stand out as much."
5. The album was recorded in several different places:
When discussing the recording of IV, the reportedly haunted house known as Headley Grange comes up, but big parts of the record were recorded at places like Island Studios and Sunset Sound. "Headley Grange is the one that gets known, because it's a spooky house and that's really cool, that's where 'When The Levee Breaks' was recorded, in that echoey stairwell, but they did use a lot of other studios too. Headley was not professional enough. They had Ronnie Lane's mobile (studio) outside, but Page was saying they had to go into a real studio for what they were doing."
6. The band realized they needed to start crediting their lyrical inspirations:
Zeppelin has taken much grief from blues fans for heavily relying on lyrics from other artists in their earlier work, and it seems the degree of this "borrowing" is still being realized. "One thing I didn't even mention in the book, that I heard just recently, I was listening to Count Basie, and he has a song called 'Going To Chicago' -- "Sorry that I can't take you," so obviously Plant was getting into that at the end of 'Levee.' So all the lyrics were taken from Memphis Minnie, except for that little bit of Basie at the end. By that point, by IV, I think they knew it was too obvious, that they couldn't take someone else's song and all the credit for it, so they snuck her name on it at the end."
7. Contrary to rumors, there are no backwards messages on "Stairway To Heaven":
"It sounds cool, it's a great legend, but all that is just something that's been thrown at it from long after the record was done. It wasn't until the '80s, after Zeppelin broke up, that these ideas started getting aired in public. It had to do with the religious backlash that happened in those days, people were reading satanic messages into Dungeons & Dragons, this was just one more target for them. The band did use backwards sounds, for the aural effect, but they weren't trying to put any messages on there."
8. They weren't the first to name a song "Stairway To Heaven":
They were beaten to that title, if not by others before him, by none other than pop crooner Neil Sedaka, who included his own song by that exact same name on his 1960 album Neil Sedaka Sings Little Devil And His Other Hits, taking it all the way to Number Nine on the charts.
9. There could have been more than eight songs on IV:
Zeppelin had a habit of holding onto material until they deemed it ready, for years sometimes. Many of the songs from 1975's Physical Graffiti were actually recorded as far back as the III sessions. "Boogie with Stu" from Physical Graffiti originally came from the IV sessions, as did "Black Country Woman."
10. The symbols the band chose for themselves on the album art don't mean as much as you might think:
"They were put together pretty hastily, people have read so much into them over the years. When you get down to it, it sounds like John Paul Jones and John Bonham just said, 'Oh, we'll pick these, you know, sure, whatever,' they weren't that interested. Robert Plant picked the feather in the circle from some mystical account of some lost civilization that probably never existed. It was one of those hippie things that they thought was out there. Page's "Zoso," goes way back to the renaissance, really, but basically it's a representation of Capricorn from a document dating back the 1500's. In those days, the way people drew astrological symbols was a lot more elaborate than just scales or fish, but it does derive from a symbol for Saturn, or for Capricorn. It's nothing satanic or anything like that."