The biggest and baddest, most musically mammoth band of the 1970’s, and one of the greatest and influential bands of all time; they simply need no further introduction. We’re here to have a talk about this band you may have heard of: Led Zeppelin. No high-flown adjectives and maxims can even begin to describe the legacy and mystique around this crushingly heavy quintet of musically diverse individuals. You have the living embodiment of on-stage sexuality that is Robert Plant, known for his vocal pipes of high-octane range and consistency. Next we have the epitomy of what a guitar hero is suppose to look like: Mr. Jimmy Page, ladies and gent’s. Coming off of the vertex of the Yardbirds and being a highly accomplished session musician, Page used his extensive knowledge of music and being in the studio to help further the blueprint that would be Led Zeppelin. Then there’s the unsung hero in the form of bass and keyboards, John Paul Jones. He’s what brings that extra flair to the conversation, and it also helps that he’s also a multi-instrumentalist who has contributed to many of Zeppelin’s songs outside of the bass and keyboards. And last but certainly not least, there’s the powerhouse of the drum kit, John Bonham. If it wasn’t for his destructive yet pensive focus to the beat, that key swagger would be absolutely absent from their sound.
Led Zeppelin has experimented with countless different genres over their 10 year span, but if there was ever a time Led Zeppelin were at their most understated and well polished, then their third, self-titled album would be a living reminder of just that. While not as heavy as their first two albums, “Led Zeppelin III”nonetheless permeated throughout with those faint qualities that reminded the world of who they were and what they were all about. But the bulk of the record breathes life into a very distinctive essence that is at times incredibly somber, until it slaps you in the face with something completely different, but the main theme of the album delves into a more mythological and Fantasy-based terrain, lyric-wise.
The opening song, “Immigrant Song,” with it’s signature riff that compliments the battle cries of Plant as he sings about Vikings and other Norse gods, grabs the listener by the jugular and doesn’t let go. Inspired by a trip to Iceland where the band was touring at the time, this adventurous anthem continues to plague the classic rock airwaves, introducing more and more generations to the catalog of Led Zeppelin. The next track on the album, “Friends,” is a haunting arrangement composed entirely by John Paul Jones, with Page playing the droning chord progression in an open C tuning as Plant preaches to the listener about being kind and compassionate towards others, because you’ll never know when you may need a friend in dire times, and you never know when your act of kindness may be reciprocated.
And out comes the third song, “Celebration Day,” through a ringing segue from the last tune. It’s quite a bombastic array of harmonies and rhythm, as far as the overall riff and progression is concerned. With lyrics that speak of ambiguous subject matter, there’s one thing for certain though: the lyrics, “My, my,my I’m so happy, I’m gonna join the band. We’re gonna dance and sing in celebration, we’re in the promised land” hint towards a better tomorrow for those looking to succeed. A fun fact too: the moog synthesizer you hear at the end of “Friends” that segues into this song was due to the sound engineer accidentally erasing Bonham’s drum intro, so Page went back and re-recorded the intro you hear now.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is probably one of their best known blues standards, which plays out in a woeful yet utterly spiteful C minor key, and features some of the most grittiest blues runs of Page’s career, Another standout is Jones’ soulful keyboard playing, creating a nice call-and-response to Pages’ licks and Plant’s exhausted and raspy ranting and raving about a no good woman. Plus, who can overlook Bonham’s laid back approach to carrying the beat with ease. And if you listen closely at the beginning of the tune, you can hear his kick drum pedal squeaking incessantly. And the last song on side one, “Out on the Tiles,”is their most heavy-hitting tune, with a non-stop riff that knocks you in the gut straight away.
On side two is where things really take a turn for the obscure: All five songs are acoustic. This is where Led Zeppelin started growing as musicians. First you have “Gallows Pole,” a cover of an old folk tale titled “The Maid Freed from the Gallows” about a young woman about to be hanged who pleads with the executioner to wait for someone she knows who may bride them with riches. The story has a very fairy tale quality in the midst of such dark subject matter, and Zeppelin uses their folklore influence with sheer animosity. And just when you think the song is going to end, it continues onward with about several more layers of guitar and even a banjo on top of the mandolin and electric bass, further illustrating the pristine depth and texture of Zeppelins arrangements.
And with songs like “Tangerine” and “That’s the Way,” you’re greeted with very undisclosed ballads of idyllic, and at times, very woebegone tenderness; this is one of the heaviest bands of their time wearing their hearts on their sleeve. The penultimate track, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” named after the cottage the band commuted to where they wrote “III,” is a foot-stomping hoedown that just makes you question how a band could so effortlessly turn on a dime musically. But then there’s the final closer: “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.” This unorthodox recording that features muddled vocals from Plant and piercing slide guitar work from Page is nothing more than a loving tribute to the folk singer Roy Harper that also exercises more of their potent blues chops. A perfect note to end on a perfect album.