Led Zeppelin were the most popular rock and roll band in the world after the release of their fourth album. At the time, the only other band in the word that could come close to matching their popularity were the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were over, Hendrix had passed away and The Doors were finished after the death of Jim Morrison. So, in 1973 as far as bands went, there was Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and The Who. They were the top tier bands. Nonetheless, with the release of an album that featured musical juggernauts like “Stairway To Heaven, Rock and Roll, Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop and When The Levee Breaks,” there was no doubt as to who were the reigning champions of rock and roll.
After releasing such a brilliant album, there must have been incredible pressure on the band as to how they would follow up their spectacular fourth album. Jimmy Page admitted the band felt the pressure. However, Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that regardless of the pressure they were not going to let that get in the way of them continuing to record new music. In the end, many great artists will respond to pressure with a sort of carefree attitude. To make a living in the rock and roll industry one must have an incredible amount of self-confidence. It’s an aura of confidence that sometimes gets misinterpreted as arrogant or simply stuck up. But its vital in surviving the constant barrage of criticism musicians face during their entire lives. When one is confident and care free, then one will find that relaxed state of mind in which an artist can create. Like Robert Deniro once said, ‘When Your relaxed, you get good stuff. If there ever was a record that Led Zeppelin released in which they sounded completely relaxed and having the time of their lives, it was their fifth record entitled Houses of the Holy.
The Houses of the Holy album was recorded in the band’s native home of England in Hampshire county. The band used the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording studio that was housed in an estate called Stargroves. Some other portions of the album were recorded at Headley Grange; Island Studios, in London, England. The album was released on March 23 1973.
The Houses of the Holy album cover has became one of the most iconic Led Zeppelin Album Covers in the band’s history. The rock formations depicted on the album cover were a result of a a volcanic eruption that occurred on the Northern Ireland coastline. The area is known as the Giant’s Causeway.
The album cover was designed by the Hipgnosis group who had designed many of the famous Pink Floyd album covers. The cover depicted eleven children climbing the rocks. However, it was the same two children that were photographed multiple times and than cut and pasted into a collage that resulted in the album cover. There were no Photoshop programs back in those days.
One of the great benefits of rock and roll stardom is the financial windfall that allows musicians to travel to far and exotic places during their time off. Robert Plant has been quoted as saying that the places he traveled with Jimmy Page in the Eastern Hemisphere had a profound impact on their musical compositions starting with the Houses of the Holy album.
The Houses of the Holy album opened with the track “The Song Remains the Same.” The song had originally been written as a musical piece to serve as an introduction to the “Rain Song.” “The Song Remains the Same,” was originally intended to be titled “Overture,” and “The Campaign.” However, Robert Plant began writing lyrics for the piece as it morphed into the legendary album opener. The song’s distinct sections demonstrated instantly that Plant and Page had been inspired by their travels.
The album’s second track “The Rain Song,” seemed to break new ground for the band. There was a certain sensitivity to the song that was juxtaposed by Robert Plant’s heartfelt loving lyrics and Jimmy Page’s bluesy dripping guitar riffs. John Paul Jones Mellotron wrapped around Page’s guitar parts to fuel that ever-elusive rock and roll love song that worked for everyone. If one has a good ear, you can tell that the Mellotron is out of tune with the rest of the instrumentation. However, we had heard it so many times, most of us just got used to it. The out of tune Mellotron just seemed to perfectly wrap the song up into one of Led Zeppelin fans’ all time favorite Led Zeppelin ballads.
The synthetic sounds of the Mellotron and minor chords of the “Rain Song,” would soon be washed away by the rolling sunny hills of the albums next track “Over The Hills and Far Away.” Jimmy Page’s reputation as being the master of the classic rock guitar lick carried over into the acoustic genre with one of the finest acoustic rock songs ever produced. The 12 string guitar riff that the listener encounters the second time around on the intro lays the ground work for Robert Plant’s soft acoustic style vocals. It’s when they get to that point into the song when John Bonham and John Paul Jones come crashing into the song that one more time defines Led Zeppelin as the greatest rock band of all time. It’s simply a mesmerizing point in Led Zeppelin history when we hear Robert Plant scream, “Many have I loved, and many times been bitten.”
The closing track on side one of the Houses of the Holy album was a song that developed out of a jam session. John Bonham has started playing a grove that inspired John Paul Jones to lay down that funk infused bass line. According to Jimmy Page, upon hearing Bonham and Jones linked up in a twisted type James Brown funk groove, Jimmy Page just jumped in playing rhythm guitar. Robert Plant’s playful vocal licks and lyrics probably took the song somewhere not expected. Regardless of intent, the band ended up with a classic tune and the perfect way to end an album side that featured a wide range of musical styles and prose.
“Dancing Days,” opened side two of the Houses of the Holy album. Jimmy Page’s great guitar riff encased in high end flange set the tone for the great track. All Led Zeppelin music still sounds great, but there is something about the tune “Dancing Days,” that sounds like it may have been released in the 1990’s. One can hear how inspired bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were by the song “Dancing Days.”
The third track on side two of the Houses of the Holy album, “D’yer Mak’er,” was a tribute to various styles and genres of music. It was sort of a tongue in cheek gesture by the band that most people did not get according to Jimmy Page.
While Led Zeppelin were never labeled in the progressive rock vein like bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake & Palmer, their track “No Quarter,” certainly dabbled within the genre of progressive music. Once again, heavy use of the flange effect is utilized on all the song’s instrumentation including Robert Plant’s vocals. The entire band shines on the song, but “No Quarter,” was in the most part, owned by John Paul Jones.
On the album’s final track, Jimmy page delivered one of the most iconic guitar riff of the band’s career. Hands down, if we were writing an article on the top 10 Led Zeppelin riffs, “The Ocean,” would be right up there at the top. Nonetheless,”The Ocean,” was not just about the riff, it was about a band having the time of their lives. “The Ocean,” is a party song, it’s a serious party song. Garage bands loved playing “The Ocean.” It the perfect album closer, and in a way it would have been the perfect album opener, except the band wrote a song called “The Song Remains the Same.” Releasing an album with those two songs book-ending the record and all the great stuff in between certainly proved that when Jimmy Page said he wouldn’t let the success of Led Zeppelin IV get in the way of their follow up, he most surely meant it.
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