Words: Samuel Probert
It’s been 50 years since the legendary English rock band Led Zeppelin released ‘IV’, an album which not only transformed the genre, but propelled the band to astronomical commercial success. When this writer thinks of classic albums such as The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road,’ Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ or The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’, a whole lotta Led Zep also springs to mind.
‘IV’ was mostly recorded in Basing Studios in London and – using the Rolling Stones’ mobile set-up – a run-down, supposedly haunted Victorian mansion called Headley Grange in Hampshire, between December 1970 and February 1971 and was produced by guitarist Jimmy Page. The template was blues, but, as with previous album ‘III’, the tones were the start of glam rock. ‘Black Dog’ opens the show with Robert Plant’s siren-like voice alternating in a call-and-response with Page’s guitar riff – composed by bassist John-Paul Jones – and backed by John Bonham’s and Jones’ giant grooves. It sounds like the epitome of rock music at that time.
It was the fourth track, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, that made the biggest impression. This eight-minute-long, unorthodox rock ‘n’ roll staple still grabs us by the shoulders and urges us to embark on this delightful journey even after thousands of listens. The intro consists of the famous – or perhaps infamous, in guitar shops – gentle, acoustic riff paired with a recorder, creating a slightly unusual medieval vibe – unsurprising as the band were heavily influenced by folk music and fantasy literature As it unfolds, speeds up and becomes heavier, its pure intrigue captures the very essence of the band’s nature, and contains possibly the most iconic guitar solo played with a double-necked guitar.
Much of the album’s success is credited to their location at Headley Grange. The band members each have their own personal accounts of their creative process when making this masterpiece, but what’s common to all is that they all loosely state the point that there was a greater drive to create something incredible and utterly unique – because they had the luxury to free roam with nature, as well as having the studio a few steps beneath you. The band weren’t used to being in such an rural environment, but “we needed the sort of facilities where we could have a cup of tea and wander around the garden and go in and do what we had to do,” Page said.
We must also pay homage to the third track, ‘The Battle Of Evermore’, as not only is Jimmy Page shredding John-Paul Jones’ mandolin gracefully – yes, the mandolin! – it’s the only song where Sandy Denny, the inspirational frontwoman from folk pioneers Fairport Convention, backs up Robert Plant with her eerie howl as well. The dense history of the song justifies, as well as mirrors, the use of the traditional instrument. Plant expresses that his idea for the song came about when reading a book on the Scottish independence wars of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Led Zeppelin were masters of their craft and they had it all: immense talent, charisma on and off the stage, and the drive to create and not be fazed by trying new things. This album conquered the world, and it’s a certainty that other like-minded fans will be here to express their thoughts when the 100-year anniversary comes around.
Listen to the 50th anniversary remaster here: