To anyone who even remotely enjoys classic rock, Led Zeppelin IV is a quintessential album. Released in November of 1971, the album features many of Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits, including “Black Dog”, “Stairway to Heaven”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. Led Zeppelin IV shows a resurgence for the band, as Led Zeppelin III was much less popular than the first two albums because of a much different sound. The fourth album showcases many different styles that give it incredible musical depth.
The album begins with the incredible, explosive “Black Dog”. After the short guitar intro, Robert Plant’s famous a cappella vocal line “hey, hey mama said the way you move gon’ make you sweat, gon’ make you groove” truly ignites the listener. The instrumentals come back in after the vocals, showing the revolving call-and-response technique used in the song. From the vocals to the drumming and the incredible guitar work, “Black Dog” oozes with sex. Later explained by Plant in concert, the song itself makes reference to a black retriever, that although old, still needed sex. Following this song is “Rock and Roll”, a classic track inspired from a jam session. John Bonham kicks off the song with an incredible drumbeat and Jimmy Page follows with a signature riff that is easily recognizable. After two incredible rock n’ roll tracks, Led Zeppelin changes style with “The Battle of Evermore”. Featuring a guest vocalist and an arrangement revolving around a mandolin, the track has some of Plant’s greatest lyrics, making reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. John Paul Jones is featured on acoustic guitar here, as Page plays mandolin. Rounding out side one is the immortal “Stairway to Heaven”. Although Led Zeppelin was later sued for supposedly stealing Spirit’s “Taurus”, “Stairway to Heaven” has become one, if not their most popular track (Grow). Just over eight minutes, the song features multiple parts, including an incredible guitar solo just before the ending. The song is a classic, and I almost enjoy the Sunset Sound Mix better, featured on the deluxe version of the album, as the intro sounds different and some of Plant’s lyrics are clearer.
Side two starts with the rocking “Misty Mountain Hop”. Featuring Jones on electric bass and the piano, the song has various meanings. The title is clearly referencing Tolkien’s The Hobbit, whereas the lyrical composition discusses police busting a hippie gathering. “Four Sticks” is the sixth track of the album. The title references Bonham’s frustrated four stick beat down of his drum set. The four sticks hitting ended up sounding great and eventually became the final take. Following is the beautiful “Going to California”. Alternating from “The Battle of Evermore”, “Going to California” features Page on acoustic guitar and Jones on mandolin; Bonham has no part on the song. The song has a very folk-inspired sound to it. The deluxe version of the album features an instrumental of the track, which is quite fantastic to hear. Bonham truly wanted his presence known after being excluded from a track. The mighty “When the Levee Breaks” features a massive drum beat; Bonham and the band had been experimenting with compression for a few years at this point. The song sounds like nothing else on the album. It has a much bluesier sound, featuring Plant on harmonica. It’s the perfect closer for a nearly perfect album.
As many critics and listeners will attest to, the album is one of the greatest of all time. The band truly hit their peak and wrote eight of their greatest songs just two years after releasing their first album. The cover has been popular in the media, as thousands of t-shirts and posters display the man with his bundle of sticks. The inside features lyrics from “Stairway to Heaven” and more illustrations. This is also the first album where the band members used different symbols to distinguish themselves. Page and Plant created their own, whereas Jones and Bonham found symbols with special meanings from a book. The great Led Zeppelin gave this album their all, and it certainly shows in every track.
Grow, Kory. “Led Zeppelin Win in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Trail.” Rolling Stone. 23 June 2016.