Back when I started this blog, I had made a promise to myself that I would stick to writing about the rock artists who may lay just outside of the mainstream and beyond. I mean, how many rock music websites have you visited over the past couple of years that have devoted their space to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath, to list but a few of the biggest stars of the rock era. So, I have tried to stay away from these big guns, unless they have released an underappreciated album or two.
But something strange struck me today while listening to a recently released new album by a new band called Greta van Fleet. Greta van Fleet is a group of twenty-somethings who sound as if they have listened to nothing but classic rock for all of their young lives. And, they may have dabbled with the blues elders that the classic rock artists all grew up listening to, from the sound of the songs on their really good album released in late 2017. But, most of all, they sound as if they have been worshiping at the alter of Led Zeppelin, as their lead singer sounds the closet that any young singer has come to the Golden Norse God wail of Robert Plant. But, Greta van Fleet’s album made me want to go back to the original source, Led Zeppelin, to attempt to tackle arguably their finest moment as a studio band, 1971’s untitled album that has come to be known as Led Zeppelin IV.
It seems as though that every fan of rock music owns this album, as over 23 million copies of that album have reportedly been sold over the nearly 50 years this album has been available for purchase. If you listen to the album, even if you are a youngster who has just purchased their first copy of the album, you have probably heard nearly every song on the classic rock radio stations throughout the world. Why? Those songs seemed to have become incorporated in our DNA. Additionally, this album contains The Song That Has Been Played the Most Times on Radio Ever, the power ballad prototype “Stairway to Heaven.”
So, what is it about this album that appeals to rock lovers everywhere? Although Led Zeppelin is often lumped under the label of Heavy Metal, the band has always been so much more than metal. All of their music, no matter which album the song in question is placed, the band shows much more dexterity and subtleness than other bands with their power and of their ilk. The Zep has the musicianship that allows them to saddle up with the heaviest bands of their era and beyond, while maintaining a tranquility in their songwriting that allows them to maintain a certain mellowness that is absent from nearly any other metal band. Seriously, could Metallica or Sabbath pull off either “Hey Hey, My My” or “Going to California”? Well, maybe Metallica could, but their reputation would not allow them to travel down that road, while Ozzy and the boys in Black Sabbath could not, even though the musicians sound as if they may have been practicing some jazz on the side.
What separates Led Zeppelin from the other heavy blues-based bands of their era or any following, is guitarist Jimmy Page’s love of British folkie Bert Jansch of the band Pentangle, in addition to singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham’s experience in the neo-Americana band called Band of Joy. Add to that the talents of bassist and multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones pushed the band well beyond its initial blues-based heavy rock sound. Page and Jones were well-established session musicians in England, who joined forces with the other two who were relatively novices in the late-Sixties. But, the band quickly gelled and matured so much, that by the time they convened for the recording of their fourth album. The result is now recognized as one of the granddaddies of rock music.
But, as great as the reputation of the album is, it really does live up to all the hype. Everything that Zeppelin did on their first three albums is there, from the heavy blues riffing of their first album on “When the Levee Breaks” to the soft folkie sound of their third album on “Going to California” to their all out show of strength of their second album on “Rock and Roll,” “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s all there on this, Zep’s fourth album, their masterpiece.
And, as great as this album is, it never reached Number One on Billboard‘s Top 200 Albums list, nor did it ever win a Grammy Award. Yet, it is constantly listed in the Top 30 Greatest Albums of All Time. Not bad for an album that stalled in the number two position on the album chart.
Led Zeppelin IV, as this album is commonly known, deserves its lofty position as one of rock’s immortal albums. If you do not have, go out and get it for your collection. It really does live up to the hype.