I’ll be honest – I was really dreading writing an article tonight. I didn’t want to have to deal with a lot of the bullshit that writing these pices sometimes puts me through, mostly brainstorming and research, but you know how it is, end of the week, you just want to chill out with a jay, whatever. But as I was cleaning my apartment I decided to put on Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog and suddenly I was transported back to a time when all of this was beautiful fun and easy and it made me realize that I owed it to you cats, and myself to write an article about one of the most important and quite frankly most perfect records of all time Led Zeppelin IV. Now I know it’s been covered a million times, probably by me at some point for that matter. But that’s not the point – because this is a record that I have gotten last in after not spinning it for what might honestly be years at this point. Sometimes there’s a record for a time and place, and this is that record.
I think that it’s important, first and foremost, to address the big problem of Led zeppelin, the issue that no one wants to talk about, because I think we’re all a little ashamed. It’s that literally everyone who likes rock music will at some point burn themselves out for years if not decades on this band. It’s very rare that you have a band who are as balls out perfect as Led Zeppelin and it’s borderline impossible to find other groups rocking a similar level of sheer talent and songwriting capability. I mean I think we all are used to being disappointed time and time again by bands who claim to be influenced by Led Zep but who are just breaking out a few tight power chord riffs with a bluesy feel through a Marshall stack. Yet we tell ourselves it’s “Almost as good” because we have no other choice. Because we go back to Led Zeppelin and it immediately becomes clear that this was the sort of rock band who existed, for a shockingly long time without any real peers. Even Black Sabbath’s majesty seemed somewhat achievable, they were great men to be sure, but Led Zeppelin were gods.
So what makes Led Zeppelin IV perhaps THE album? What about this particular record puts it so far beyond any of its peers to the point that to compare a record to almost seems like a joke? I’ve always theorized that it’s because it is the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s crucial second phase. It is the end of the first era, when the band put out four of the most important records in rock and roll history in under three years. Yet Led Zeppelin IV also saw Led Zeppelin pushing for the much broader sonic pastures that would define essential records like Physical Graffiti and Presence. It showed us God’s gift to rock and roll at its peak and is a record that perfectly fuses everything that made Led Zeppelin so important in the first place. While most of the other records seem to lean one way or another in terms of Led Zeppelins various artistic angles, Led Zeppelin IV always felt the most indicative, to me at least of everything that the band was capable of, a sort of tour de force of everything from the rocker, the acoustic ballad, the slightly weird and psychedelic, and of course the epic.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, it is the epic after all that draws so many people to this record in the first place. I’m sure record shop owners are sick of rolling their eyes at 12 year olds walking in and talking about how “They want the one with Stairway To Heaven on it” But that’s kind of the thing. Stairway To Heaven has managed to achieve this incredible legendary status, but I’ve never once seen someone claim that the song is overrated. Overplayed maybe, but that’s everyone’s problem with Led Zeppelin, and that’s not the musics fault. It’s a song that in and of itself captures the imagination, not just because of the vast musical vistas that it encompasses, but also because it perhaps most perfectly represents what Led Zeppelin has been all about since the start. It’s got the folky bits, it’s got the classical parts, it’s got a ballad section, and by god does that ending rock. It’s the ultimate work from the ultimate band, and one whose shadow we can never escape.
That’s kind of the madness of this record though, it’s sort of the ominous specter which every rock or metal musician has tried to match for decades. I mean sure the Beatles were bigger, but that was your parents music, they weren’t edgy after 1963 anyway. The Rolling Stones are still around – but that’s sort of them parodying themselves, does it really count? Yet Led Zeppelin is perfect because they only existed for a brief moment and every one of those moments was fucking insane. Even when the band was chilling out in a field they were sleeping with underage girls, casting spells and smoking a ton of pot. Morality aside there is a certain insane mystique to Led Zeppelin that has made them one of the definitive and most important acts of all time. They have always existed to scare mothers and frighten fathers because the devil is in it, and we love it.
When it comes down to it, we are never going to escape the sheer glory of this record. It’s an album that goes the distance, it has the class of your parents record collection, the deep philosophical edginess of your favorite professor, and the musical breadth of your best friends iTunes library. Almost everything we are trained to love about Western music is represented on Led Zeppelin IV. I know that’s a hell of a bold statement, but seriously go back and listen to it, you’d be hard pressed to find another 40 minutes of music that covers the same expanse and which will consistently grow on you, every time you come back to it. There is no escape, it is truly the record whose magnificence ‘mortals never know’.