With its songs taken from various singalongs around a campfire in the Welsh countryside, Led Zeppelin III evokes autumn even more than its predecessor. The packaging even reflects something of a rural influence, with a psychedelic wheel suggested by a crop calendar. Beyond that, a step back to acoustic sounds made it more of an experiment, and one that was necessary to remind the boys where they came from, as well as suggest ideas for the next one when they got around to it.
Having fallen into a pattern, this one starts with the relentless pounding of “Immigrant Song”. With Plant wailing his version of the Get Smart theme, one is less in the mind of fjords and Vikings than hallways with automatic doors. It’s still a great tune. “Friends” sounds like a cocktail party in the first moments, and then that sinister modal acoustic strumming starts with scarier strings beneath. The nightmare swirls into the slide opening for “Celebration Day”. It’s such a joyful sounding tune, even if one doesn’t know what he’s so happy about aside of joining the band. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a slow, burning blues, and one of their best. It sports great use of minor chords, a distinct descending riff and a touch of the recently departed Janis Joplin on the vocal. “Out On The Tiles” pummels its way to the end of the side with a chorus that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the tune. Listen for a rare spoken appearance by Jimmy at the start of the second verse.
“Gallows Pole” is a folk tune as old as the hills, and this arrangement still conveys the spooky image of a noose against cloudy gray skies. Hey, there’s a banjo mixed in with all those guitars. Is that a fiddle? Nope, it’s just Plant. “Tangerine” continues the acoustic feeling, with a tender love song from the pen of Page, of all people. The pedal steel guitar is really used well here. “That’s The Way” is a hypnotic folk song about young love lost as well as dirty rivers. Either way, it’s ethereal and haunting and sucks you in every time. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is a fun departure back home, and really is a love song to a dog. “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” is the least successful tune here—a lot of mewling in a blues style over an interminable slide backing, but it fits the formula.
Led Zeppelin III offers a little more variety, yet is still a classic. It may well be their most underrated album, and offers a lot to satisfy the casual listener looking for the hits. Tellingly, when Page and Plant reunited for their mid-‘90s spurt, it was these songs that made up their springboard.
The bonus audio added to the Deluxe Edition brought a couple of “new” things to those of us who hadn’t amassed hours of outtakes thus far. Drier mixes of “Celebration Day”, “Gallows Pole” and “The Immigrant Song” (notice the article) intermingle with instrumental takes of “Friends” and “Out On The Tiles” (when it was still called “Bathroom Sound”). The first take of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” shows how close they were but not quite, while an early mix of “That’s The Way” has dulcimer in place of the electric interludes. A slow acoustic medley of “Key To The Highway” and “Trouble In Mind” is cut from the same cloth as “Harper”, but the most fun track is “Jennings Farm Blues”, an electric instrumental version of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” from the previous December. The digipack even has a working wheel.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin III (1970)—4½
2014 Deluxe Edition: same as 1970, plus 9 extra tracks