A pivotal scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High features Damone giving Rat what he says are key seduction tips. The final touch, he says, involves putting on “side one of Zeppelin IV.” The next scene shows Rat and Stacy riding along to the tune of “Kashmir”, which isn’t on the album. The question remains: did Rat get it wrong, or was it the filmmaker’s goof? Whatever the case, the band’s fourth album, which doesn’t have a title, is what rock snobs could call a seminal album.
“Black Dog” begins with a sound akin to a machine being wound up manually, then that voice hits us. With all the spot-on stops and starts, this one is just riveting. The solo over the fade is one of Page’s best. “Rock And Roll” doesn’t let up the attack at all, and sounds like it could have been recorded 15 years earlier—or at least 15 minutes after it was written. We’d come to expect a slow blues burner at this point, but now it’s something different: “The Battle Of Evermore” seems to have some Tolkien undertones, and is another late bloomer. Sandy Denny’s piercing voice meshes perfectly with Plant’s on this spooky tale of something or other. “Stairway To Heaven” is still pretty incredible after all these years, and expertly orchestrated. (It used to be that whenever your local rock station had one of their three-day weekend countdowns of the greatest songs of all time, “Stairway” was always a lock for first place. Now it’s a race to switch the station whenever it comes on, and one that gets skipped on CD.)
“Misty Mountain Hop” brings a funky electric piano vibe for a change to start the second side. With even more Tolkien references, it’s very evocative of a sunny afternoon relaxing in the park, with your only cares being whether the beer will run out before dusk. Failing that, it also works well if you’re sitting on a porch in winter pre-dawn, in a car, at the office or anywhere the groove takes you. “Four Sticks” apparently got its name from the number Bonham used, and is the least successful track on the album. (A version recorded later with native musicians in Bombay is much more effective in capturing the sense of exoticism, but wouldn’t be released for decades.) “Going To California” is a direct cousin to side two of Zeppelin III, evoking the spirit of Joni Mitchell beautifully. “When The Levee Breaks” has that much-imitated drum sound exploding from the other side of the hall, and is as successful a blues lift to close the album as any. The backwards effects work and the way the chords are turned against each other makes it much more interesting than your average 12-bar. The “guitar-falling-down-the-stairs” ending is also a favorite moment.
If you’re going to start with one Zeppelin album, you might as well make it this one. And if you don’t like this, don’t bother with the rest of them. (The Deluxe Edition offers an alternate version of the album, with rich instrumental mixes of “Going To California” and “The Battle Of Evermore”, a working mix of “Four Sticks” that includes a count-in—good luck trying to keep up—and negligibly alternate mixes of everything else.)
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV [aka Zoso, Untitled, Four Symbols, The Runes Album, etc.] (1971)—4
2014 Deluxe Edition: same as 1971, plus 8 extra tracks