Album released this week in… 1970: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III
ANYONE who knows rock music knows Led Zeppelin. If they haven’t listened to them consciously they are aware of their impact on the face of rock. They’re often cited as one of the progenitors of heavy metal and they retain a constant presence on the rock scene, whether in homages, solo works or, more recently, the re-issuing of their four big, eponymous, albums. It’s almost insane to tackle anything related to them as everyone knows so much already but Led Zeppelin III is close to my heart for two reasons. It’s the first Led Zeppelin album I bought a physical copy of after having been bored to death of “Greatest Hits” compilations. As well, the majority of the songs that appear on this album, and it’s successor Led Zeppelin IV, were written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on a getaway to a little cottage called Bron-Yr-Aur which is three miles north of Machynlleth, 30 minutes away from the place I called home for three years as a university student. It’s also a damned good album.
The musicians of Led Zeppelin have always been vocal about their influences, citing many particular musicians, and the bulk of these reside in blues and folk music. On previous albums there had always been audible influences in their songs but it is with this album that they pay a true homage to those musicians. The music is mostly stripped back with simple arrangements and very few heavy guitar sounds which invokes a folk-esque feel to the album throughout.
Jimmy Page has said that the reason that he and Robert Plant went to Bron-Yr-Aur in the first place was to get away from the constant pressures of touring, the first two album tours meant that they were always on the go. This more relaxed tone definitely shows through on the album and it feels a lot less bombastic than the first two.
The album starts innocuously enough with “Immigrant Song”, something which has been played to death by many different sources, but quickly drops down into “Friends”, which is a much more subdued song, with swelling strings accompanying a minimal arrangement of guitar and vocals with as little percussion as possible. The album just goes from there with as little heavy metal as possible. The folk songs of “Gallows Pole” and, the misspelled, “Bron-Y-Aur” stomp and the blues songs of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Hats Off to [Roy] Harper” show a Zeppelin we just hadn’t seen on their first two albums. There are some heavy metal songs in here, it wouldn’t be Zeppelin without them, “Out on the Tiles” and “Immigrant Song” both are more reminiscent of the first two albums but it’s different this time around. The first two albums were heavy metal songs with blues/folk interspersing them but it’s the other way around on this album. Plus, where before the first two were driven by the heavier songs, this album is, almost content to sit back and show the audience what Led Zeppelin can do when they’re more comfortable and relaxed. With the exception of “Immigrant Song” all the songs on Led Zeppelin III are more laid back. By no means are they chilled out, you wouldn’t play this music in the background of a fancy restaurant, but they’re more down-tempo or, where they race a little bit, are more stripped back than their predecessors.
The danger with this album, however, is that it doesn’t have enough bombast. With the album feeling more subdued than the first two, it does sometimes feel as if Zeppelin had gotten a bit tired of the constant touring and were ready to hang up their instruments. It sometimes feels like a last, tired punch. The energy is still there but it’s not as hungry as the first two albums. Thank goodness we were proved wrong when Led Zeppelin IV came out. This album took the best parts of all their predecessors and combined it into, what many regard as, the finest Zeppelin album to be released.
Retrospectively Led Zeppelin III can sometimes feel like a stepping stone to Led Zeppelin IV but it is by no means just that. Despite it being a little too subdued it definitely feels like a fresh album. To someone listening at the time they may have despaired that Zeppelin were losing their way but this isn’t a different Zeppelin. This is just a Zeppelin trying to get back to what made them musicians in the first place just with a fresh coat of paint. It’s something many bands have tried to do since and haven’t come anywhere near to the success that is Led Zeppelin III. It still remains my favourite Zeppelin album to date.