When I wrote about Led Zeppelin’s II, I was blown away by how many instantly recognisable classics were on that album. Even to call myself a casual Zeppelin fan would be an overstatement. I’m a casual, passive listener at best. I guess I like what they do, I definitely don’t dislike what they do. It’s just never compelled me to hear more. Now, I’m starting to realise I’ve heard a whole lot more than I ever consciously knew, without even trying. Because one look at the track listing for IV, and I know I’m not in for many surprises on this album.
Straight away, IV is familiar in a way that only got me more excited for what’s to come. Black Dog must be up there as one of Led Zeppelin’s most recognisable and ass kickingest riffs and vocal melodies. And even that instant recognition does nothing to dull its impact every time I hear it. Which makes it even more impressive that it’s immediately topped in every way by Rock and Roll, another certified rock classic.
But from such a height, there’s nowhere to go but down. So very far down. And the mandolin fuelled aside that is The Battle of Evermore really makes the most of that epic fall. Long, arduous, aimless and pointless. I’m surprised to see it’s just shy of six minutes. I would have predicted closer to 10.
But then it’s time to strap on your neck brace, because the quality jump could give you whiplash when it’s followed by Stairway to Heaven. A song that’s evolved from rock masterpiece, to stoner anthem, to punch line, to classic rock radio staple, to just outright classic. Public opinion of this song might fluctuate, but it’s always there, prominent for one reason or another.
When Stairway leads directly into Misty Mountain Hop, you should really be asking yourself one of two questions. a) Did the devil get a raw deal when these four dudes sold their souls and got to make this many awesome songs? Or b) How much awesomeness can I take before some critical organ or body part explodes?
But luckily, Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham are there to alleviate any chance of spontaneous combustory, with Four Sticks and Going to California. Two songs so tossed off and lazy, they make The Battle of Evermore sound like a pristine piece of pop perfection.
IV closes somewhere in between the balls out, legendary rock of the early songs, and the meandering time waters that fill so much of the second half. When the Levee Breaks might not be anywhere near as tedious or boring as Four Sticks or Evermore, but it also never even comes close to the mind blowing highs of Black Dog, or Rock and Roll, or Stairway, or Misty Mountain Hop.
The top heavy nature of IV really is its only major drawback. Had those side two clunkers been a little more spaced out, with a more even spread of greatness to crapness, I don’t think they would have clunked so hard. But the greatness is there, and even the crap feels kind of necessary just to get the whole Led Zeppelin experience in its entirety.