Led Zeppelin IV Turns 40 Today

It was forty years ago today–November 8, 1971–that Led Zeppelin released their fourth album and still no one knows its proper title.  

Is it Led Zeppelin IV?  The Hermit?  Man with Sticks?  ZoSo? The unpronounceable the Four Symbols logo ?

Don’t feel bad if you’re confused.  Even Atlantic, their record company, had multiple titles in their catalogues. (For an explanation of what those four runic symbols mean, go here.)

Whatever you want to call it, this remains one of the most significant records in the rock’n’roll canon.  And today, it turns 40.  

It’s officially the third best-selling album of all time in the US, having moved no fewer than 23,000,000 copies.  In Canada, it achieved the rare Double Diamond certification (2,000,000 copies).

Every one of the eight songs on the album is a staple of classic rock radio.  Every. Single. One.  

“Black Dog” 

 The first single, released the same day as the album.  The B-side was “Misty Mountain Hop.”

“Rock and Roll” 

The second single (b/w “Four Sticks”), which features a guest appearance from Stones pianist, Ian Stewart. The basis of the song was written and recorded in fifteen minutes.

“The Battle of Evermore”

One of my favourites from the album, featuring a haunting female vocal from Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention.  Jimmy Page plays a mandolin owned by John Paul Jones.

“Stairway to Heaven” So famous that it’s a cliche of the rock genre.  Eight minutes of Tolkien-inspired lyrical nonsense (c’mon, have you ever really looked at the lyrics?).  However, the arrangment and performance is superb.  One other niggle:  some people claim that the opening appregios were lifted from a 1968 instrumental called “Taurus” by Spirit, a band that opened for Zep in their first American tour. And no, it was never officiall released as a single until 2007 when it appeared on iTunes in the UK.

“Misty Mountain Hop”

The B-side to “Black Dog.”  How many drummers were inspired by Bonzo’s performance on this one?

“Four Sticks”

Probably my least favourite on the album–and apparently not a favourite of the band, either, since they played it live exactly once.  Trivia:  it’s called “Four Sticks” because Bonzo performs his parts with two drumsticks in each hand.

“Going to California”

Folky stuff allegedly written about Canadian Joni Mitchell.  Both Page and Plant were really, really into her at the time.

“When the Levee Breaks”

The song that got me to play drums.  That lazy, slightly behind the beat groove is one of the best ever recorded.  Bonham’s kick was set up in a stairwell in the house at Hedley Grange, which gives it that wonderful natural reverb.  (Page takes us on a tour of the house and the stairwell in the film It Might Get Loud.) Little did anyone know that the song was recorded at a higher tempo and then slowed down for the record.  No wonder it’s so hard to replicate.  The track is also one of the most-sampled drum patterns in history.  (See Bjork’s “Army of Me” and the Beastie Boys “Rhymin’ & Stealing.”

Expect a lot of attention on the album today.  Radio stations are being asked to play a song from the album every day from now until the 11th at 4pm local time.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38170 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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