ON THIS DATE (40 YEARS AGO)
November 8, 1971 – Led Zeppelin: IV (ZOSO) is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone, Billboard, Circus, Playboy (see original reviews below)
The fourth album by Led Zeppelin was released on this date in November 1971. No title is printed on the album, so it is generally referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, following the naming standard used by the band’s first three studio albums. The album has alternatively been referred to as the Four Symbols logo, Four Symbols, The Fourth Album (those two titles each having been used in the Atlantic catalog), Untitled, The Runes, The Hermit, and ZoSo, the latter of which is derived from the symbol used by Jimmy Page for the album sleeve.
Upon its release, Led Zeppelin IV was a commercial and critical success. The album is one of the best-selling albums worldwide at 32 million units. It has shipped over 23 million units in the United States alone, making it the third-best-selling album ever in the US. In 2003, the album was ranked 66th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
The album was initially recorded at Island Records’s newly opened Basing Street Studios, London, at the same time as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung in December 1970. Upon the suggestion of Fleetwood Mac, the band then moved to Headley Grange, a remote Victorian house in East Hampshire, England, to conduct additional recordings. Here they used the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Jimmy Page later recalled: “We needed the sort of facilities where we could have a cup of tea and wander around the garden and go in and do what we had to do.” This relaxed, atmospheric environment at Headley Grange also provided other advantages for the band. As is explained by Dave Lewis, “By moving into Headley Grange for the whole period of recording, many of the tracks [on the album] were made up on the spot and committed to tape almost there and then.”
Once the basic tracks had been recorded, the band later added overdubs at Island Studios, and then took the completed master tapes to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles for mixing. However, the mix ultimately proved to be less than satisfactory, creating an unwanted delay in the album’s release. Further mixing had to be undertaken in London, pushing the final release date back by some months.
Three other songs from the sessions, “Down by the Seaside”, “Night Flight” and “Boogie With Stu” (featuring Rolling Stones cofounder/collaborator Ian Stewart on piano), did not appear on the album, but were included four years later on the double album Physical Graffiti.
After the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive, critical reaction Led Zeppelin III
had received in late 1970, Page decided that the next Led Zeppelin album would not have a title, but would instead feature four hand-drawn symbols on the inner sleeve and record label, each one chosen by the band member it represents.
“We decided that on the fourth album, we would deliberately play down the group name, and there wouldn’t be any information whatsoever on the outer jacket”, Page explained. “Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing.”
Page has also stated that the decision to release the album without any written information on the album sleeve was contrary to strong advice given to him by a press agent, who said that after a year’s absence from both records and touring, the move would be akin to “professional suicide”. In his words: “We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing.” In an interview he gave to The Times in 2010, he elaborated:
It wasn’t easy. The record company were sort of insisting that the name go on it. There were eyes looking towards heaven if you like. It was hinted it was professional suicide to go out with an album with no title. The reality of it was that we’d had so many dour reviews to our albums along the way. At the time each came out it was difficult sometimes for the reviewers to come to terms with what was on there, without an immediate point of reference to the previous album. But the ethic of the band was very much summing up where we were collectively at that point in time. An untitled album struck me as the best answer to all the critics — because we knew the way that the music was being received both by sales and attendance at concerts.
Owing to the lack of an official title, Atlantic initially distributed graphics of the symbols in many sizes to the press for inclusion in charts and articles. The album was one of the first to be produced without conventional identification, and this communicated an anti-commercial stance that was controversial at the time (especially among certain executives at Atlantic Records).
The idea for each member of the band to choose a personal emblem for the cover was Page’s.
In an interview he gave in 1977, he recalled:
After all this crap that we’d had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it’d be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.
Page stated that he designed his own symbol and has never publicly disclosed any reasoning behind it. However, it has been argued that his symbol appeared as early as 1557 to represent Saturn. The symbol is sometimes referred to as “ZoSo”, though Page has explained that it was not in fact intended to be a word at all.
Bassist John Paul Jones’ symbol, which he chose from Rudolf Koch’s Book of Signs
is a single circle intersecting three vesica pisces
(a triquetra). It is intended to symbolise a person who possesses both confidence and competence.
Drummer John Bonham’s symbol, the three interlocking rings, was picked by the drummer from the same book. It represents the triad of mother, father and child, but also happens to be the logo for Ballantine beer.
Singer Robert Plant’s symbol was his own design, being based on the sign of the supposed Mu civilisation.
There is also a fifth, smaller symbol chosen by guest vocalist Sandy Denny representing her contribution to the track “The Battle of Evermore”; it appears in the credits list on the inner sleeve of the LP, serving as an asterisk and is shaped like three triangles touching at their points.
During Led Zeppelin’s tour of the United Kingdom in winter 1971, which took place shortly following the release of the album, the band visually projected the four symbols on their stage equipment. Page’s symbol was put onto one of his Marshall amplifiers, Bonham’s three interlinked circles adorned the outer face of his bass drum, Jones had his symbol stencilled onto material which was draped across his Fender Rhodes keyboard, and Plant’s feather symbol was painted onto a side speaker PA cabinet. Only Page’s and Bonham’s symbols were retained for subsequent Led Zeppelin concert tours.
Releasing the album without an official title has made it difficult to consistently identify. While most commonly called Led Zeppelin IV, Atlantic Records catalogs have used the names Four Symbols
and The Fourth Album
. It has also been referred to as ZoSo
(which, as noted above, Page’s symbol appears to spell), Untitled
Page frequently refers to the album in interviews as “the fourth album” and “Led Zeppelin IV”,
and Plant thinks of it as “the fourth album, that’s it”.
Not only does the album have no title, but there is no writing anywhere on the front or back cover, or even a catalogue number on the spine (at least on the original LP release).
In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Led Zeppelin IV the 26th greatest album of all time; in 2000 Q placed it at #26 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
It is ranked at #7 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Albums of the 1970s.
In 2006, the album was rated #1 on Classic Rock magazine’s 100 Greatest British Albums poll.
Also in 2006, it was voted #1 in Guitar World 100 Greatest Albums readers’ poll and was ranked #7 in ABC media’s top ten albums.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE, BILLBOARD, CIRCUS, PLAYBOY REVIEWS
It might seem a bit incongruous to say that Led Zeppelin — a band never particularly known for its tendency to understate matters — has produced an album which is remarkable for its low-keyed and tasteful subtely, but that’s just the case here. The march of the dinosaurs that broke the ground for their first epic release has apparently vanished, taking along with it the splattering electronics of their second effort and the leaden acoustic moves that seemed to weigh down their third. What’s been saved is the pumping adrenalin drive that held the key to such classics as “Communication Breakdown” and “Whole Lotta Love,” the incredibly sharp and precise vocal dynamism of Robert Plant, and some of the tightest arranging and producing Jimmy Page has yet seen his way toward doing. If this thing with the semi-metaphysical title isn’t quite their best to date, since the very chances that the others took meant they would visit some outrageous highs as well as some overbearing lows, it certainly comes off as their most consistently good.
One of the ways in which this is demonstrated is the sheer variety of the album: out of the eight cuts, there isn’t one that steps on another’s toes, that tries to do too much all at once. There are Olde English ballads (“The Ballad of Evermore” with a lovely performance by Sandy Denny), a kind of pseudo-blues just to keep in touch (“Four Sticks”), a pair of authentic Zepplinania (“Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop”), some stuff that I might actually call shy and poetic if it didn’t carry itself off so well (“Stairway to Heaven” and “Going To California”), and a couple of songs that when all is said and done, will probably be right up there in the gold-starred hierarchy of put ’em on and play ’em agains. The first, coyly titled “Rock And Roll,” is the Zeppelin’s slightly-late attempt at tribute to the mother of us all, but here it’s definitely a case of better late than never. This sonuvabitch moves, with Plant musing vocally on how “It’s been a long, lonely lonely time” since last he rock & rolled, the rhythm section soaring underneath. Page strides up to take a nice lead during the break, one of the all-too-few times he flashes his guitar prowess during the record, and its note-for-note simplicity says a lot for the ways in which he’s come of age over the past couple of years.
The end of the album is saved for “When The Levee Breaks,” strangely credited to all the members of the band plus Memphis Minnie, and it’s a dazzler. Basing themselves around one honey of a chord progression, the group constructs an air of tunnel-long depth, full of stunning resolves and a majesty that sets up as a perfect climax. Led Zep have had a lot of imitators over the past few years, but it takes cuts like this to show that most of them have only picked up the style, lacking any real knowledge of the meat underneath.
Uh huh, they got it down all right. And since the latest issue of Cashbox noted that this ‘un was a gold disc on its first day of release, I guess they’re about to nicely keep it up. Not bad for a pack of Limey lemon squeezers.
– Lenny Kaye, Rolling Stone, 12-23-71.
The fourth powerhouse album release for Led Zeppelin offers all the play and sales potency of the other three smash hit packages. Heavy cuts include “Rock and Roll,” “Misty Mountain,” “Going to California,” and “Black Dog,” all of which will put the package at the top of the charts.
– Billboard, 1971.
Some rock stars want to do folk. Some folk stars yearn to be rock ‘n’ rollers. Led Zeppelin seems to want both. So much for the schizoid nature of Led Zeppelin. The group’s roots have always been in hard bluesy British rock, and on this LP there are several good examples of this — the most outstanding is “When The Levee Breaks.” But, as with the third album, they have spliced in some folky things and these provide a pleasant contrast. “Going To California” is a dreamlike acoustic piece which segues in and out of the echo chamber. Ex-Fairport Convention lead singer Sandy Denny shows up on “The Battle of Evermore” lending a shimmeringly beautiful voice to what is already a splendid selection. Then, for all the no-nonsense freaks out there, comes “Rock and Roll” — three minutes and forty of the stuff of which livin’ lovin’ maids are made. If you don’t mind shifting moods suddenly from the heavy to the soft, and vice versa, you should find this a relatively satisfying set.
– Ed Kelleher, Circus, 1-72.
Call it Led Zeppelin IV, since it carries no printed information on its cover, only a picture of a bent old gent bearing a great faggot of sticks. Inside are four arcane-looking symbols that, word has it, are ancient runes that Jimmy Page may have used to represent each of the four members of the group. But the real mystery here is that the old Zepp has become so good. The group finally has made its own brand of high-volume tastelessness into great rock, and not all of it is at high volume, either. Besides the flamboyant Page solos and the typical, heavily layered sounds of tunes such as “Rock and Roll,” there are subtle instrumental effects (the dulcimer on “The Battle of Evermore,” for example). With “Stairway to Heaven,” the group ascends into the realm of seriousness — getting into madrigals, yet, and quasi-poetry — and does it without stumbling.
– Playboy, 3-72
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1 Black Dog (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant/John Paul Jones) 4:54
2 Rock and Roll (Page/Plant/Jones/John Bonham) 3:40
3 The Battle of Evermore (Page/Plant) 5:51
4 Stairway to Heaven (Page/Plant) 8:02
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5 Misty Mountain Hop (Page/Plant/Jones) 4:38
6 Four Sticks (Page/Plant) 4:44
7 Going to California (Page/Plant) 3:31
8 When the Levee Breaks (Memphis Minnie/Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham) 7:07