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Top 100 Hard Rock Albums

#1 Led Zeppelin IV

By James West,

"Hey Hey Mama, say the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove..." thus begins the start of an album that has made hundreds of thousands sweat and groove since the mythical gods placed this offering in human hands back in November of 1971.

This fourth offering from The Greatest Hard Rock Band of All Time came to us in very simple form.  No title, no group name, no fancy wrapper; it just appeared.  Most everyone, including myself, had to double-check the plastic wrapper store sticker to make sure we were picking up an actual Zeppelin album and not some folk offering from the stick-man dude in the hanging picture. Ha!

Thank the mythical gods for it not being Mr. Stick-Man!

After the band's previous album Led Zeppelin III received lukewarm reviews from critics, Page decided their fourth album would officially be untitled. This, along with the inner sleeve's design featuring four symbols that represented each band member, led to the album being referred to variously as , Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, Untitled, Runes, The Hermit, and ZoSo (which was derived from Page's symbol).

  Hey Hey Mama...

I was immediately impressed with the sonic dynamics of "Black Dog".  It didn't sound as raw as the first album and not as rushed as the second album.  You could actually "feel" the space of Headley Grange in the grooves.  A slight echo in the vocals, and a total buzz-saw in the guitar tone.  Bonzo's drums never sounded so good.  You could hear every cymbal crashing to great effect, and even Bonham clicking the sticks before a run.

Led Zeppelin performing onstage

The thunderous delivery continues with "Rock and Roll".  You can hear Jonesy's bass better on this track. Unfortunately, you can also hear that damn piano pretty good too.  Too me it has always taken away from the track; there was no need to feel the 50's here.  It hadn't been THAT long since we Rock and Rolled. Ha!

Ok, what the hell is this? My bet is about 90% of listeners first said this about "The Battle Of Evermore" upon first listen. Initially, like most, I thought Led Zeppelin III had gotten thrown back in the mix on this new album.  It has taken me a few years to fully appreciate how truly magnificent and unique this track is.  I love the way the song fades in like it is transporting you to another dimension in time.  An era of Dark Lords, Black Holes, and the Angels of Babylon.  It's obviously a nod to The Lord of the Rings, but in a Rock format?  This is what I truly love about the Mighty Zeppelin.  At this point of their career they continued to push the envelope of contemporary Rock music.

Led Zeppelin Four Symbols

The four symbols representing (from left to right); at the top; Page, Jones, and at the bottom; Bonham and Plant.

What makes if all so funny is that Jimmy Page just picked up John Paul Jones' mandolin and created all the chords in one sitting with Robert Plant cranking out the lyrics!  It's the only Led Zeppelin song to ever feature a guest vocalist (Sandy Denny).

What comes up next is what many critics consider the greatest Rock song ever recorded.  "Stairway to Heaven" is Eight minutes of musical genius.  I love the atmosphere of the album version, but I'm a fan more of the live versions.  They invite the audience into the song, and let them decide which path to go by.  "Does anybody remember laughter?" - classic!  But the Album version is Jimmy Page's finest hour as a producer and one of John Bonham's greatest triumphs as a drummer, next to "Achilles Last Stand".  If only that climatic guitar riff at the end rocked harder on the vinyl!

Side Two starts with a great mid-tempo rocker in "Misty Mountain Hop", with Jonesy showing off his organ and Bonzo beating his drum.  Pagey's guitar is in perfect sync with both, as Plant really doesn't know what time it was. Ha!  After Dark Lords and Stairways to Heaven this is the perfect tune to lighten things up a bit.

Things get downright tribal with "Four Sticks".  Before Rush ever showcased odd time signatures, Zeppelin brought it in spades with this nagging rocker.  It feels almost like a car stuck in the mud just to break free if only for a moment to give you hope.  In the end the tune leaves you forever stuck in the muck as you fade away in misery.

With a deep breath Robert Plant breaks you free and takes you on a plane to another journey, "Going To California".  This whole album has a perfect blend of acoustic and electric elements, and Plant never disappoints in showing why he is considered "The Voice" of Classic Rock.

The same perfection can be shown by John Bonham on the albums' final track "When The Levee Breaks".  The instantly contagious drum pattern he lays down can go on forever for all I care.  It can keep on Raining cause this levee will never break. 

Page recorded Plant's harmonica part using the backward echo technique, putting the echo ahead of the sound when mixing. "When the Levee Breaks" was recorded at a different tempo, then slowed down, explaining the "sludgy" sound, particularly on the harmonica and guitar solos.

This sound effect brings out the best "Slim Harpo" harmonica-type sounds and makes the guitar almost moan in its delivery.  It all fits perfectly with Bonzo's drumming.

Led Zeppelin performing onstage

Eight songs, that's all it took to take you on an incredible musical journey.  You started with paying homage to a Black Dog at an old Victorian Estate House in England, then traveling to another space in time that Earth has never recorded in The Battle in Evermore.  After taking a Stairway to Heaven you take a Misty Mountain Hop with Four Sticks and go on a path to California, only to find the Levee is going to break!

I find if funny that nowadays it takes a band 15 songs just to take you absolutely nowhere.  Thank God I got to witness and live in the time when the Mighty Zeppelin reigned supreme. 

Top 100 Hard Rock Groups

#1 Led Zeppelin

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