I don’t know how to find the right words for two albums that were almost “standard issue” when I was a teen and starting to move towards playing guitar and getting into “serious” rock (after a youth-filled power pop foundation). EVERYONE had IV; you had to. It had fucking “Stairway To Heaven” (which, admittedly, I’ve grown to cringe at whenever I hear it). It had “Black Dog” and “Rock And Roll”. It had “The Battle of Evermore” and “Misty Mountain Hop”. Did I love it when I heard it; did it inspire me? No, but I went along with everyone else and said “oh yeah”. Houses Of The Holy was the next album for me to discover and it was an eye-opener. From the weirdly angular (but instantly memorable) riff of “Dancing Days” to the magnificent opening acoustic whirlwind of “Over The Hills And Far Away” – this was a Zeppelin album I embraced.
So now, over 36 years since I first had and absorbed these records, I’ve revisited them, thanks to the latest re-issue program of Rhino/Atlantic. And they do sound bigger, bolder and badder than ever. The greatest thing I’ve always felt about Zeppelin wasn’t so much of Page’s guitar mastery (or as many have said, masturbation – and it’s a valid argument) – it was the explosive hammer drumming of John Bonham. From the first album to the end of In Through The Out Door, Bonzo’s drums always set the table for me. So listening to these remastered editions only serve to emphasize the power of Zeppelin as a band. And for all the reverence, heaviness and dissection, they wrote some damned catchy songs. If the melodies didn’t stay with you, the riffs sure as shit did/do. From “Black Dog” to “Rock And Roll” to “Going To California” to “When The Levee Breaks” is unabashed quality. Love or hate “Stairway To Heaven”, it’s on there and it’s a song for the ages. And having (the late) great Sandy Denny singing on “The Battle Of Evermore” was an inspired moment for this band. So it has to be said, IV will always get full marks.
Houses Of The Holy, released in March ’73 (a year and a half after IV), was a different affair. Where IV came off at points as being a very focused and putting-everything-into-the-stew kind of album, Houses is a looser, funkier, groovier affair. It was as if this was Zeppelin’s fun, laid-pack, jam-and-let’s-see-what-happens type of product. And the word “fun” is something I usually wouldn’t equate with Zeppelin. But this is a much more buoyant – and in many ways – balanced record than IV. The sublime acoustic textures on “Over The Hills And Far Away”; the heavy reggae feel of “D’yer Maker” or the almost-funkiness of “The Crunge” – it’s a weird, sometimes curious and thoroughly ballsy/risky album for Zeppelin to have made. And they succeeded with just about every track.
Over the years and through the course of conversations, I’ve spoken with many Zeppelin fans who have stated that Houses was their favorite of the Zep canon (II is the other overall preference). I can see that very easily – it has all the right elements to make a casual-to-hardcore fan choose it as their fave. After re-listening and enjoying it again, along with the memories that came with what it was like to first hear it at 13, 14, my loyalties have been tested – usually I got the nod but being that Houses has all-original material, as opposed to the covers that make up I, perhaps time has helped change even my mind.
No matter – Led Zeppelin IV and Houses Of The Holy are essential listening. With these new editions, there’s really no reason not to experience the heavy duty beauty of one of rock’s greatest bands.
Led Zeppelin IV and Houses Of The Holy (remastered/Deluxe Editions) are available now.