Saturday, September 10, 2011

Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

Arguably Led Zeppelin's defining album, with its thought-you'd-never-get-tired-of-it defining song "Stairway to Heaven," this all-time slab of classic rock opens with a song, "Black Dog," expressly intended to be very difficult or impossible to dance to, the better to stand or sit in one place and be bludgeoned by it. With jazz fusion in the air, Led Zeppelin's strategy, pursued across much of the rest of this album and indeed its career, was to switch things up, water down the blues strains, and attain its claims to musical sophistication via fancy time signatures. In "Black Dog," it's something like 5/4, or maybe that's 3/16. It doesn't matter. What matters is that paradoxically all the power is retained as forcefully as ever and you may as well stand or sit there and let yourself be bludgeoned by it. You probably don't have anything better to do anyway. I remember "Black Dog" ripping across the airwaves playing loud on car radios as we engaged in various late-adolescent antics, licit and otherwise, and I can still hear those times in it. The whole set, in fact, is virtually fried onto my brainstem at this point, "Rock and Roll" and "The Battle of Evermore" and of course the formidable "Stairway to Heaven"—which I almost can't hear anymore from hearing so much over the course of that decade, though I can certainly pick out what I used to like about it when I do happen to put it on and manage to actively notice it, such as the climactically lyrical guitar solo to which it builds. The four from the flip are equally iconic, and nearly as familiar: "Misty Mountain Hop," "Four Sticks," "Going to California," and "When the Levee Breaks." Is it any wonder this is a classic? As a result of a tendency, for whatever reasons, to listen vastly more often to the first vinyl LP side back in the day, I saved a little for myself, and now enjoy these latter four songs the most, particularly "When the Levee Breaks," which stretches out and goes places like a mighty river. And it is interesting to me to see this example of the long-term impact of overexposure and fatigue, how it affects the way I can hear these songs even today. Which means no matter how well I know, right down to my bones, that this is a timeless classic, I don't always hear it that way anymore when I play it. Better to surprise me with selections on the radio or in song mixes, and even then I've usually got you spotted. An article of faith, this one, but one that will go to my grave with me.

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