Saturday, July 28, 2018

Led Zeppelin III (1970)

As it happens, Led Zeppelin III is the only album by the band I never did own, which makes it slightly exotic (a friend had a copy so I had played with the turn-a-wheel cover design). Of course I know the one hit it spawned, the gloriously ridiculous "Immigrant Song," which peaked at #16 late in 1970. In case you were wondering, the subject of the song is not the immigrants that Donald Trump's ponyboys and ponygirls whinny about. No, they're white. They come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. Among other things, more than 30 years later, "Immigrant Song" was the lunch theme when I worked with a notably rambunctious office crew. We piled into the car and snapped it on. Ahh-ahh AHHHHH-HHH ah! The Clash's "Know Your Rights" was the other mainstay staple of those lunch trips. Heads wildly bobbing to be sure. We were way too old for such behavior, but we were temps of a certain age. More recently, in an impossibly gorgeous song by Craig Finn, "God in Chicago," the soundtrack for a road trip is given as Prince's 1999 and Led Zeppelin III (on a wobbly tape deck). That also sounds about right. So, giving III some badly needed attention nigh 50 years on, I find it's a great companion, warm, rolling, easygoing, like a boat rocking down the slow river. In 1970, Rolling Stone magazine still did not like Led Zeppelin. This is back when things like "selling out" mattered like poison for RS, so they could and did shrug at leviathan sales. It's a little different now. This isn't your father's Perry Como Republican Party. Only Bridge Over Troubled Waters sold better than Led Zeppelin II in 1970. Lester Bangs got the honors for the takedown this time. He wanted to like them, yes, really wanted to like them, and even did like one song on III very much ("That's the Way"). But more generally he found the band "doesn't challenge anybody's intelligence or sensibilities." I would suggest that, in 1968 and even still, "Dazed and Confused," for one, poses challenges to intelligence and sensibilities. In fairness to Bangs and other contemporary naysayers, another big player at that moment (though sales did not match Zepp's) was Grand Funk Railroad with a I-II-III of On Time, Grand Funk, and Closer to Home. If you squint, it might look like all the same thing.

And I do think this is the weakest of Led Zeppelin's first three albums. It's not the one for newcomers—just slightly lazy, it presumes on previous good will to some extent. "Immigrant Song," for all its charm, does not match "Whole Lotta Love" or the aforementioned "Dazed and Confused" (or "Stairway to Heaven" or "Kashmir") as an album tent pole. But Led Zeppelin III is also a place where Robert Plant takes his shtick up another notch as a tireless unself-conscous imp and Jimmy Page gets to show off guitar chops maybe even more than purloined hooks. I just go by the numbers and tend to gravitate most to "Since I've Been Loving You" because it's the longest, at 7:25, an all-night slow burner for sure. Page's playing is lyrical in the showcase portion (the greatest guitar solo of all time, some on the internet will tell you), and then, finally, it wilts into a tender weeping number. And Bangs is right about "That's the Way"—also quite beautiful. Yes, it's a certain apotheosis of cock rock, but as an aural object it does not necessarily have to be toxic (aside from the personalities of band members, if they can be separated, which maybe they can't, I know). See again the Craig Finn song. And think of the Vikings. "Always sweep with, with threshing oar / Our only goal will be the western shore." Ahh-ahh AHHHHH-HHH ah!


  1. Immigrant song was memorably used in Thor Ragnarok.

  2. The important part isn't that some call Page's solo on "Since I've Been Loving You" to be the greatest ever. It's that it's in the picture for such an honor. It doesn't shame the people who call it the greatest.

  3. Say there's something we'll call rock critic syndrome, a reflexively antagonistic perspective on mass popular stuff. It begins w/ Zeppelin and Sabbath, right? I remember when Chuck Eddy started raving ab the classic dinosaur stuff in the '80s. It felt like exciting heresy.