Recording sessionsMany of the songs featured on the album were conceived in mid-1970 at Bron-Yr-Aur, an 18th century cottage in Gwynedd, Wales, on a hilltop overlooking the Dyfi Valley, three miles north of the market town Machynlleth. There, Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page spent time after a concert tour of the United States to play and compose new music. This remote setting had no running water or electric power, which encouraged a slight change of direction for the band towards an emphasis on acoustic arrangements. As Page explained:After the intense touring that had been taking place through the first two albums, working almost 24 hours a day, basically, we managed to stop and have a proper break, a couple of months as opposed to a couple of weeks. We decided to go off and rent a cottage to provide a contrast to motel rooms. Obviously, it had quite an effect on the material that was written ... It was the tranquility of the place that set the tone of the album. Obviously, we weren't crashing away at 100 watt Marshall stacks. Having played acoustic and being interested in classical guitar, anyway, being in a cottage without electricity, it was acoustic guitar time ... After all the heavy, intense vibe of touring which is reflected in the raw energy of the second album, it was just a totally different feeling.
After preparing the material that would emerge on the album, Page and Plant were joined by the other members of the band (drummer John Bonham and bass player John Paul Jones) at Headley Grange, a run-down mansion in East Hampshire, to rehearse the songs. With its relaxed atmosphere and rural surroundings, Headley Grange proved to be the favoured alternative to the discipline of a conventional studio.
The album was then recorded in a series of sessions in May and June 1970 at both Headley Grange and at Olympic Studios, London. Some additional work was put in at Island Records' new Basing Street Studios in Notting Hill, London, in July, then mixed at Ardent Studios, Memphis in August 1970 during Led Zeppelin's sixth American concert tour. The album was produced by Page and engineered by Andy Johns and Terry Manning.
MusicLed Zeppelin III marked a change in focus for the band from late 1960s hard rock to a more folk rock and acoustic inspired sound. These styles had been present to a lesser degree in the band's first two releases, but here it was the main style - and one that would remain prominent in the group's later albums. This change in direction endeared the band to many progressive rock fans who would never have listened to Led Zeppelin's established blues and rock repertoire. With Led Zeppelin III the group's songwriting dynamic also changed, from Page's domination of the first two albums towards a more democratic affair in which all four group members contributed their own compositions and ideas - patterns that would continue in future sessions.
The album contains two songs which became key components of the band's live concert performances for many years: "Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You". The first of these, written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, is about the Norse invasions of England and was inspired by the band's recent live performance in Iceland. "Since I've Been Loving You" is a classic, original blues in the key of C minor featuring heartfelt interplay by all four group members. It would become a performance staple, especially from 1971 through 1973, replacing Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" from the first album as the band's slow blues showcase.
The album also featured the rock songs "Celebration Day" and "Out on the Tiles", and the acoustic tracks "Bron-Yr-Aur (Stomp)" and "That's the Way", the latter considered by Page to be a breakthrough for still-developing lyric writer Plant. The song "Gallows Pole" is actually an arrangement of a traditional folk song by that name, also recorded by Lead Belly some thirty years earlier.
The album finishes with "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper", a track dedicated to their influential contemporary, Roy Harper, that both honours Harper’s work and acknowledges the band’s roots in acoustic music.
Release and critical reactionLed Zeppelin III was one of the most eagerly awaited albums of 1970, and advance orders in the United States alone were close to a million mark. Its release was trailered by a full page advertisement taken out in Melody Maker magazine at the end of September, which simply said "Thank you for making us the world's number one band."
Although the band's expanding musical boundaries were greeted warmly by some, detractors attacked the heavier tracks as being mindless noise, whilst the acoustic material was criticised by others for merely imitating the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Page commented that this comparison was unwarranted, stating in an interview he gave to Cameron Crowe thatwhen the third LP came out and got its reviews, Crosby, Stills and Nash had just formed. That LP had just come out and because acoustic guitars had come to the forefront all of a sudden: LED ZEPPELIN GO ACOUSTIC! I thought, Christ, where are their heads and ears? There were three acoustic songs on the first album and two on the second.
Page has also said that the negative press given to the third album affected him so much that he did not give press interviews for eighteen months after its release, and was also one of the reasons why the band's subsequent album, Led Zeppelin IV, contained no written information on it at all.
Led Zeppelin III was a trans-Atlantic #1 hit. It spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard chart, while it entered that British chart at number one and remained there for three weeks (returning to the top for a further week on December 12).
Following the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive reception from critics, sales lagged after this initial peak. However, with the passage of time Led Zeppelin III's reputation has recovered considerably. The RIAA certified the album 2x platinum in 1990, and 6x platinum in 1999.
Album sleeve designLed Zeppelin III's original vinyl edition was packaged in a gatefold sleeve with an innovative cover, designed by Zacron, a multi-media artist whom Jimmy Page had met in 1963 whilst Zacron was a student at Kingston College of Art. Zacron had recently resigned a lectureship at Leeds Polytechnic to found Zacron Studios, and in 1970 Page contacted him and asked him to design the third album's cover.
The cover and interior gatefold art consisted of a surreal collection of seemingly random images on a white background, many of them connected thematically with flight or aviation (as in "Zeppelin"). Behind the front cover was a rotatable laminated card disc, or volvelle, covered with more images, including photos of the band members, which showed through holes in the cover. Moving an image into place behind one hole would usually bring one or two others into place behind other holes. This could not be replicated on a conventional cassette or CD cover, but there have been Japanese and British CDs packaged in miniature versions of the original sleeve. In France this album was released with a different album cover, simply showing a photo of the four band members.
The concept of a volvelle, based on crop rotation charts, was initially Jimmy Page's idea. However, the result was a meeting of minds as Zacron had been working on rotating graphics from 1965. Zacron felt that by not including text on the front of the cover, the art would endure.
In an article featured in the December 2007 issue of Classic Rock magazine, Zacron claimed that upon his completion of the artwork, Jimmy Page telephoned him while he was in New York to express his satisfaction with the results, saying "I think it is fantastic". However, in a 1998 interview Page himself gave to Guitar World magazine, he described the results as a disappointment:I thought it looked very teeny-bopperish. But we were on top of a deadline, so of course there was no way to make any radical changes to it. There were some silly bits - little chunks of corn and nonsense like that.
The album cover featured on the front page of The Daily Mail's Live Magazine in December 2007, which hailed Led Zeppelin III as "The greatest rock album of all time. The feature was a tribute to both the artist and the group.
The first pressings of the album included the phrases "Do what thou wilt" and "So mote it be", inscribed on the record acetate itself by engineer Terry Manning during the final mastering process. This phrase is from the core tenet of Aleister Crowley's philosophy of Thelema: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will. There is no law beyond do what thou wilt." Page was a scholar of Crowley's work, owns one of the world's most extensive private collections of Crowley manuscripts, artwork and other ephemera, and in the 1970s even bought one of his residences, Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland.
- "Immigrant Song" (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – (2:25)
- "Friends" (Page, Plant) – (3:54)
- "Celebration Day" (Page, Plant, John Paul Jones) – (3:29)
- "Since I've Been Loving You" (Page, Plant, Jones) – (7:23)
- "Out on the Tiles" (Page, Plant, John Bonham) – (4:08)
- "Gallows Pole" (traditional, arr. Page, Plant) – (4:58)
- "Tangerine" (Page) – (3:12)
- "That's the Way" (Page, Plant) – (5:39)
- "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" (Page, Plant, Jones) – (4:18)
- "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" (traditional) – (3:42)
|1970||Billboard (U.S.) Pop Albums||1|
|1970||Billboard Black Albums||30|
|1970 (release) |
1971 (peak position)
|"Immigrant Song" / |
"Hey Hey What Can I Do"
|Billboard Pop Singles||16|
|RIAA – USA||Gold||October 8, 1970|
|RIAA – USA||Platinum||December 11, 1990|
|RIAA – USA||2x Platinum||December 11, 1990|
|RIAA – USA||3x Platinum||August 20, 1992|
|RIAA – USA||4x Platinum||November 25, 1997|
|RIAA – USA||6x Platinum||May 3, 1999|
Robert Plant: Still on the stairway It's been a long time since Led Zeppelin, but Robert Plant tells James McNair that he's as uncompromising as ever.
Apr 15, 2005; In spring 1970, on the completion of Led Zeppelin's fifth US tour, Robert Plant retreated to Bron-Yr-Aur, a derelict 18th-century...