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Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV is the common, but unofficial name of the untitled fourth album of English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was released on November 8 1971. It has no official title printed anywhere on the album, but is generally called Led Zeppelin IV after the band's previous three numbered albums. Atlantic Records catalogs have used the names Four Symbols (see below) and The Fourth Album; it has also been referred to as Zoso, which the first symbol appears to spell. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page frequently refers to the album in interviews as "the fourth album" and Led Zeppelin IV, while singer Robert Plant thinks of it as "the fourth album, that's it".

Led Zeppelin IV was a huge success commercially and critically when it was released. Most of album's songs are staples on classic rock radio stations, including "Black Dog", "Rock and Roll", "When the Levee Breaks", and "Stairway to Heaven". The album is one of the best-selling albums in history at 40 million units, with over 23 million sold in the United States, third most for any album all-time.

Overview

The album was initially recorded at Island Records's newly opened Basing Street Studios, London at the same time as Jethro Tull's Aqualung, before further recordings took place at Headley Grange, a remote Victorian house in East Hampshire, England, as well as Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, CA. After the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive, critical reaction Led Zeppelin III had received in the autumn of 1970, Jimmy Page decided that the next Led Zeppelin album would not have a title, but would instead feature four hand-drawn symbols on the inner sleeve and record label, each one chosen by the band member it represents. "We decided that on the fourth album, we would deliberately play down the group name, and there wouldn't be any information whatsoever on the outer jacket", Page explained. "Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing."

Page has also stated that the decision to release the album absent of any written information on the album sleeve was contrary to strong advice given to him by a press agent, who said that after a year's absence from both records and touring, the move would be akin to "professional suicide". In the words of the guitarist: "We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing."

Owing to the lack of an official title, Atlantic Records initially distributed graphics of the symbols in many sizes to the press for inclusion in charts and articles. The album was one of the first to be produced without conventional identification, and this communicated an anti-commercial stance that was controversial at the time (especially among certain executives at Atlantic Records).

Reception

In 1998, Q magazine readers voted Led Zeppelin IV the 26th greatest album of all time; in 2000 "Q" placed it at #26 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. It is #7 on Pitchfork Media's Top 100 Albums of the 1970s. A 2005 listener poll conducted by Toronto, Ontario classic rock station Q107 named Led Zeppelin IV the #2 best classic rock album of all time. In 2006, the album was rated #1 on Classic Rock magazine's 100 Greatest British Albums poll; that same year it was voted #1 in Guitar World 100 Greatest Albums readers' poll and was ranked #7 in ABC media's top ten albums.

The symbols

Each member of the band chose a personal emblem for the cover, an idea which came from Jimmy Page. In an interview he gave in 1977, Page explained:

After all this crap that we'd had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it'd be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.

Left to right, their members and meanings:

  • Jimmy Page's symbol is generally referred to as "ZoSo." Page designed it by altering a symbol he found in a book on ancient mythology.
  • John Paul Jones' symbol is a single circle intersecting 3 vesica pisces (a triquetra). According to The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch, it symbolises a person with confidence and competence, and also represents water which is one of the base elements.
  • John Bonham's symbol, the three interlocking rings, represents the trinity of mother, father and child. It could also depict an aerial view of a drum kit. It does in fact represent the idea of trilogies and trios, and, more commonly, is a Christian symbol for the Trinity. In the 1990 Bonham tribute radio special, "It's Been a Long Time," son Jason Bonham stated that the symbol was chosen as a representation of man, woman, and child. Jones's and Bonham's symbols fitting together — one to the other inside out, inverse images — is no accident. In any band, the bassist and drummer form interlocking parts of a rhythm section. The symbol also happens to be the logo for Ballantine beer, and it also represents earth which is a base element. Former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has Bonham's symbol tattooed on his right wrist and Silverchair drummer Ben Gillies has Bonham's symbol tattooed on the back of his neck.
  • Robert Plant's symbol is the feather of the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, representing truth, justice, fairness and writing, encapsulated by an unbroken circle representing life. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris, the god of judgment and death, would take the heart of those who died and put it on a balance with the feather of Ma'at. If the heart outweighed the feather, the person's soul would go to hell, but on the other hand, if the heart was lighter than the feather, the soul would go to heaven.

There is also a fifth, smaller symbol chosen by guest vocalist Sandy Denny representing her contribution to "The Battle of Evermore"; it appears in the credits list on the inner sleeve of the LP, serving as an asterisk and is shaped like three triangles touching at their points.

During Led Zeppelin's tour of the United Kingdom in Winter 1971, which took place shortly following the release of the album, the band visually projected the four symbols on their stage equipment. Jimmy Page's "Zoso" symbol was put onto one of his Marshall amplifiers, John Bonham's three interlinked circles adorned the outer face of his bass drum, John Paul Jones had his symbol stenciled onto material which was draped across his Fender Rhodes keyboard and Robert Plant's feather symbol was painted onto a side speaker PA cabinet. Only Page's and Bonham's symbols were retained for subsequent Led Zeppelin concert tours.

Album cover and inside sleeve

The painting on the front of the album, showing an old man carrying a bundle of sticks, was allegedly purchased from a junk shop in Reading, Berkshire by a Led Zeppelin roadie (Jimmy Page has stated it was bought by Robert Plant) and affixed to the internal, papered wall of the partly demolished house for the photograph to be taken.

The inside illustration was "The Hermit", credited to Barrington Colby Mom, influenced by the design of the card of the same name in the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

The typeface for the lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven", printed on the inside sleeve of the album, was Page's contribution. He found it in an old arts and crafts magazine called Studio Magazine which started in the late 1800s. He thought the lettering interesting and arranged for someone to work up a whole alphabet.

Page has explained that the cover of the fourth album was intended to bring out a city/country dichotomy that had initially surfaced on Led Zeppelin III:

It represented the change in the balance which was going on. There was the old countryman and the blocks of flats being knocked down. It was just a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it.

Track listing

Personnel

Chart positions

Album

Year Chart Position
1971 Billboard Pop albums (Billboard 200) 2

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1971 "Black Dog" Billboard Pop Singles (Billboard Hot 100) 15
1972 "Rock and Roll" Billboard Pop Singles 47

Certifications

Certifier Certification Sales
RIAA (U.S.) 23x Platinum 23,000,000
CRIA (Canada) 2x Diamond 2,000,000

In popular culture

In the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High; Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) tells Mark Ratner (Brian Backer): "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side 1 of Led Zeppelin IV." This line was voted in Entertainment Weekly as one of "50 Great Movie Quotes of the Last Half Century". In the next scene, Ratner is on the date with Physical Graffiti's "Kashmir" playing in the car. According to the DVD commentary track, the error was not intentional, and the director speculated that the mistake could be used to show Ratner's lack of knowledge. In actuality, Universal Pictures couldn't get the rights to any of the songs on Led Zeppelin IV, despite screenwriter Cameron Crowe's prior relationship to the band, so they opted to use "Kashmir" instead.

See also

References

External links

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