Definitions

Presence

Presence

[prez-uhns]

Presence is the seventh studio album by English rock band Led Zeppelin, released by Swan Song Records on March 31, 1976. The album was written and recorded during a tumultuous time in the band's history, as Robert Plant was recuperating from serious injuries sustained in a car accident. Although the album received positive reviews from critics, it is one of the lowest sellers in the band's catalogue.

Background

This album was conceived after singer Robert Plant sustained serious injuries from a car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes on August 5, 1975, which forced the band to cancel a proposed world tour due to commence on August 23, 1975. At this point, Led Zeppelin were arguably at the height of their popularity. Plant recalls:

I was lying there in some pain trying to get cockroaches off the bed and the guy next to me, this drunken soldier, started singing "The Ocean" from Houses of the Holy.

During a convalescent period on the Channel Island of Jersey and in Malibu, California, Plant wrote some lyrics, and when guitarist Jimmy Page joined him at Malibu, these compositions were fleshed out. The two prepared enough material for rehearsals to begin at Hollywood's SIR Studio, where drummer John Bonham and bass player John Paul Jones joined them. After a month of rehearsals, the album was recorded in just eighteen days at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, with Plant in a wheelchair. This was the fastest recording turnaround time achieved by the band since their début album. The rushed recording sessions were in part a result of Led Zeppelin having booked the studio immediately prior to The Rolling Stones, who were to record songs for their album Black and Blue. Upon their arrival, the Rolling Stones were amazed that Led Zeppelin's album had indeed been completed (both recorded and mixed) in a mere seventeen days. Jimmy Page had simply stayed awake for two days straight to perform all of the guitar overdubs.

In an interview he gave to Guitar World magazine in 1998, Page stated that he worked an average of 18 to 20 hours a day during the mixing period at Musicland Studios:

[A]fter the band finished recording all its parts, me and the engineer, Keith Harwood, just started mixing until we would fall asleep. Then whoever would wake up first would call the other and we'd go back in and continue to work until we passed out again.

The album was completed on November 27, 1975. This was the day before Thanksgiving, and in a telephone call to Swan Song Records, Page suggested the album be named Thanksgiving. This idea was quickly dropped, in favour of a title which it was thought would represent the powerful force and presence that the band members felt surrounded the group.

Music

Most of the album consists solely of Page and Plant compositions. This can be explained by the fact that most of the songs were formulated at Malibu, where Page (but not Bonham and Jones) had joined a recuperating Plant. With Plant at less than full fitness, Page took responsibility for the album's completion, and his playing and production dominate the album's tracks.

Both Page and Plant had planned this album's recording session as a return to hard rock, much like their debut album, except at a new level of complexity. It marked a change in the Led Zeppelin sound towards more straightforward, guitar-based jams. Whereas their previous albums contain electric hard rock anthems balanced with acoustic ballads and intricate arrangements, Presence was seen to include more simplified riffs, and is Led Zeppelin's only studio album that features neither acoustic tracks nor keyboards (almost buried in the mix, a lone acoustic guitar can be heard on "Candy Store Rock").

The changed stylistic emphasis on this album was a direct result of the troubled circumstances experienced by the band around the time of its recording. As Page said at the time:

I think it was just a reflection of the total anxiety and emotion of that period. There's a hell of a lot of spontaneity about that album. We went in with virtually nothing and everything just came pouring out.

Plant expressed similar views, stating:

It was really like a cry of survival. There won't be another album like it, put it like that. It was a cry from the depths, the only thing that we could do.

In contrast to earlier albums which contained several tracks played live at Led Zeppelin concerts, only two tracks from Presence were played in full on stage while the band was active. "Achilles Last Stand" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" were added to the setlist for the 1977 tour of the United States and stayed through the band's final concerts in 1980. Some of the guitar solo from "Tea for One" was also incorporated into "Since I've Been Loving You" in these shows, but the actual song was never performed live until the Page and Plant tour of Japan in 1996, where it received three airings backed by an orchestra. "For Your Life" was played in full by Led Zeppelin for the first time at the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert on December 10, 2007. The lack of live interpretations of the Presence material is perhaps understandable given that it would be a full year before they would return to the road.

Album sleeve design

The cover and inside sleeve of this album, created by Hipgnosis, features various images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the album sleeve, the item is referred to simply as "The Object". It was intended to represent the "force and presence" of Led Zeppelin. In the liner notes of the Led Zeppelin Remasters, Jimmy Page explained:

There was no working title for the album. The record-jacket designer said `When I think of the group, I always think of power and force. There's a definite presence there.' That was it. He wanted to call it `Obelisk'. To me, it was more important what was behind the obelisk. The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on [the film] 2001. I think it's quite amusing.

The background used in the cover photograph is of an artificial marina that was installed inside London's Earl's Court Arena for the annual Earl's Court Boat Show that was held in the winter of 1974–1975. This was the same venue where the band played a series of concerts a few months after the boat show, in May 1975.

In 1977 the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.

Release and critical reception

The album was released on March 31, 1976, having been delayed by the completion of the album sleeve. In Britain it attained one of the highest ever advance orders, shipping gold on the day of release. In America it peaked at #1 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, leaping from #24 inside two weeks.

The album's catalogue numbers were Swan Song SS 8416 in the U.S. and Swan Song SSK59402 in the UK, before being changed to 92439-2 for when the remastered version was released. However, this album has not been one of the band's biggest sellers. In late 1976 it was somewhat overshadowed by the release of the band's movie and soundtrack The Song Remains the Same.

According to Dave Lewis, the album

has become a much underrated element of their catalogue. The basic drums-bass-guitars formula may lack the diversity of previous Zeppelin sets, but in terms of sheer energy, 'Presence' packs a considerable punch, and has emerged as one of their most potent performances ... This album is also a triumph for Jimmy Page. His production and dominant guitar style has an urgency and passion that reflects the troubled period that the group were going through at the time. 'Presence' is Led Zeppelin with their backs against the wall.

Track listing

All songs written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, except "Royal Orleans".

Side one

  1. "Achilles Last Stand" – 10:25
  2. "For Your Life" – 6:20
  3. "Royal Orleans" (John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Page, Plant) – 2:58

Side two

  1. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" – 6:27
  2. "Candy Store Rock" – 4:07
  3. "Hots On for Nowhere" – 4:43
  4. "Tea for One" – 9:27

Charts

Album

Year Chart Position
1976 Billboard Pop Albums (Billboard 200) 1

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1976 "Candy Store Rock" Billboard Pop Singles (Billboard Hot 100) 50

Certifications

Certifier Certification Sales
RIAA (U.S.) 3x Platinum 3,000,000

Personnel

Additional personnel

CD Mastering engineers

  • Barry Diament - original CD - Atlantic Studios (mid-1980s)
  • George Marino - remastered CD (1990)

References

External links

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