Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy [Record 48]
Houses of the Holy is the fifth studio album by British rock band Led Zeppelin, released by Atlantic Records on 28 March 1973. It is their first album composed of entirely original material, and represents a musical turning point for the band, who had begun to record songs with more layering and production techniques.
Containing some of the band’s most famous songs, including “The Song Remains the Same”, “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter”, Houses of the Holy became a huge success, and was certified eleven times platinum by the RIAA. In 2012, it was ranked #148 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The title track was recorded for the album, but was delayed until the band’s next release, Physical Graffiti, two years later.
1. The Song Remains the Same.
2. The Rain Song.
3. Over the Hills and Far Away.
4. The Crunge.
1. Dancing Days.
2. D’yer Mak’er.
3. No Quarter.
4. The Ocean.
Recording sessions: Much of the album was recorded in Spring 1972 using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio at Stargroves, a Berkshire country estate owned by Mick Jagger. Some songs from the album had initially been tried out earlier than this, such as “No Quarter”, which was first attempted during a session at Headley Grange.
Several of the songs were produced as trial recordings (demos) at the personal studios of guitarist Jimmy Page and bass player/keyboardist John Paul Jones. Having recently installed these studios in their homes, it enabled them to finish the arrangements which had been laid down earlier. In particular, Page was able to present complete arrangements of “The Rain Song” and “Over the Hills and Far Away”, while Jones had developed “No Quarter”.
Another bout of recording took place at Olympic Studios in May 1972, and during the band’s 1972 North American tour additional recording sessions were conducted at Electric Lady Studios in New York.
Some songs which were recorded from these various sessions did not make it onto Houses of the Holy, namely “Black Country Woman”, “Walter’s Walk”, “The Rover” and also the would-be title-track, “Houses of the Holy”. All of these songs were retained and later released on subsequent Led Zeppelin albums.
Composition: This album was a stylistic turning point in the lifespan of Led Zeppelin. Guitar riffs became more layered within Page’s production techniques and departed from the blues influences of earlier records. In the album’s opening opus, “The Song Remains the Same”, and its intricate companion suite, “The Rain Song”, Robert Plant’s lyrics matured toward a less overt form of the mysticism and fantasy of previous efforts. Houses of the Holy also featured styles not heard on the first four Led Zeppelin albums. For example, “D’yer Mak’er” is a reggae-based tune (the name of the song being derived from the phonetic spelling of the British pronunciation of “Jamaica”); “No Quarter” features atmospheric keyboard sounds and an acoustic piano solo from Jones; “The Crunge” is a funk tribute to James Brown; and “The Rain Song” is embellished by Jones on his newly acquired mellotron. The album’s closing song “The Ocean”, which features an a cappella section and a doo-wop influenced coda, is dedicated to “the ocean” of fans who were massing to Led Zeppelin concerts at this point of the band’s career. Subsequently, the title “Houses of the Holy” refers to the massive venues they played full of their adoring fans.
According to Led Zeppelin expert Dave Lewis:
“In retrospect, ‘Houses of the Holy’ holds its ground with the middle period releases quite admirably. The barnstorming effect of the early era was now levelling off and though devoid of the electricity of ‘Led Zeppelin I’ and ‘II’, or the sheer diversity of the third album, and lacking the classic status of the fourth, ‘Houses’ took stock of their situation. In doing so, it laid several foundations on which they would expand their future collective musical aspirations.”
Album sleeve design: The cover art for Houses of the Holy was inspired by the ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End. The cover is a collage of several photographs which were taken at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. This location was chosen ahead of an alternative one in Peru which was being considered.
The two children who modelled for the cover were siblings Stefan and Samantha Gates. The photoshoot was a frustrating affair over the course of ten days. Shooting was done first thing in the morning and at sunset in order to capture the light at dawn and dusk, but the desired effect was never achieved due to constant rain and clouds. The photos of the two children were taken in black and white and were multi-printed to create the effect of 11 individuals that can be seen on the album cover. The results of the shoot were less than satisfactory, but some accidental tinting effects in post-production created an unexpectedly striking album cover. The inner sleeve photograph was taken at Dunluce Castle near to the Causeway.
In February 2010, Stefan Gates presented a half-hour BBC Radio 4 documentary entitled Stefan Gates’s Cover Story, about his part in the making of the album cover. Gates claimed in the documentary to have felt there was something sinister about the image, although his sister disagreed. He also admitted never having heard the album. The programme ended with Gates returning to Giant’s Causeway and listening to the album on a portable player, after which he claimed that a great weight had been lifted from him.
Like Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, neither the band’s name nor the album title was printed on the sleeve. However, manager Peter Grant did allow Atlantic Records to add a wrap-around paper title band to US and UK copies of the sleeve that had to be broken or slid off to access the record. This hid the children’s buttocks from general display, but still the album was either banned or unavailable in some parts of the Southern United States for several years.
The first CD release of the album in the 1980s did have the title logos printed on the cover itself.
In 1974, the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package. The cover was rated #6 on VH1’s 50 Greatest Album Covers in 2003.
Page has stated that the album cover was the second version submitted by Hipgnosis. The first, by artist Storm Thorgerson, featured an electric green tennis court with a tennis racquet on it. Furious that Thorgerson was implying their music sounded like a “racket”, the band fired him and hired Powell in his place. Thorgerson did, however, go on to produce the album artwork for Led Zeppelin’s subsequent albums Presence and In Through the Out Door.
The album art was referenced towards the end of the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure as the title characters used the album as a reference for the types of places they had visited during their travels in the story: “We visited many places that looked like the cover of the album “Houses of the Holy”.”
Release and critical reaction: This was Led Zeppelin’s final studio release on Atlantic Records before forming their own label, Swan Song Records, in 1974. It was also the only Led Zeppelin album that contained complete printed lyrics for each song.
Although intended for release in January 1973, delays in producing the album cover meant that it was not released until March, when the band was on its 1973 European tour. The album was promoted heavily before the commencement of Led Zeppelin’s subsequent North American Tour, ensuring that it had ascended the top of the American chart by the beginning of the tour. Because much of the album had been recorded almost a year previously, many of the songs which are featured on the album had already been played live by Led Zeppelin on their concert tours of North America, Japan, Europe and the UK in 1972–73.
Upon its release, the album received some mixed reviews, with much criticism from the music press being directed at the off-beat nature of tracks such as “The Crunge” and “D’yer Mak’er”. However, the album was very successful commercially, entering the UK chart at number one, while in America its 39-week run (two of them spent at #1) on the Billboard Top 40 was their longest since their third album.
In 2012, the album was ranked #148 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.