Led Zeppelin: Untitled – [Record 58]
Yes i already have the record, it’s the first one i bought. But that one is a 2005 pressing for Brazil. This one is a 1971 pressing. I already intended to replace the old one.
The untitled fourth studio album by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, was released on 8 November 1971 on Atlantic Records. Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page, it was recorded between December 1970 and March 1971 at several locations, most prominently the Victorian house Headley Grange.
After the group’s 1970 album Led Zeppelin III received lukewarm reviews from critics, Page decided their fourth album would officially be untitled. This, along with the inner sleeve’s design featuring four symbols that represented each band member, led to the album being referred to variously as the Four Symbols logo, Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, Untitled, Runes, The Hermit, and ZoSo (which was derived from Page’s symbol). In addition to lacking a title, the original cover featured no band name, as the group wished to be anonymous and to avoid easy pigeonholing by the press.
Led Zeppelin IV was a commercial and critical success, producing many of the band’s most well-known songs, including “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”, “Going to California”, and the band’s signature song, “Stairway to Heaven”. The album is one of the best-selling albums worldwide at 36 million units, and with a 23-times platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America, it is the third-best-selling album in the United States. Writers and critics have regularly cited it on lists of rock’s greatest albums.
1. Black Dog.
2. Rock and Roll.
3. The Battle of Evermore.
4. Stairway to Heaven.
5. Misty Mountain Hop.
6. Four Sticks.
7. Going to California.
8. When the Levee Breaks.
Recording sessions: The album was initially recorded at Island Records’ newly opened Basing Street Studios, London, at the same time as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung in December 1970. Upon the suggestion of Fleetwood Mac, the band then moved to Headley Grange, a remote Victorian house in East Hampshire, England, to conduct additional recordings. Here they used the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Jimmy Page later recalled: “We needed the sort of facilities where we could have a cup of tea and wander around the garden and go in and do what we had to do.” This relaxed, atmospheric environment at Headley Grange also provided other advantages for the band. As is explained by Dave Lewis, “By moving into Headley Grange for the whole period of recording, many of the tracks [on the album] were made up on the spot and committed to tape almost there and then.”
Once the basic tracks had been recorded, the band later added overdubs at Island Studios, then took the completed master tapes to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles for mixing. However, the mix ultimately proved to be less than satisfactory, creating an unwanted delay in the album’s release. Further mixing had to be undertaken in London, pushing the final release date back by some months.
Three other songs from the sessions, “Down by the Seaside”, “Night Flight” and “Boogie with Stu” (featuring Rolling Stones cofounder/collaborator Ian Stewart on piano), did not appear on the album, but were included four years later on the double album Physical Graffiti.
Album title: After the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive, critical reaction Led Zeppelin III had received in late 1970, 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 without 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 Page’s words: “We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing.” In an interview he gave to The Times in 2010, he elaborated:
“It wasn’t easy. The record company were sort of insisting that the name go on it. There were eyes looking towards heaven if you like. It was hinted it was professional suicide to go out with an album with no title. The reality of it was that we’d had so many dour reviews to our albums along the way. At the time each came out it was difficult sometimes for the reviewers to come to terms with what was on there, without an immediate point of reference to the previous album. But the ethic of the band was very much summing up where we were collectively at that point in time. An untitled album struck me as the best answer to all the critics — because we knew the way that the music was being received both by sales and attendance at concerts.”
Releasing the album without an official title has made it difficult to consistently identify. While most commonly called Led Zeppelin IV, Atlantic Records catalogues have used the names Four Symbols and The Fourth Album. It has also been referred to as ZoSo (which Page’s symbol appears to spell), Untitled and Runes. Page frequently refers to the album in interviews as “the fourth album” and “Led Zeppelin IV”, and Plant thinks of it as “the fourth album, that’s it”. Not only does the album have no title, but there is no printing anywhere on the front or back cover, or even a catalogue number on the spine (at least on the original LP release).
The four symbols: The idea for each member of the band to choose a personal emblem for the cover was Page’s. In an interview he gave in 1977, he recalled:
“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.”
Page stated that he designed his own symbol and has never publicly disclosed any reasoning behind it. However, it has been argued that his symbol appeared as early as 1557 to represent Saturn. The symbol is sometimes referred to as “ZoSo”, though Page has explained that it was not in fact intended to be a word at all.
Bassist John Paul Jones’ symbol, which he chose from Rudolf Koch’s Book of Signs, is a single circle intersecting three vesica pisces (a triquetra). It is intended to symbolise a person who possesses both confidence and competence.
Drummer John Bonham’s symbol, the three interlocking (Borromean) rings, was picked by the drummer from the same book. It represents the triad of mother, father and child, but, inverted, it also happens to be the logo for Ballantine beer.
Singer Robert Plant’s symbol of a feather within a circle was his own design, being based on the sign of the supposed Mu civilisation.
There is also a fifth, smaller symbol chosen by guest vocalist Sandy Denny representing her contribution to the track “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. However, inverted this symbol is used by the British Ministry of Transport (MOT, now called Department of Transport) to show that the automobile service establishment outside of which it is displayed is licensed to carry out the mandatory test all British vehicles over 3 years old have to pass to remain road legal.
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. Page’s symbol was put onto one of his Marshall amplifiers, Bonham’s three interlinked circles adorned the outer skin of his bass drum, Jones had his symbol stencilled onto material which was draped across his Fender Rhodes keyboard, and 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 19th-century rustic oil painting on the front of the album was purchased from an antique shop in Reading, Berkshire by Plant. The painting was then juxtaposed and affixed to the internal, papered wall of the partly demolished suburban house for the photograph to be taken.
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.
However, regarding the meaning of the album cover, he has also stated:
“The cover was supposed to be something that was for other people to savour rather than for me to actually spell everything out, which would make the whole thing rather disappointing on that level of your own personal adventure into the music.”
The album cover was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of “Classic Album Cover” postage stamps issued in January 2010.
The inside illustration, entitled “The Hermit” and credited to Barrington Colby MOM, was influenced by the design of the card of the same name in the Rider-Waite tarot deck. This character was later portrayed by Page himself in Led Zeppelin’s concert film, The Song Remains the Same (1976). The inner painting is also referred to as View in Half or Varying Light and was sold at auction under that name in 1981.
Varied versions of the artwork within the album exist. Some versions depict a longhaired and bearded supplicant climbing at the base of the mountain, while some others do not show the six pointed star within the hermit’s lantern. If the inside cover of the album is held vertically against a mirror, a man’s face can be seen hidden in the rocks below the hermit. Speculation exists that the face is actually that of a black dog.
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 The Studio which dated from the late 19th century. He thought the lettering was interesting and arranged for someone to create a whole alphabet.
Release and reception: In the lead-up to the album’s release, a series of teaser advertisements depicting each symbol was placed in the music press. The album was a massive instant seller. It entered the UK chart at No. 10, rising to No.1 the following week and stayed on the chart for 77 weeks. In the US it stayed on the charts longer than any other Led Zeppelin album and became the biggest selling album in the US not to top the charts (peaking at #2). “Ultimately,” writes Lewis, “the fourth Zeppelin album would be the most durable seller in their catalogue and the most impressive critical and commercial success of their career”. At one point, it was ranked as one of the top five best-selling albums of all time.
Led Zeppelin IV received overwhelming praise from critics. In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Lenny Kaye called it the band’s “most consistently good” album yet and praised the diversity of the songs: “out of eight cuts, there isn’t one that steps on another’s toes, that tries to do too much all at once.” Billboard magazine called it a “powerhouse album” that has the commercial potential of the band’s previous three albums.
Robert Christgau, writing for The Village Voice, originally gave Led Zeppelin IV a lukewarm review, but later called the album a “genre masterpiece”, and wrote that it showed the band at the pinnacle of their songwriting. Even though he found their Medieval musical ideas typically limited, he said that it is “the definitive Led Zeppelin and hence heavy metal album.” In his review for Allmusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine credited the album for “defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock”, while “encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues”. In his album guide to heavy metal, Spin magazine’s Joe Gross cited Led Zeppelin IV as a “monolithic cornerstone”. BBC Music’s Daryl Easlea said that the album made the band a global success and effectively combined their third album’s folk ideas with their second album’s hard rock style. Led Zeppelin’s Rock Hall biography described the album as “a fully realized hybrid of the folk and hard-rock directions”. Music journalist Chuck Eddy named it the number one metal album of all time in his 1991 book Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe.
Awards and recognition: In 2000, Led Zeppelin IV was named the twenty-sixth greatest British album in a list by Q magazine. In 2002, Spin magazine’s Chuck Klosterman named it the second greatest metal album of all time and said that it was “the most famous hard-rock album ever recorded” as well as an album that unintentionally created metal—”the origin of everything that sounds, feels, or even tastes vaguely metallic”. In 2003, the album was ranked number 69 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. It was also named the seventh-best album of the 1970s in a list by Pitchfork Media.