Led Zeppelin: In Through the Out Door (SDE) – [Record 210]
In Through the Out Door is the eighth studio album by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, and their final album of entirely new material. It was recorded over a three-week period in November and December 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden, and released by Swan Song Records on 15 August 1979. In Through the Out Door was the band’s eighth and final studio release to reach the top of the charts in America, and was the last released by the band before the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980.
The album’s title reflects the personal turmoil that band members had been going through before and during its recording. For example, frontman Robert Plant and his wife had gone through a serious car accident, and their young son, Karac Plant, tragically died from a stomach illness. All four band members also felt weary of dealing with record company people and other associates. Despite this, the release wound up being a huge commercial success, particularly in the United States (sitting at the #1 slot on Billboard’s chart in just its second week on the chart).
1. In the Evening.
2. South Bound Saurez.
3. Fool in the Rain.
4. Hot Dog.
6. All My Love.
7. I’m Gonna Crawl.
1. In the Evening.
2. Southbound Piano.
3. Fool in the Rain.
4. Hot Dog.
5. The Epic.
6. The Hook.
Background: The album was named by the group to describe its recent struggles amidst the death of Robert Plant’s son Karac in 1977, and the taxation exile the band took from the UK. The exile resulted in the band being unable to tour on British soil for over two years, and trying to get back into the public mind was therefore like “trying to get in through the ‘out’ door.”
In contrast to previous Led Zeppelin albums, In Through the Out Door features much greater influence on the part of bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and vocalist Robert Plant, and relatively less from drummer John Bonham and guitarist Jimmy Page. Two songs from the album—”South Bound Saurez” and “All My Love”—were the only two original Led Zeppelin songs that Jimmy Page had no part in writing. With the exception of “Darlene,” a boogie-woogie based song credited to all band members (which was eventually released on the 1982 album, Coda), Bonham did not receive writing credits for any of the songs recorded at Polar Studios. This diminished input by Page and Bonham is attributed to the two band members often not showing up on time at the recording studio, with Bonham struggling with alcoholism and Page battling heroin addiction. As Jones said, “there were two distinct camps by then, and we [Plant and I] were in the relatively clean one.”
Many of the songs were consequently put together by Plant and Jones during the day, with Page and Bonham adding their parts late at night. According to Jones, this was:
“Mainly because I had a new toy. I had this big new keyboard. And Robert and I just got to rehearsals early, basically. With Zeppelin writing, if you came up with good things, and everybody agreed that they were good things, they got used. There was no formula for writing. So Robert and I, by the time everybody turned up for rehearsals, we’d written three or four songs. So we started rehearsing those immediately, because they were something to be getting on with.”
Following the recording sessions at Polar Studios, the album was mixed at Page’s personal studio at his home in Plumpton. “Wearing and Tearing”, “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” were recorded during sessions for this album, but were dropped because of space constraints. All later appeared on Coda.
Album sleeve design: The original album featured an unusual gimmick: the album had an outer sleeve which was made to look like a plain brown paper bag (reminiscent of similarly packaged bootleg album sleeves with the title rubber-stamped on it), and the inner sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would become permanently fully coloured. There were also six different sleeves featuring a different pair of photos (one on each side), and the external brown paper sleeve meant that it was impossible for record buyers to tell which sleeve they were getting. (There is actually a code on the spine of the album jacket which indicated which sleeve it was—this could sometimes be seen while the record was still sealed.) The pictures all depicted the same scene in a bar (in which a man burns a Dear John letter), and each photo was taken from the separate point of view of someone who appeared in the other photos. The walls are covered with thousands of yellowed business cards and dollar bills. The photo session in a London studio was meant to look like a re-creation of the Old Absinthe House, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The album artwork was designed by Hipgnosis. Storm Thorgerson recalls the design in his book Eye of the Storm:
“The sepia quality was meant to evoke a non-specific past and to allow the brushstroke across the middle to be better rendered in colour and so make a contrast. This self same brushstroke was like the swish of a wiper across a wet windscreen, like a lick of fresh paint across a faded surface, a new look to an old scene, which was what Led Zeppelin told us about their album. A lick of fresh paint, as per Led Zeppelin, and the music on this album… It somehow grew in proportion and became six viewpoints of the same man in the bar, seen by the six other characters. Six different versions of the same image and six different covers.”
“Did you ever notice you could affect the dust jacket by putting water on it? If you applied spittle to it or a bit of water, it would change colour, like a children’s colouring book we based it on. But we didn’t tell anybody. I don’t think Zeppelin told anybody, either.”
In 1980, Hipgnosis were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package for In Through the Out Door.
Release and critical reaction: The album was intended to be released before the band’s twin concerts at Knebworth in 1979, but production delays meant that it was released shortly after their performances at this event. Plant jokingly referred to the delays at times during the performance on 4 August.
Despite receiving poor reviews, the album went to No. 1 on Billboard’s chart in its second week on the chart. On this album’s release, Led Zeppelin’s entire catalogue made the Billboard 200 between the weeks of 23 October and 3 November 1979, an unprecedented feat. The album remained on the US top spot for seven weeks and sold three million copies by the end of September 1979. It is also the Led Zeppelin album that has been most weeks on the top of the charts (tied along with Led Zeppelin II). To date, the album has sold six million copies in the US.
Following its release, Plant, Page and Bonham all expressed reservations about the album. In 1990 Plant stated:
“In Through The Out Door wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but at least we were trying to vary what we were doing, for our own integrity’s sake. Of all the [Led Zeppelin] records, it’s interesting but a bit sanitised because we hadn’t been in the clamour and chaos for a long time. In ’77, when I lost my boy, I didn’t really want to go swinging around—”Hey hey mama say the way you move” didn’t really have a great deal of import any more. In Through The Out Door is more conscientious and less animal.”
In a 1998 Guitar World magazine interview, Page was asked about the paradigm shift of the album’s composition and style:
GW: I thought maybe you were losing your enthusiasm for the band.
Page: Never. Never. In fact, Bonzo [i.e. drummer John Bonham] and I had already started discussing plans for a hard-driving rock album after that. We both felt that In Through the Out Door was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All My Love”. I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought, ‘That is not us. That is not us.’ In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted to pursue that direction in the future.
In the same interview Page explained that in juxtaposition to the previous Presence album, John Paul Jones was inspired to create new material from his recently purchased Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer, and he was “…working closely with Robert, which was something that had not happened before.”
Page said in 2004, “we wanted, after In Through the Out Door, to make something hard-hitting and riff-based again. Of course, we never got to make that album.” He is also quoted as saying “It wasn’t the most comfortable album. I think it was very transitional… a springboard for what could have been.
On the other hand, former road manager Richard Cole stated in his book Stairway to Heaven during his time with the band, that after John Bonham sat through and listened to ‘All My Love’, he declared that it was the best song in which he ever heard Robert sing.
In Through the Out Door was Led Zeppelin’s final album to be released while the band was together. Drummer John Bonham died the next year on 25 September 1980.
2015 reissue: A remastered version of In Through the Out Door, along with Presence and Coda were reissued on 31 July 2015. The reissue comes in six formats: a standard CD edition, a deluxe two-CD edition, a standard LP version, a deluxe two-LP version, a super deluxe two-CD plus two-LP version with a hardback book, and as high resolution 96k/24-bit digital downloads. The deluxe and super deluxe editions feature bonus material containing alternative takes and previously unreleased songs, “Southbound Piano”, “The Epic”, “The Hook”, and “Blot”. The reissue was released with a grayscale version of the original album’s artwork as its bonus disc’s cover. A replica of the brown bag and the colourable line drawing are included in this edition.