Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin III (1970)


This record came as quite a surprise in 1970, and though it confounded both critics and fans alike at the time it holds up immaculately well today.

After the success of Led Zeppelin II, Page and Plant took some time off, retreating to a remote cottage in the Wales countryside called Bron yr aur. Much of the album was written by the duo in that relaxed setting, and as a result the mellower music is less reliant on Page’s heavy riffing and is more eclectic as Plant’s hippie idealism flowered. Largely shedding their overblown reputation as blues copycats, many of these songs are acoustic-based, as the band displays a dazzling versatility and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of various musical forms.

Not for the first time, “Immigrant Song” started the album off with a classic short rocker, one that’s highlighted by Plant’s memorable siren calls and Viking-inspired lyrics (Zep could transport you within their songs like few others). The exotic, atmospheric, string-flavored “Friends,” beautifully arranged by Jones and featuring impressive acoustic fingerpicking from Page, then showed the ever-increasing influence of Eastern music in Led Zeppelin’s songs, while “Celebration Day” and “Out On The Tiles” are simple but extremely effective straight ahead riff rockers that were more in line with what fans expected.

One thing that’s interesting to note is that Plant’s voice on these songs (and “Gallows Pole”) seems more shrill and high-pitched than in the past, which takes some getting used to, though it fits these songs. Anyway, this album’s centerpiece song comes in the form of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” a slowly smoldering, at times explosive blues epic that’s highlighted by one of Page’s most expressive guitar solos, moody organ from Jones, and a wonderfully weary vocal from Plant. Actually, the whole band shines on what is arguably the band’s greatest slow blues, though again lyrical similarities between this song and Moby Grape’s “Never” led to more charges of thievery (though again I’d argue that the song’s greatness had very little to do with Moby Grape).

Elsewhere, “Gallows Pole” offers a brilliantly frenzied take on a traditional folk tune originally popularized by Leadbelly. This version is altogether different, as it is totally transformed by the alchemic magic of this superior foursome; the song features a wonderfully exciting buildup as various instruments (including banjo and mandolin) enter the fray for its exciting, jam-packed finish. Arguably even better are “Tangerine” and “That’s The Way,” a pair of lovely acoustic ballads which proved once and for all that Led Zeppelin were about far more than pure power.

The short former song had its genesis from back in Page’s Yardbirds days and is perhaps most notable for Plant’s multi-tracked vocals, while the long-ish latter track, the third in a row to feature pedal steel guitar, has no drums at all and features one of Plant’s finest lyrics. Next up is “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” (apparently the band forgot the “r” in “Yr”), a playful showcase for Page’s vigorous acoustic guitar strumming that’s representative of the album’s rural, homespun charm, even if it is a minor track in the grand scheme of things.

Still, that one’s a masterpiece compared to “Hats Off To Roy Harper,” which meekly ends the album with one of the band’s weakest efforts. Based on Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” and named in tribute to the cult musician who they admired and befriended, the band should have instead closed the album with the great “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” which was released in the U.S. as a b-side to “Immigrant Song” at around the same time.

Oh well, it’s hard to complain too much about one duff track among ten, even though many did complain about the album at the time despite the fact that it was the band’s most consistent effort yet, though on the whole its peaks don’t rise quite as high as its predecessors. Still, time has only been kind to Led Zeppelin III, whose stature has steadily grown over the years.

In fact, many of these songs were featured prominently during the Page and Plant reunion tour of 1994, and this often-overlooked gem is especially enjoyable because these songs aren’t played constantly on classic rock radio.


May 25, 2013 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin III |

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