Today in 1979, after a two-year absence from the music scene (due to the death of Robert Plant’s son Karac), Zeppelin returned to the music scene with the release of their eighth studio album In Through The Out Door, so named because Jimmy Page said “That’s the hardest way to get back in”.
It was to be their last studio album as a band. The album was recorded near the end of 1978 at ABBA’s Polar Music studio in Stockholm and is musically dominated by John Paul Jones, who wrote six of the seven tracks. Page took Jones’ ideas and experimented with them to create a somewhat morose but keyboard-saturated album, with “All My Love” and “Fool in the Rain” becoming the most popular radio staples. The album was held back a bit for a release to coincide with the Knebworth shows, but in a rare lapse of marketing strategy the album missed the concert deadline and came out a week after the shows. Not that it made much difference; the album went to #1 in the UK in the first week and #1 in the US in the second week. It also instantly topped the charts in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.
The album’s sales were the most remarkable thing, considering the attitude of the music scene by this time. During Zep’s absence from music during the previous two years, punk rock had emerged; a central philosophy of which was its contrary stance to massively popular “stadium” bands like Led Zeppelin, who, it was claimed, were now obsolete in the new era. Bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols dubbed mega bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull “dinosaurs”.
[Note: Over 10 years after the Sex Pistols’ demise, their leader, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), debuted his new live ensemble group, called Public Image Limited (aka PIL). They opened their shows with a stunner: a grand, precise, and sweeping version of “Kashmir”. But that’s a story for another time…]
Nonetheless, In Through The Out Door sold over 2 million copies in the first 10 days of its release and generated massive store traffic in the US, as it was heralded as a savior to the then-lagging record industry here. The sales were so good that it resulted in Zep’s entire catalog (9 albums) climbing back into the Billboard top 200 during the weeks of Oct 27 and Nov 3. This beat the previous record for most albums on the chart, which was set in 1975 by… Led Zeppelin.
The jacket was designed by Hipgnosis (best known for their work on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon LP cover), and was originally issued in six different cover variations; each side of each cover variation was a view perspective of each of the six people in the bar scene. The actual bar was in New Orleans, but was rebuilt from photographs on a sound stage at Shepperton film studios in London for the cover shoot. The six cover variations are labeled A through F, and the letter for each is printed in white on the spine, at the far left. Additionally, there is a “wiped” spot of color on the sepia-toned cover photo. This is a reference to the little-known fact that if you wiped the black & white inner sleeve (original issues only) with a damp cloth, it would turn to color.
The original album (and some early reissues) came inserted in a brown paper bag. This was manager Peter Grant’s idea, so that no buyer would know which cover variation he was getting. The printing on the original issue bags is dark purple (almost black), and the printing on the reissue bags is light purple (almost pastel). It also proved that you could stuff a Zeppelin album into a brown paper sack and it would STILL sell…
By 1979 the music climate was changing, and Zeppelin wanted to be seen as paving new ground and not relying on past achievements. So Page encouraged the band to experiment. This resulted in an unexpected samba rhythm being employed on “Fool in the Rain” and various keyboard tones being used in an extended arrangement on “Carouselambra”. This was a new Led Zeppelin taking shape before the eyes of a fan base blinded by over-familiarity.
The recording sessions proved highly productive, with more than one album’s worth of material being generated. It was originally planned to issue two of the outtakes (“Wearing and Tearing” and “Darlene”) as a special single to be sold as a souvenir at the Knebworth shows. But time ran out on that idea and both tracks, plus another outtake titled “Ozone Baby”, later surfaced on the 1982 collection album Coda.
Certified Gold January 7, 1980
Certified Platinum January 7, 1980
Certified Platinum (x6) November 25, 1997