Today in 1970, Led Zeppelin III was released. Easily one of 1970’s most highly-anticipated albums, Led Zeppelin III shocked fans with acoustic songs like “Friends”, “Gallows Pole”, “That’s The Way” and “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. The diverse content of the album, with its accent more on acoustic arrangements, confused both fans and critics alike. It was a move into new territory, and as usual, the band was ahead of the field. But hindsight would prove that this change in direction was a natural progression for the group. For those diehard fans, songs like “Immigrant Song”, “Celebration Day” and “Out On the Tiles” were a familiar sound. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, a blues tune that was recorded live in the studio, is a masterpiece. This is definitely one of Led Zeppelin’s most underrated albums.
The elaborate gatefold sleeve (which held up the album’s release for two months) was basically Jimmy Page’s idea. It had a rotating wheel inside a die-cut cover with 10 holes in it. When the wheel was rotated, different images were revealed in the holes. According to Page, it was supposed to reflect the album’s bucolic ambiance by mimicking an annual crop rotation calendar. But the artist got carried away and splattered the jacket with an assortment of psychedelic images and objects, including targets, butterflies and stars. The only objects with a direct connection to the band are a zeppelin, a German bomber and a car with the initials JP on the side. Page was not happy with the final result, but it was delivered too late to change it. He thought it ended up too teeny-bopperish. “There are some silly bits – little chunks of corn and nonsense like that,” Page said in a 1996 interview.
Several of the songs on the album came out of a working holiday taken by Page and Robert Plant at Bron-yr-Aur, a small country cottage in Snowdonia, Wales. The words mean “golden breast” in Welsh, and refer to the way the morning suns fills the valley surrounding the cottage. It must have been quite an influence on the duo, as the inner gatefold sleeve states “Credit must be given to Bron-yr-Aur, a small derelict cottage in South Snowdonia, for painting a somewhat forgotten picture of true completeness which acted as an incentive to some of the musical statements”.
All US and UK pressings (vinyl) have snippets from mystic Aleister Crowley’s book The Book Of The Law etched into the vinyl trail-off areas (Page was fascinated by Crowley). The inscriptions are either “So Mote Be It” (“So Mote It Be” on UK pressings) or “Do What Thou Wilt”, and the album side placement appears to vary by where the disc was pressed. On US pressings the text is neatly written in a script font, and on UK pressings it’s a larger block-style print. Other international pressings have no inscriptions at all, with the exception of the Lebanese pressing. In a similar vein, original first pressings of the “Immigrant Song” single have the inscription “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law” etched into in the trail-off on side 1.
Immigrant Song – The lyrics reflected Plant’s continuing interest in things Celtic and mystical. The piece begins with an attention-grabbing hiss (an echo unit feedback) before kicking in to Page’s and John Bonham’s hammering intensity. The riff turned out to be one of Zeppelin’s most powerful.
Friends – After some interesting studio chatter, the band breaks into acoustic guitar over a conga drum rhythm, and a very compelling string arrangement develops. There’s a synthesizer added on the outtro, which provides a lead-in to the next track. The synth drone actually covers a production mistake, where the original intro to Celebration Day was damaged on the master tape.
Celebration Day – This advanced piece of atypical Zeppelin is one of their less-famous items, but has a modern, contemporary sound to it. The simple rough-hewn back beat and trance-like mood provide a vehicle for Plant’s happy tour of New York.
Since I’ve Been Loving You – This stands head and shoulders above everything else on the album; a landmark in rock recording. It’s very moving on several levels, from Bonham’s squeaking bass pedal to Page’s creative solo. The bluesy mood seems almost at odds with the rest of the album’s folksy feel. This is because it was originally intended to be included on Led Zeppelin II, but was left off in favor of “Whole Lotta Love”.
Out On The Tiles – Bonham was the inspiration for this song, whose title is British slang for “a night on the town” (something Bonham had a lot of experience with). It derived from a ditty he used to sing on the way to gigs; Page turned the tune into a riff. It’s Page that can be heard saying “stop!” in this song, reminding himself to stop playing.
Gallows Pole – This is a traditional folk tune based on work by American blues singer Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter). Page plays banjo (his first ever attempt), 6 and 12 acoustic and electric Gibson; Jones adds mandolin and bass. An advance copy of the single was released to radio stations prior to the release of the album, and clocked in with an additional 11-second outtro from the final album version.
Tangerine – Page plays pedal steel guitar on this composition left over from his Yardbirds days. Plant duets with himself on the double-tracked vocal. Jones reveals his arranger’s craft and skill at sustaining interest, as the pieces doesn’t stop changing tack for more than a few bars at a time. A sweet and way too brief song.
That’s the Way – With fine melodies and lofty sentiments, this carried the working title of The Boy Next Door. The lyrics were influenced in part by the unrest Plant witnessed on their spring 1970 US travels. Steeped in poetry, it unfolds against a ruch of acoustic guitar and a horn-like electric solo from Page.
Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp – This was written in honor of Plant’s pet dog Strider (Aragorn’s alter-ego in Lord of the Rings). It has its origins in an electric arrangement, titled Jennings Farm Blues, tried out at the beginning of the album recording sessions. Bonham played spoons and castanets on the recording, Jones played an acoustic five-string fretless bass, and Page’s 1971 Martin D-28 was tuned to open F.
Hats Off To (Roy) Harper – A Page/Plant jam loosely based on Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em On Down, this features some of Page’s finest bottleneck guitar work. It’s a tribute to Roy Harper, an English folk musician who toured with (but didn’t perform with) Zeppelin, and with whom Page and other Zeppelin members have worked, recorded, and toured. He is probably best known for his lead vocal on Pink Floyd’s Have A Cigar. A rather low-key way to end such a crucial album…
Jimmy Page revealed at the time of Led Zeppelin III’s release that they had 17 tracks recorded for the album. Of the outstanding seven out-takes, four are fairly easy to identify: “Hey Hey What Can I Do” was officially issued as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”; “Down By The Seaside” and the instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur”, both written at Bron-yr-Aur cottage, would eventually appear on 1975’s Physical Graffiti; and “Poor Tom” would later surface on 1982’s Coda.
Of the remaining out-takes, Page talked about an all-piano piece by Jones being left over. This may have been an early version of “No Quarter”.
A backing track known as “Jennings Farm Blues” was also laid down – the tune of which formed the basis of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”. Jennings Farm was the name of Plant’s farmhouse home at the time. Jimmy also revealed that “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” had been taken from “a whole tape of us bashing out different blues things”. This was a six-minute performance with a similar backing track to “Hats Off”, and featured snippets of “Feel So Bad”, “Fixing to Die” and “That’s Alright Mama”.
Lastly, an alternative take of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” also exists from these sessions.
Notable album variations:
Japanese 3rd pressing (1973) came with a poster and lyric insert.
Yugoslavian pressing (1975) has Celebration Day and Hats Off erroneously switched on the vinyl; mispressing.
Spanish 2007 re-issue on picture-disc vinyl, with no outer sleeve (unofficial release).
Certified Gold October 8, 1970
Certified Platinum (x6) May 3, 1999