Today in 1976 Led Zeppelin’s seventh album, Presence, was released. Forced by Robert Plant’s recent car accident in Greece to cancel a planned August 1975 world tour, the band used the downtime to write and record a new album. The result was Presence, often dubbed the “forgotten” Led Zeppelin album, due to its arguably less-memorable material. However, Presence remains an underrated album whose relatively simple songs are driven by powerful performances. But long term, it was not one of Zep’s biggest sellers. Although it did ship gold in the UK and hit #1 in the US within two weeks of release, it got overshadowed somewhat by the late 1976 release of The Song Remains the Same (both film and soundtrack), and many fans view Presence as just something of a “placeholder” release in the band’s catalog.
The album was completed on Nov 27, the day before Thanksgiving. Supposedly, in a call to Swan Song records the next day, Plant suggested naming the album Thanksgiving. As it turned out (“thankfully”), meetings with sleeve designers Hipgnosis dictated otherwise. Hipgnosis felt that an incredibly powerful force and presence surrounded the group, and pushed for a sleeve that would reflect that. The bizarre result was a series of ten Life magazine prints of everyday events, mostly involving conservative-looking families, interrupted by this “presence” in the form of a mysterious black obelisk called The Object. It was inserted photographically into the various images on the sleeve. Swan Song actually copyrighted The Object in 1976, and promotion for the album centered around it; Swan Song sent out a limited edition of 1,000 three-dimensional plaster models of it. Today those models (originals) routinely sell for well over $1,000.
See my page on The Object: https://gotledblog.wordpress.com/the-presence-object/
Jimmy Page’s production and dominant guitar style (this is the only studio album without any keyboards in the songs) have an urgency and passion that reflect the somewhat troubled period the group was going through at the time. They had just finished a tour, Plant was injured, and they were all homesick. There’s a lot of aggression evident here…
Six of the album’s seven tracks are Page and Plant compositions, written in Malibu, CA where Plant had been recuperating. After a month of pre-production at Hollywood’s SIR rehearsal studios, they were ready to record. Plant’s ankle was still in a cast when they arrived at Musicland Studios in Munich, where they rushed the 7-track album together in only 18 days.
Achilles Last Stand – Inspired by a trip to Morocco, this is the third longest studio recording released by the band. This 10-minute track alone is worth the price of admission, led by its unwavering groove, a particularly haunting Plant vocal, and several show stopping give-and-take segments between Page and Bonham.
For Your Life – This track was made up quickly in the studio, and features the first use of Page’s 1962 Lake Placid Blue Fender Strat (later to be used with The Firm). Plant’s bitter lyrics hint at disillusionment with certain aspects of the rock lifestyle. Not instantly appealing, the song seeps into the consciousness with repeated listening.
Royal Orleans – The title refers to the Royal Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, a favorite stop for the band when they were touring the area. The lyrics are about a band member (Jones, supposedly) waking up in bed there with a drag queen. The discovery ultimately resulted in the bed being set on fire and a visit from the local fire department.
Nobody’s Fault But Mine – This shares its title and some lyrics with Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 song of the same name, but Zep’s arrangement is substantially different. A great throwback to some of their earlier blues-inspired performances, with some great Page guitar and Plant harmonica. This one rocks.
Candy Store Rock – A basic 50s-style rock-n-roll groove with Plant putting the lyrics together from fragments of dimly-remembered Elvis records. Heavy use of echo gives the guitars and vocals an authentic 1950s flavor.
Hots On For Nowhere – This vaguely swing-ish and quirky studio creation has Page on the blue Strat again and Plant taking a swipe at his friends (manager Peter Grant and Page) in the lyrics. This merry outing has lots of sharp stops for guitar breaks and superb drumming.
Tea For One – This relaxed blues number winds up the proceedings with a rather low-key exit. Plant reflects on the post-accident period, and has said that this track and “Candy Store Rock” reflect themes of loneliness, pain and hurt. It tries to recapture the spirit of their earlier “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, but doesn’t quite make it.
No details of surplus material from this album have emerged. It’s probably safe to assume that, given only three weeks’ studio time, little other that what was released was actually recorded.
Certified Gold April 1, 1976
Certified Platinum (x3) November 25, 1997