In Through The Out Door (1979) Cover Variations

By GotLed and Neil Priddey ( All photos by Neil Priddey.

On August 15, 1979, after a two-year absence from the music scene (brought about by the unexpected death of Robert Plant’s son Karac in 1977), Led Zeppelin returned 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.”

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. 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 Canada. It 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 topped 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 six people in a bar scene. The actual bar, based on the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans, was built 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 each sepia-toned front cover photo. This is a reference to the little-known fact that if you wipe the black & white inner sleeve with a damp cloth, it will permanently turn to color (original issues only; reissues do not change color).

The original album (and some early reissues) came inserted in a brown paper bag. This was band 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. Later reissues omitted the bag and have a barcode on the back cover of the sepia jacket.

The six people in the bar are watching a man burning a “Dear John” letter he’s just received, and each of the sleeve images is a viewpoint from one of the six watcher’s perspectives. The six watchers are a heavy-set man in the main doorway, a blonde woman next to the bar, the bartender, an African-American woman laughing at the end of the bar, the piano player, and a brunette woman next to the jukebox.

The front of sleeve A is the view of the man at the door. The back is the view of the African-American woman laughing. The brunette by the jukebox is the only watcher not visible in this combination.

The front of sleeve B is a view of the blonde, and the back is from view of the piano player. All six watchers can be seen in this combination.

The front of sleeve C is the bartender’s view (notice we are moving clockwise around the bar), and the back is view of the brunette by the jukebox. Only three watchers are visible in this combination.

The front of sleeve D is the view of the African-American woman, the back is the view of the man at the door (which should therefore look the same as the front of sleeve A). Again, as per sleeve A, the brunette by the jukebox is not visible.

The front of sleeve E is now from the piano player’s view, while the back is view of the blonde (so, in theory, the same as the front of sleeve B). All six watchers are visible here.

The front of sleeve F has now moved around to the brunette by the jukebox and the back has once again come around to the view of the bartender (which is the same as the front of C). Only three watchers are visible in this combination.

An interesting concept. Hipgnosis artist Storm Thorgerson recalls 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 color and so make a contrast. This same brushstroke was like the swish of a wiper across a wet windshield, 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”.