Led Zeppelin History – April 2

Today in 1975 the US branch of Swan Song Records released the Led Zeppelin single “Trampled Under Foot” / “Black Country Woman”, from their Physical Graffiti album. This was the eighth of only ten singles ever released by Zeppelin’s label in the US.

Trampled Under Foot – This shocked a lot of fans, as Zeppelin had never done anything like this before; it seems they just threw caution to the wind and rocked out. The lyrics are based on Robert Johnson’s 1936 “Terraplane Blues”, at least in the sense that they use the vocabulary of motor cars as a sexual metaphor. Special promotional UK singles of this track were pressed to help promote Zeppelin’s May 1975 Earl’s Court concerts.

Black Country WomanAlways on the lookout for unusual recording locations, Zep recorded this acoustic country-style number in the back garden of Mick Jagger’s home (Stargroves). The take was nearly shelved when a plane flew overhead, but Plant tells the engineer to leave it in (the exchange can be heard at the beginning of the song).


Led Zeppelin History – March 31

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.

Sleeve Notes:
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/


Album Notes:
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.

Unreleased Material:
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

Led Zeppelin History – March 30

Today in 1995, during a Page-Plant concert at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan, an assassination attempt was made on Jimmy Page. After finding “religion” and deciding the music was “satanic,” Lance Cunningham, a 23-year-old self-described former Led Zeppelin fan, attended the Page-Plant concert and tried to stab Page with a Swiss Army knife. However, his attack was thwarted by fans and Palace security, who stopped Cunningham before he got to the stage. “He said he was going to ‘off Jimmy Page,’ “ Police Chief John Dalton said.  Page, oblivious to the action around him, continued to play Kashmir onstage, undaunted.


Led Zeppelin History – March 28

Today in 1969 Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album was released in the UK. Because Zeppelin had signed with the US label Atlantic Records, their album had already been released in the states back on January 12 of that year. But many people think that the UK release was the first issue, most likely because Led Zeppelin was a British band. Indeed, near-mint UK pressings of their first album commonly fetch over $1,000 at auction these days. But this is due mainly to the fact that the sound quality on the UK pressings is superior (to hear audiophiles tell it, anyway) to that of the US pressings; UK vinyl was heavier and of better quality, and it generally produced a better sound.

For those of you who are vinyl collectors, here’s what to look for:
The first US pressing (Jan 1969) has a pink and tan label, as opposed to the green and red label that was ultimately used on all remaining first and re-issues. This pink/tan Atco-style label was a mistake by Atlantic Records and it was soon withdrawn, as the plan was to put Zeppelin on their primary Atlantic label. These pink/tan label pressings commonly fetch at least a few hundred dollars in near-mint condition. The catalog number for both of these pressings is SD-8216.


The first UK pressing (March 1969) has a red and purple label and states “Under licence from Atlantic Recording Corps, U.S.A.” on it. In addition, the first UK pressing can also be identified by the turquoise lettering on the jacket. These jackets were available for only the first few weeks after release (the lettering was later changed to red) and are highly sought-after collectibles today. The catalog number for this pressing is 588171. Later the UK label colors were changed to green and red, just like the US pressings.


Led Zeppelin History – March 23

Today in 1973 Led Zeppelin’s fifth album, Houses of the Holy, was released. The first Zeppelin album to have a complete title, it’s a dedication to the many fans that came to the various venues Zep played, which they dubbed the “houses of the holy”. It had been recorded almost a year earlier, and by release time much of the material had already been tested on audiences across the US, UK, Japan and Europe during their 1972-1973 tours. It was first set for release in January, when it was known as Led Zeppelin V, and then again in February, but sleeve design delays pushed it back to March, by which time the band had settled on a real title.

Despite being panned a bit by critics (Rolling Stone called it “a dose of pabulum”), it certainly seemed a hit with the fans: On May 4 in Atlanta the band attracted 49,000 people at a concert at Braves Stadium, while the next day in Tampa they drew 56,800 into Tampa Stadium, giving them the distinction of attracting the largest audience ever for a single-act performance, beating the previous record held by the Beatles for their 1965 Shea Stadium show. It was a record that Zeppelin themselves would top four years later in the Pontiac Silverdome.

Sleeve Notes:
The gatefold sleeve was designed by Hipgnosis, who had long provided striking album sleeve designs for Pink Floyd and others. The initial design concept involved recreating the “zoso” logo on the Nazca plains of Peru, but that idea was scrapped for one based on the ending of the 1953 science fiction novel Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. The ending involves all the children of the earth climbing towards a special pinnacle, from which to depart for another world.

The concept was photographed at a natural basalt rock column formation in Northern Ireland called the Giant’s Causeway. Hipgnosis shot two children (real-life brother and sister Stefan and Samantha Gates) climbing naked up the rocks. Originally intended to be shot in color, 10 solid days of rain forced them to ultimately go with all black & white photos on the 11th day, and then hand-tint them later in the studio.
When finally finished, Jimmy Page still had to fight with his Atlantic Records label for release, as this album, like the fourth, had no cover identification of the band or record label. They settled for a paper band around the midsection, stating the name of the group and the album title. Some early versions also had a sticker on the shrinkwrap. The paper band served a dual purpose in the US, as it was also designed to cover Samantha’s naked rear end. Even with the paper band though, the album was still banned in some Bible-belt areas of the country for a few years…

Album Notes:
Houses of the Holy ushered in “the golden middle period of Zeppelin supremacy”; at its release, Zep were the most popular live band in the world. Houses is the only Zep album to include the entire lyric set (printed on its inner sleeve), but the title track itself did not appear on vinyl until 1975’s Physical Graffiti. Initial recording took place in 1972 at Mick Jagger’s Stargroves mansion in Berkshire, using the Stones’ mobile recording studio. Overdubs were added in May that year at Olympic Studios (London) and Electric Lady Studios (New York). This then became the first Zep album to employ more overdubs than ensemble recording, giving it an orchestrated, progressive rock feel. It was also the first Zep album to contain no material with a source from outside the band itself.

The Song Remains the Same – Originally an instrumental titled “The Overture”, Robert Plant added lyrics to Page’s 12-string electric riffs to give it a more dynamic feel. This is also the title of their 1976 concert film, and the song plays there during Plant’s fantasy sequence in the film.

The Rain Song – The “strings” on this song are actually John Paul Jones playing a Mellotron. The opening two chords are similar to those in the first line of George Harrison’s “Something”, allegedly in tribute to him. Indeed, the song was supposedly inspired by Harrison, who had recently told John Bonham “The problem with your band is that you don’t do any ballads”. Plant has said he considers this to be his best overall vocal performance.

Over the Hills and Far Away – Originally titled “Many Many Times”, Page and Plant wrote this during the Led Zeppelin III album recording sessions at Bron-Yr-Aur in 1970. It was released in the US as the first single from Houses, with “Dancing Days” as the B-side. In live performances Plant frequently followed the lyrics “pocketful of gold” with “Acapulco Gold” (a type of marijuana). This can be heard on the live DVD How the West Was Won.

The Crunge – The title is a British expression meaning “the groove”. Credited to all four band members, this one evolved out of a jam session at Stargroves. Page uncharacteristically plays a Fender Strat here, supposedly to give a lighter, less-distorted sound. Plant pays homage to James Brown at the end when he asks “Has anybody seen the bridge?”, referencing the song where Brown tells his band to “take it to the bridge”.

Dancing Days – One of Zep’s more traditional rock songs, this track was inspired by an Indian tune that Page and Plant heard while traveling in Bombay. Features slide guitar from Page, Jones on organ and solid drumming from Bonham. For Stone Temple Pilots fans (you know who you are): STP did a cover of this song, found on the 1995 album Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin.

D’yer Mak’er – Pronounced roughly like “Jamaica”, all four band members share composer credit on this mock reggae-style track. Page has described this one as a cross between reggae and the 1958 number “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson. Plant wanted this issued as a single in the UK, and Atlantic went so far as to distribute promotional copies to DJs there (collector’s items now), but it was ultimately never officially released in the UK.

No Quarter – Jones said in a 1997 interview that he created this while sitting at the piano and using various effects. He also plays synth piano and synth bass on it. In production Page slowed the tape down by a quarter-tone to give it a thicker, more intense mood. It became a centerpiece onstage, evolving into a showcase for Jones; one version in Seattle in 1977 lasted 36 minutes.

The Ocean – Refers to the sea of fans seen from the stage at Led Zeppelin concerts. The count-off at the beginning is Bonham, referring to the previous takes: “We’ve done four already but now we’re steady, and then they went: 1, 2, 3, 4”. The song also includes an a-cappella section, where Plant harmonizes with himself.

Unreleased Material:
Four tracks are known to have been leftover from the recording sessions. The title track itself and “Black Country Woman” would later emerge on 1975’s Physical Graffiti. A number called “Walter’s Walk” would later appear on 1982’s Coda. The last number, an instrumental known as “Slush”, supposedly still remains in the can. However many Zeppelin authorities now believe this track became “The Rain Song”.

Certified Gold April 10, 1973
Certified Platinum December 12, 1990
Certified Diamond (11 million) November 15, 1999

Led Zeppelin History – March 21

Today in 1969 Led Zeppelin filmed their only live TV appearance in the UK, on BBC 2’s How Late It Is. They were a last-minute replacement and they performed “Communication Breakdown”. No longer in the vaults, the tape is believed to have been erased.

Also today, in 1970, a Led Zeppelin concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, BC drew nearly 19,000 attendees, breaking the previous record there held by the Beatles. This show, only the second ever Led Zeppelin concert to be bootlegged, can be found (although not the complete concert) under the bootleg titles Mudslide (on vinyl) and Ultimate Mudslide (on CD).

Setlist: We’re Gonna Groove, I Can’t Quit You Baby, Dazed and Confused, Heartbreaker, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Organ solo/Thank You, What Is and What Should Never Be, Moby Dick, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown, Whole Lotta Love.