Everything about Led Zeppelin III splits opinion within their devout fanbase. While many see it as another triumphant cog in their machine, it isn’t a view shared by everyone. Even the cover art is a bone of contention, with the Led Zeppelin lead guitarist Jimmy Page publically sharing his dismay at the sleeve.
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham delivered a plethora of material that both set the foundations of a new genre and burnt everything down in their vicinity with a callous rage. However, on Led Zeppelin III, they changed things up and offered up a more sunken sound than anything we’d heard before from the group. They decided that resting on their laurels wasn’t an option, and even though they could have stayed in the heavy rock lane they had spent years forging, Led Zeppelin wanted to express a side to themselves that nobody knew existed.
However, the time they poured into the album to make sure that they cooked it to perfection meant that the cover art was a mere afterthought in their creative process. Instead of keeping things in-house, they handed over the freedom to an old associate of Jimmy Page’s, Zacron, aka Surrey born artist Richard Drew. The two first met when Page while studying at Kingston College of Art in 1963.
Zacron later recalled how their friendship flourished: “Jimmy visited my studio, and in his home, we discussed art and music. We decorated our guitars with experimental materials and designs, I made liquid projections using hot oils and strobes linked to the music of Jimi Hendrix.”
The eventual artwork is reminiscent of a tattoed arm with little sketches and doodles across it, then Led Zeppelin appear in bubble writing on a cream background. The result is messy and doesn’t really provide an insight into the record, but as somebody who personally knew Zacron, Page should have expected a sleeve as wacky and out there as the one he received.
“Each component became a formal abstract element, interacting with all the images to make a unified whole,” Zacron’s website states. “The work created a surrealist environment, changing relative concepts of scale and subject matter. The square format became a visual theatre in which images could appear to move and have their own energy, some moved beyond the boundary.”
While Zacron held the sleeve in high regard, Page has a different perspective. “A disappointment,” the former Led Zeppelin guitarist told Brad Tolinski of Guitar World in ’93 when the album cover topic came up.
“It got to the point where I had to say, ‘Look, I have got to have this thing,'” Page told Guitar World. “I was not happy with the final result — I thought it looked teeny-bopperish.
“We were on top of a deadline, so, of course, there was no way to make any radical changes,” Page recalled to the publication. “There are some silly bits — little chunks of corn and nonsense like that.”
Despite Page later opening up about his dissatisfaction with the artwork, Zacron revealed to Classic Rock that after the guitarist first saw it, he phoned him up from New York, saying, “I think it is fantastic”.
As cover art goes, Led Zeppelin III is attention-grabbing and in line with trends of 1970. Still, Jimmy Page is a perfectionist, and he had his paws over everything associated with Led Zeppelin — the artwork was as vital to him as the songs. For Led Zeppelin IV, Page made sure that the group was back in the driving seat to cover art.