Most people can agree that, without Led Zeppelin, the music world would have been a sorely boring place. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham delivered a plethora of material that was as capable of setting the foundations of a new genre as it was blowing the whole damn house down.
On Led Zeppelin III, however, they split their audience and it remains to this day their most divisive record. The album is a gentle and cultured reimagining of their traditional sound and sees Zeppelin at perhaps their most daring.
Released on this day in 1970, the album ranks as one of the most controversial in the band’s canon. While much of what Led Zeppelin did is rightly revered to this day, the band’s third album has always had both its admirers and detractors within their fanbase. Some have simplified the album to simply “an acoustic record” while others see it as an inevitable fading of the band’s creative buzz following three intense years of making music. We, however, would argue it is one of the band’s best records for precisely this reason.
After Led Zeppelin had released their first two records, the hype surrounding the band’s third was almost impossible to withstand. Zeppelin had become the biggest band in the world and the decision to change direction musically would not land well.
It was to be expected, too, look at Bob Dylan’s decision to go electric and the heinous response that received. The group had just gone a long way to defining a brand new genre of heavy rock and just as they have got the whole world wanting more, they switch the delivery of their sound and move away from blues and rock and toward folk.
The previous albums had been flecked with elements of folk but now it had become the main priority and the whimsical potency was there for all to see. It may well have had something to do with the location in Bron-Yr-Aur. Much of the record was written in a remote cottage in Snowdonia with both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant needing time to recuperate from their extensive touring and excessive behaviours. They found respite in the hills but also a brand new sound along with it.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Snowdonia, you will know that the idea of picking up a lute and letting rip a folk song of the highest order is never too far from your mind when traversing the many different medieval sites that surround it. It played on Led Zeppelin’s sound too. It led the band to introduce almost every track with an inspirational folk line that always lands heavily on those track-skippers out there.
To do so would be to miss the point too. This album is Led Zeppelin showing their musical chops. They had already blasted away the cobwebs of the sixties while they were still in them and now they were ready to ditch being just a band and become icons. To do that, you need depth and to gain depth you need variances and it means the switch to folk wasn’t just warranted but wanted. It was a clear signifier to the world around them that Zeppelin wasn’t just ‘the biggest band on the planet’, a title they had only just stolen from The Beatles, they were artists too.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have some big thumping songs on there. In fact, it may well contain Led Zeppelin’s most deliberately heavy rock track in ‘Immigrant Song’. It also welcomes ‘Celebration Day’ and ‘Out on the Tiles’ as some rockier moments on the record. But it is safe to say, that the majority of the album turns its back on rock music.
The slow, bubbling blues of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ is intoxicating while the touching vulnerability of ‘That’s The Way’ adds yet more colour to the band. Completed with ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ it is hard to see this album is anything but a misunderstood masterpiece.
The album may never be a Led Zeppelin fan’s favourite but it should be rightly considered as a pivotal moment for Led Zeppelin becoming everyone’s favourite band, it was with this LP that they became icons.