From the very moment Led Zeppelin burst out of 1960s London armed with a mentality and determination to overhaul the music industry, the band relentlessly pushed to create music that had never been heard before.
Comprised of vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and the pounding, uncompromising drummer John Bonham, Led Zeppelin had a fury to their sound that had never been heard before.
Often cited by many as one of the early pioneers of hard rock, building the forming foundations of what was to become heavy metal, Led Zep pushed the very hard-set boundaries of rock music in every direction possible. While the ideas of the band speak volumes alone, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that all four members were virtuoso experts in their respected fields, masters of the craft that, when combined, created a force like no other.
Now famed for iconic tracks such as ‘When the Levee Breaks’, ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Kashmir‘ and countless others, Led Zep continued to build on their reputation as one of the most technical and free-flowing outfits of all time. While their albums have gone on to become some of the best-selling in history, there remain a few nuggets hidden within their extensive discography that even the vastly experienced and experimental members have struggled with.
To drill down in more detail, the band members often spoke about their troubles with the relatively obscure number ‘Four Sticks’. Eventually appearing on the band’s untitled fourth album, ‘Four Sticks’ blighted numerous recording sessions during its creation. With its unusual time signature, the track required drummer Bonham to play with two sets of two drumsticks – four in total as the name would suggest – which proved to be a nightmare for timing.
Having only notably performed the song live once in their history, the band famously avoided ‘Four Sticks’ at all costs. John Paul Jones, who played a VCS3 synthesizer on the song, once explained their struggles: “It took him ages to get ‘Four Sticks.’ I seemed to be the only one who could actually count things in. Page would play something and [John would] say, ‘That’s great. Where’s the first beat? You know it, but you gotta tell us…’ He couldn’t actually count what he was playing. It would be a great phrase, but you couldn’t relate it to a count. If you think of ‘one’ being in the wrong place, you are completely screwed”.
To add a bit more context to its creation, engineer Andy Johns, who put a compressor on the drums during the recording process, succinctly, summarised ‘Four Sticks’ when he said: “It was a bastard to mix”.
You can listen to the only known recording of Led Zeppelin playing ‘Four Sticks’ live, below.