When deeply entrenched in the discussion of the truly classic albums, the same names often come up. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Nirvana’s Nevermind, you get the gist.
There’s also another album that’s always brought up, English rockers, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, otherwise known as Led Zeppelin IV. It matches the aforementioned in every department, and from start to finish, it is a masterclass in otherworldly rock ‘n’ roll. It set the standards for every band worth their salt in the post-Beatles landscape of the 1970s.
The album was recorded in the historic Hampshire country house Headley Grange over the winter that bridged 1970 and 1971, and was produced by the band’s guitarist Jimmy Page, who was starting to come into his own as a producer, allowing him to finally realise the vivid creative vision that he first conceived when playing in The Yardbirds in the ’60s. Led Zeppelin IV captured the band when they were at their zenith, and duly, fans and critics alike regard it as their masterwork.
The peaceful setting of Headley Grange inspired the band, coaxing out of them the combined magic that they’d always teased, but had never fully tapped into. The time they spent at the Grange brought Zeppelin closer together, and the environment allowed them to take their time with their material away from extraneous pressures.
They fully immersed themselves in the experience, experimenting with a variety of styles of arrangements, lifting their sound to a different level entirely. This gave Led Zeppelin IV a sense of dynamism that would carry the band through the rest of their career, producing complex albums such as Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.
Notably, the band delivered a masterpiece just when they needed it. The record had to be a resounding success for the band, as its predecessor, 1970’s Led Zeppelin III, was panned critically and tanked commercially. They had their backs to the wall and had no choice but to fight back.
Speaking of how the environment at the Grange helped them, Jimmy Page recalled: “We needed the sort of facilities where we could have a cup of tea and wander around the garden and go in and do what we had to do.” In addition to this, there were no bars or leisure facilities, allowing for full concentration. Duly, the boys dug deep and not only produced the album that saved the band but one of the finest albums ever.
Whilst there are many timeless moments on the record, including ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Going to California’, since the album first hit the shelves, a fan favourite has been the folk tour de force that is ‘The Batlle of Evermore’.
Written by Page in tandem with frontman Robert Plant, the song is memorable for its use of the mandolin, which bassist John Paul Jones owned, but that Page had been experimenting with. The track also features the mystical vocals of Fairport Convention vocalist Sandy Denny, who helped augment the song’s old-world essence.
Of the song, Page explained in 1977: “’Battle of Evermore’ was made up on the spot by Robert [Plant] and myself. I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.”
Famously, like ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ on Led Zeppelin IV, the song references The Lord of the Rings novels by J. R. R. Tolkien. As Jimmy Page sends us into a trance with his performance on the small eight-stringed instrument, Plant sings lines such as “The Dark Lord rides in force tonight and time will tell us all” and “The drums will shake the castle wall, the Ringwraiths ride in black” which were plucked directly from Tolkien’s work.
It is one of the most magical moments that Led Zeppelin ever produced. Luckily for us, a video has emerged of an older Jimmy Page performing a snippet of the song on his mandolin amongst the verdant gardens of Headley Grange. It’s a captivating experience that whisks you back to that fateful winter when Led Zeppelin were creating the album that would see them become legends.
Watch the video below.