1973’s Houses of the Holy shows Led Zeppelin working at the height of their powers. Fully entrenched in life as perhaps the biggest rock band in the world, Zeppelin opted to shed their reliance on blues and expand their sonic palate for their fifth studio album, bringing in the sounds of funk, reggae, progressive rock, and folk to help make their hard rock thump more diverse. There was room for just about anything on Houses of the Holy – anything, that is, except for the song of the same name.
During the recording sessions for the album, the band were so prolific that they had recorded too many songs to fit on a single record. It became necessary to cut some of the tracks that didn’t quite fit the feel that the band were going for, and when it was realised that the album already had foot-stomping rock numbers like ‘The Ocean’ and funk workouts like ‘The Crunge’, ‘Houses of the Holy’ started to seem superfluous.
The main issue, other than the lack of space on a vinyl record, was that ‘Houses of the Holy’ and ‘The Ocean’ were about the same subject: the wild atmosphere of Led Zeppelin‘s live shows. Whereas ‘The Ocean’ referred to the sea of fans who took in the band’s music like it was communion, ‘Houses of the Holy’ was in reference to the venues at which that communion took place. From The Forum in Los Angeles to Madison Square Garden in New York City, every arena and stadium that Led Zeppelin played in was turned into its very own house of the holy.
When it came time to choose between the two, Zeppelin opted to go with ‘The Ocean’. ‘Houses of the Holy’ was then relegated to the band’s vault, where it very well could have languished for all eternity. Instead, Zeppelin came across the very same problem while recording Physical Grafitti that arose during Houses of the Holy: they had too many songs. This time, long excursions like ‘Kashmir’ and ‘In My Time of Dying’ made it impossible to cut the album down to a single record. The solution was to plunder the depths of the vault for outtakes and songs that just missed the cut.
Houses of the Holy had plenty of outtakes that fit the bill: ‘The Rover’ was a sweet and sticky hard rock track, while ‘Black Country Woman’ was a laid back acoustic number recorded in the garden of Mick Jagger’s country estate Stargroves. Another track from the sessions, ‘Walter’s Walk’, returned to the vault before being included on 1982’s Coda. Most importantly, ‘Houses of the Holy’ was dusted off and officially added to Zeppelin’s catalogue.
Check out ‘Houses of the Holy’ down below.