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Led Zeppelin IV
Released: November 8, 1971
Charted: November 27, 1971
Peak: 2 US, 12 UK, 13 CN, 2 AU
Sales (in millions): 23.0 US, 1.8 UK, 44.5 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: classic rock/metal
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 42:34
Check out Dave’s Music Database podcast: The 50th Anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV. It premieres November 9, 2021 at 7pm CST. Tune in every Tuesday at 7pm for a new episode based on the lists at Dave’s Music Database.
4.691 out of 5.00 (average of 28 ratings)
Quotable: “This is the definitive…heavy metal album.” – Robert Christgau
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
In his book Hammer of the Gods, author Stephen Davis called Led Zeppelin “a mystery cult with several million initiates.” ED-7 “Several million” may be a bit modest, considering this album – which author Erik Davis called “the Himalaya of heavy rock” ED-9– soared past the 40 million mark in worldwide sales. Led Zeppelin IV has become the band’s biggest seller by far (Led Zeppelin II comes in next with 24 million in sales) and most celebrated album (one of the top 10 albums of all time).
While “the first four Led Zeppelin albums are all air-curdling classics, monolithic slabs of sleazy sweat-riffs and heavy gravity, [this] is their most staggeringly ambitious.” DK It “not only [defined] Led Zeppelin, but the sound and style of ‘70s hard rock.” AMG It “turned them from mere superstars into giant behemoths of the rock world,” AZ1 “an important stylistic template for everything from heavy metal to grunge.” BN
IV “has a grand sense of drama…deepened by [lead singer Robert] Plant’s burgeoning obsession with mythology, religion, and the occult.” AMG The album dipped into an array of styles, including heavy metal, folk, and blues. “Out of eight cuts, there isn’t one that steps on another’s toes, that tries to do too much all at once.” RS’71 On IV Led Zeppelin “achieved the finest balance between bucolic strums and ear-smashing bombast” BN with “Plant’s banshee wails and Jimmy Page’s frenetic guitar playing” AZ1 on “bone-crushing, bluesy riff-slinging” AZ2 rockers like “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” In contrast, there are the traditional sounds of “mystical, rural, English folk,” AMG such as in “Going to California” or “The Battle of Evermore.”
The album has come to most commonly be called Led Zeppelin IV, but also the Runes album, the Four Symbols, or Zoso because of the ancient-looking runes on the inner sleeve that looked like the letters z-o-s-o. The occult symbols on the spine of the record were to represent each of the members’ mystical identities. TL Here’s a more detailed explanation of each of the symbols.
Recording of the Album
Led Zeppelin came in December 1970 to work on their fourth album and “found the place cold and damp and rather the worse for wear…Plant and Bonham didn’t like the place and engineer Andy Johns reportedly thought it was haunted. Page…dug it. ‘It was a pretty austere place, but I loved the atmosphere.’” ED-73
To capture that atmosphere, Page and Johns “invaded every nook and cranny…with their mics and amplifiers.” ED-73 For example, on “When the Levee Breaks,” they ran mics ten and twenty feet overhead from the large open stone stairwell where Bonham played his drums. As a result, “what you hear is not just the drums, but the drums reacing to the acoustic space of the room.” ED-74
Headley Grange, 1970
This is “the sound of frustrated lust bending the singer out of shape.” ED-77 For his part, Plant delivers an “utter classic…vocal performance” AD “boasting about how he’s ‘gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove,’” BN “a sentiment that set the tone for the rest of Zeppelin’s career.” RV
It was Jones who initiated the song. He had a song stuck in his head from Muddy Waters’ 1968 psychedelic blues album Electric Mud. Page then “turned it into a chain-saw ballet on his Les Paul over Bonzo’s stealth groove, with snarling multitracked rhythm guitar tearing up the midsection.” RS’19 The tension of the song “emerges from the disjunction between the gnarly riff and Bonham’s almost defiant refusal to budge from the floor.” ED-82
Some theorized the title had some Satanic meaning. Author Erik Davis theorizes that “black dog” could be a reference to “hellhounds.” ED-85 The band, however, contends they simply named the song after a black Labrador retriever which was wandering the grounds at Headley Grange.
“Rock and Roll”
The song also allows Page to “indulge in the rockabilly music etched onto the folds of his brain.” ED-88 He said the song grew out of a spontaneous jam session. Bonham started playing Little Richard’s “Keep A-Knockin,’” which became “the now-famous snare and open-high-hat drum intro.” RS’19
“This sonuvabitch moves.” RS’71 Coupled with “Black Dog,” this provide an “opening sucker-punch [that] is ludicrously satisfying, a pair of blues mutants all pumped up with insane levels of testosterone.” DK
“The Battle of Evermore”
“Plant’s mysticism comes to a head” AMG and Page tries his hand at mandolin – an instrument he’d never played before. RS’19 They “both loved acoustic music; before meeting the singer, Page wasn’t sure whether he wanted to form a hard rock group or an Anglo-folk combo.” ED-95 “Evermore” is one of Led Zeppelin’s “most arresting displays of their love of folk music.” RS’19
They enlisted Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention to duet with Plant. BN She “sings perfectly, not trying to be the main event, but still really aiding the haunting beauty of the song.” AD “Page’s hallucinogenic 12-string is the perfect back-drop for her sweetly dramatic voice.” DK
This was also Led Zeppelin’s “fullest evocation of The Lord of the Rings, with allusions to wraiths and mountainside warfare.” RS’19
“Stairway to Heaven”
The song was reportedly intended to be a “suitably epic song that would rival the reception and glory of ‘Dazed and Confused’ during live performances.” AD “From its familiar opening chord progression, the song steadily grows in intensity,” HE “gradually transforming itself from a folkish ballad into a rocking anthem.” HE It “build[s] from a simple fingerpicked acoustic guitar to a storming torrent of guitar riffs” AMG and “an explosive, finely-chiseled blues-rock solo.” BN The lyrics reflected the band’s “growing interest in metaphysical imagery” HE “in what has been interpreted as a song of hope, spiritual fulfillment and drug use. Whatever it means, it’s a work of brilliance that finally earned Led Zeppelin the recognition it deservered all along.” RV “Stairway to Heaven” “encapsulates the entire album in one song.” AMG
“Misty Mountain Hop”
“Page built this exotic song around a series of needle-stick guitar salvos, but because the meter shifts from 5/8 to 6/8, Zeppelin found it difficult to record and almost ditched it. Then Bonham came into the studio after spending some time in a pub and nailed it, holding two drumsticks in each hand (hence the song’s title).” RS’19 Bonzo “earns his nickname with his awe-inspiring performance.” RV
“Going to California”
“Page’s gentle acoustic fingerpicking weaves together with Jones’ mandolin, while Plant tries on some country twang. Rumored to be written about Joni Mitchell, it could just as easily be about any California girl ‘with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.’ And for Led Zeppelin in 1971, there were many.” RS’19 Plant also seems to be “mocking his own soft-focus sentiment,” ED-150 “trawling for a figiment, for an idealized figure who has ‘never been born.’” ED-151
“When the Levee Breaks”
The song was first recorded in 1929 by Memphis Minnie, a blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. The song was about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, a catastrophic natural disaster “that marks blues consciousness the way the sinking of the Titanic marks American consciousness.” ED-164 Led Zeppelin covered blues songs throughout their career, but didn’t always give proper credit. Here, however, they listed Memphis Minnie as one of the songwriters.
“Bonzo’s drums, recorded in a stairwell at Headley Grange, are so ginormous they became a classic sample (most famously opening the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill). ‘The acoustics of the stairwell happened to be so balanced we didn’t even need to mic the kick drum,’ Page recalled.” RS’19
A 2014 deluxe edition included a second disc of alternate mixes.
Other Related DMDB Pages:
First posted 11/8/2012; last updated 11/9/2021.