49. Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV- Led Zeppelin (1971)


How: The first time I remember hearing Led Zeppelin was from a 1999 Cadillac commercial. A brand new silver CTS zoomed through a cinematic mis en scene, but all I could focus on was Robert Plant belting out the lyrics to “Rock ‘n Roll” over Jimmy Paige’s perfectly executed Chuck Berry-like riff. I’m sure I heard “Stairway to Heaven” somewhere, but it didn’t really make an impression on me until Wayne’s World informed me of its importance. When I started recognizing Led Zeppelin songs in the mid-2000s, “Black Dog” and “Misty Mountain Hop” became easily identifiable rock classics (thanks KRTH 101.1, I guess). Before knowing that they all belonged to the same album, I was fully accustomed with half of what is unquestionably the band’s greatest album. I’m a little ashamed to have discovered it over a car commercial, but it’s the same way I discovered The Clash (whose story comes much later in the countdown).

Why: Led Zeppelin IV went 29X platinum in the United States, making it the third best selling album stateside (damn redcoats). I believe the band is the most talented collection of musicians in rock ‘n roll history, including what I consider to be the best singer and second-best drummer in rock. This album is talked about with staggering reverence like few others ever released by bands not named The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. It has the pedigree to be a top ten on anyone’s list. So why is it so low on mine? For one, “Stairway to Heaven” is quite possibly my most hated song ever (sorry, I can’t possibly elaborate in any satisfying way), and for another, “The Battle of Evermore” inspired so much bad J.R.R. Tolkien metal that I wish it had never existed. Everything else is fantastic, but when 25% of the album makes me want to dry-heave, it’s a miracle that I’d ever consider it one of my favorites.

With that said, Zepp does enough to finally piece together a worthwhile album, something they couldn’t do with their admirable but lackluster first three releases. Paige’s riff on opener “Black Dog” defines “face melting,” and though “Rock ‘n Roll” essentially adds distortion to Little Richard’s style, it’s executed perfectly enough to merit it’s place in the pantheon of 12-bar blues masterpieces. “Stairway to Heaven” and “The Battle of Evermore” come in long succession, and though it’s the band’s fifteen minutes of infamy, a lot of saavy fans couldn’t possibly listen to the album without them.

“Misty Mountain Hop” rewards the patient listener with it’s simple hooks and complex three-bar vocals within four-bar verses. Up until then, it was possibly the band’s least recognizable song (only Plant’s wail in the verse seals its identification), and though it’s relaxed attitude doesn’t fit with the theatrics of the rest of the album, it injects the record with the needed delight that rock should provide from time to time.

The final two songs give listeners the best reason to cherish Led Zeppelin IV. “Going to California” is hands down the band’s best ballad, and Plant’s muffled harmonies and Paige’s melodic imagery make it arguably the best song about my home state (damn redcoats). Closer “When the Levee Breaks” is admirable not only because it rocks slower and harder than anything ever released previously, but it also marked the first time a British band didn’t make a fool of itself attempting American western music. I’ve fantasized doing many things with “When the Levee Breaks” as a soundtrack, from entering a baseball stadium, to entering a saloon, to entering a poker tournament. It’s the most badass entrance song imaginable, as testified by my overactive adrenal glands whenever Jon Bonham kicks in his untouchable drumbeat. The album’s bookends are among the greatest rock songs ever, and for that it barely scrapes a place on the bottom of this list.

Next: 40oz. to Freedom- Sublime (1992)


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