If I had just one album to take to the proverbial desert island with me, Led Zeppelin’s fourth album wouldn’t be it. But if I was able to just take a couple more, it would be find its way into my terribly limited collection. It came out forty years ago today, so technically it’s in my lifetime, but it doesn’t really feel like it. Every music group out there today wishes they could make something that people would still care enough to think about forty years later.
Over the course of my life, I’ve owned this album on at least three different formats: I first bought it on cassette when I got a cheap Walkman imitation back in about 1982, and I would listen to it (with the volume turned up all the way, of course) as I delivered papers on my paper route. I didn’t like having to occasionally flip the tape over, but those were the dark days as far as portable music was concerned.
I also bought the album on vinyl at my used record shop in Springfield, Illinois which, to my great surprise, is still in business. I remember trekking there in high school, buying all of the classic rock albums that I would eventually give away when the CD took over in the 1990s. I also remember looking at the eclectic, esoteric album cover and wondering what it actually meant. The gatefold in the middle, which Zeppelin also used on a number of their other albums, also creeped me out in some way. It just made me think about dark times and troubled lands, but the lantern at the top was there to bring hope. And I wasn’t even smoking anything in those days, either.
In high school, I was very proud of the fact that I could draw each of the four “runes” that made up the official title of the album. I even knew what they meant, once upon a time. They made for interesting doodles when I stopped listening to my English teacher. I even taught myself how to write “Led Zeppelin” in the font that they used, but I think that came with their next album, Houses of the Holy.
I remember reading “Hammer of the Gods” while listening to Zeppelin’s music, when I should have been reading Hemingway or Steinbeck instead. My loss, I suppose. But reading it was an extension of my interest in their music. Or, as I liked to think of it, I was “getting to the source,” whatever that meant.
When a Led Zeppelin retrospective named “Mothership” made its big splash on iTunes a few years ago, of course I had to buy it in that format too. Once a Zeppelin fan, always a Zeppelin fan, I suppose. It isn’t like there’s anything half as good being made today.
Three of the four members of the band are alive today, and it’s still surprising to me that a reunion tour hasn’t come to pass. None of them need the money, I’m sure, but there would be loads of it to go around if they wanted it. Their body of recorded work isn’t as vast as the Stones or the Beatles, but I would argue, largely on the basis of their albums from the self-titled debut up through Physical Graffiti (which is the only one of theirs I’ve never owned in any format), that no rock band has a more important body of work than Led Zeppelin.
Disagree? Feel free. (I stole that one from Eminem, just to show that I still listen to new music from time to time.) But leave a comment and tell me who you think is better.