I may be going off on a limb, but I was thinking recently about how a comparison could be made between the recording careers of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. To me, LZ were the Beatles of the ’70’s. In the ’70’s, LZ were the most popular band in the world. Their albums were huge commercial successes and were praised and copied by musicians around the world.If you look at the final recordings of both bands, I think you’ll see an interesting similarity. “Led Zeppelin IV,” which featured “Stairway to Heaven,” is looked upon by most fans and critics as their “masterpiece.” The same was said about the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album. After “Led Zeppelin IV” was released, the band put out four more studio albums. After “Sgt. Pepper” was released, the Beatles put out four more studio albums.It’s interesting to compare Led Zep’s final four albums with the Beatles’ final four. LZ’s “Houses of the Holy” was appreciated by fans, but was not as highly regarded as “Led Zeppelin IV.” “Magical Mystery Tour” was also appreciated by fans, but was not as highly regarded as “Sgt. Pepper.” After releasing such exceptional albums as “Led Zeppelin IV” and “Sgt. Pepper,” it would be incrredibly difficult for ANY band, even two as fantastic as LZ and the Beatles, to duplicate that overwhelming success with a follow-up release.LZ’s next album was “Physical Graffiti,” a two-record set. The Beatles’ next album was “The Beatles” (better known as the “White Album”) which also was a two-record set. Today, many fans of both bands regard these two-record sets as the best music either band either committed to vinyl. Critics gave these albums mixed reviews. Many critics believed these albums could’ve been edited down to single albums. The extraordinary breadth of musical influences, a quality shared by Led Zep and the Beatles, is revealed in great detail on these albums.The next LZ album was “Presence,” a quickly recorded LP with a very stark, live sound. The next Beatles’ album, in the order in which they were recorded, was the “Get Back” album An album which was recorded quickly and has a very stark, live sound- in its original incarnation, not in the overblown Phil Spector production called “Let It Be.” “Get Back” was considered a bit too stark and live (raw, if you will) and the project was put on the shelf. The final Led Zep recording was “In Through the Out Door,” a richly arranged, well-produced album which focused the band in new directions- the use of synthesizer being a highlight. “Abbey Road,” the Beatles’ final album, was also a richly arranged, well-produced album which focused the band in new directions- the use of synthesizer being a highlight (in 1969, when “Abbey Road” was released, the Moog Synthesizer had never been used extensively on a rock album.) It’s interesting to note that the release of “In Through the Out Door” came approximately ten years after the release of “Abbey Road.” Both albums were released in the final year of the decade in which each group was at the height of its influence and popularlity- “Abbey Road” (1969) and “In Through the Out Door” (1979). Who’s knows where either band would’ve gone afterwards? The final albums of each band illuminate new musical directions which other bands would have to chart for themselves.
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Of course, the members of Led Zeppelin likely never knew that this seven-song album was to be their last. Had they known, they may have gone out with more of a definitive bang. Surprisingly, though, “In Through the Out Door” shows a tired band moving in a creative direction, leaving the world to wonder how the rockin’ foursome may have sounded had it played on in the synth-crazy 1980s. John Paul Jones actually takes more creative control on this record, co-writing five of the seven songs. And it’s his keyboard work that makes a great deal of this sometimes dull album a bit more interesting.
After the seven-minute dinosaur riff of “In the Evening” comes the unexpected “South Bend Saurez,” a slinky barlike number with a hopping piano and a scorching solo by Jimmy Page midway through. There’s even a feminine-sounding “Sha-la-la-la” vocal bit at the end, something different for Zeppelin. “South Bend Saurez” is just the first of several upbeat-sounding tunes on this record. The well-known “Fool in the Rain” overstays its welcome by a few minutes, but “Hot Dog” is a ride-’em-cowboy track with a looseness and country tinge that’s unexpected. Robert Plant plays the down-to-earth country-rocker role to the hilt and seems to enjoy himself. That song is a great segway to one of Zeppelin’s best and most underrated songs, “Carouselambra.” Born of a musical zoo of varying forms, “Carouselambra” is packaged neatly in three parts, starting with a buzzing synthesizer and a frantic pace. The beginning is guitarless but bursting with electric energy, really unlike anything Zeppelin had tried before. All at once the song stops dead in its tracks and the hot-paced first stanza suddenly becomes a memory, replaced by a deep, moaning guitar and vocals. Things pick up again in the third stanza with an odd slice of synth that could practically introduce the 6 p.m. news. Overall, “Carouselambra” is an adventorous journey, epic on a new Led Zeppelin level.
A humble attitude and sound creeps into the final two tracks of the CD, perhaps a form of apology for the band’s reckless behavior and unlucky past. “All of My Love” and “I’m Gonna’ Crawl” are noted for their wonderful string sections and desperate-sounding love-is-all-you-need lyrics. “All of My Love” is dedicated to Plant’s sadly deceased young daughter, while “I’m Gonna’ Crawl” sounds like a hopeless romantic who got plowed the night before. By the record’s end, the four great musicians are in complete synchronicity as they’ve been so many times before. It’s a handsome and stately end to a career known for roughness around edges. Zeppelin got out of the game without embarassing itself, and created a solid ending to one of the world’s most influential and dazed-and-confused rock bands.
One of the biggest reasons for my initially buying this particular Zeppelin album owed much to curiosity; as in curiosity as to why so many Zep fans–nevermind the critics–seemed to trash it so much. Having been previously inundated with Zeppelin I, II and the almighty fourth album, this was indeed “different”. But the thing I came to appreciate about Zeppelin over time was how ‘different’ a lot of their latter days output was and how their musical style progressed over the course of eight studio albums.
“The Brown Bomber” (Zeppelin II) and “Zoso” are great records, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as big a LZ fan as I am now if every single album sounded like them, or if Plant & company felt they needed to endlessly recycle the riff from “Whole Lotta Love” to keep their “true fans” happy and never try to expand beyond nicking old blues numbers.
For one thing, the much carped about use of synthesizers featured on “In Through the Out Door” never once bothered me; it wasn’t like Zeppelin never used them on a song before (“No Quarter” anyone?); having Jones back on the keyboards/piano for this one makes for a refreshing variety amongst all the tracks, an ingredient that was sorely lacking from “Presence”.
I’ll just finish this by simply stating that ITTOD is by no means an album to be ashamed of. For me personally, it’s at the very top of the list along with “Houses of the Holy” and “Zoso”. Times change and so do many truly great musicians over the course of their careers; Led Zeppelin was no different.
I was 14 when this album came out and turned the grooves to dust within a few months by ceaselessly playing it on a cheap Soundesign turntable. Then I got in on 8-track. In 1983, I bought the casette (newly installed in my car), and in 1998, I finally broke down and got it on CD. When you buy an album *four* times, you know it’s a keeper.This is a fitting denouement for the Greatest Rock Band Ever, though I wish John Bonham drank a little less and lived a little longer. His touch is all over these songs. His genius was that he made the drum riffs sound easy. It’s deceptive — you try some of those bits while never dropping the on-tempo beat from the high-hat. “In Through the Out Door” also showcases John Paul Jones’ layering-on of the keyboard and synthesizer parts over his driving bass. My favourite is his upbeat boogie-woogie piano on “South Bound Suarez.”Robert Plant still had most of his voice when this was recorded, and it really comes out best on this remastered CD version. The album’s opening tune, “In the Evening,” sends the listener back not to 1979 (when this record was released), but to 1973. The sound and leitmotifs are right out of “Houses of the Holy” songs “The Ocean” and “Dancing Days.” Jimmy Page’s guitar solo is quintessential Pagey; There’s no guitarist who can touch him. Hendrix, Clapton, Nugent, Van Halen, they come close, but you listen to Page, scratch your head and ask “how’d he do that?”"Fool in the Rain” is the best song on this record. It’s a song only Zeppelin could do: Part Reggae, part meringue, part Carnaval in Rio, laid over with Page’s Steely Dan-like solo, it’s still all Zeppelin. Plant’s voice soars on this one.”Hot Dog”: Country Western, sure. Rockabilly, yeah. What I really hear is Plant’s tribute to Elvis. When his voice wavers and quavers, the King comes through. Plant doesn’t say “hunka hunka,” but you can hear it between the lines.Yes, I forgive them for “Carouselambra.” Too much synth. However, excellent bass and guitar lines and it’s all over the map in its musical construction.”All My Love”: At the time, a fave at high school dances, but it was really Plant’s tribute to his son, who’d died tragically. How eerily it seems written for Bonzo as well…..”I’m Gonna Crawl.” This is Led Zep blues, right out of “In My Time of Dying” and “What Is and What Should Never Be.” It’s gut wrenching, slow, a dirge.”Zoso” is still their best, but this is the one I get all sentimental about. I listen to it, and I’m 14 again.
Let’s put Led Zeppelin in perspective: They had 8 full length studio albums before disintegrating. They ARE one of the best bands of all time, like the Beatles before them, Led Zeppelin will always spark interest in music fans. YES, Led Zeppelin 4, Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffitti and Presence probably caught Zeppelin in their prime. All eight albums have their pluses and minuses, and yet, In Through The Out Door is always criticized the most. Like U2, R.E.M. and Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin had to change. Robert Plant just lost a child, disco was bigger than rock, and punk’s angry cries were more deafening than any Zeppelin record. The complaint of synthesizers is understandable since Zeppelin is mostly known for Page’s guitar wizardry, but In Through The Out Door is Zeppelin’s Achtung, Baby, or Out of Time or Permanent Vacation–it’s a rebirth of sorts. I certainly think that non-fans should check this out if they don’t like Led Zeppelin for it has the hits “Fool in the Rain” and “All My Love.” If the Beatles only relied on John and Paul then we’d have no Here Comes The Sun or Yellow Submarine. John Paul Jones’s influence gave Zeppelin more credit. It wasn’t just Page, Plant and Bonham. I know I’ll get heat for defending In Through The Out Door, but it is a great record, just not like Zeppelin’s others.