Led Zeppelin III
The Immigrant Song: Led Zeppelin’s softest album ironically opens with a bang. Like “Heartbreaker,” I was familiar with “The Immigrant Song” before I started these reviews. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was the first Zeppelin song I ever heard. The riff is one of Zeppelin’s catchiest, and Plant’s vocals are perfect. The lyrics are seemingly about Norse vikings or something. John is the real star here, his bass runs during the chorus sound effortless. At two minutes and thirty seconds, “The Immigrant Song” doesn’t overstay its welcome. Zeppelin is usually at their best when they keep things short and sweet. So far things are off to a good start, but will they stay that way?
Friends: “Friends” kicks off with a little studio chatter before the ensemble comes in. None of the riffs are particularly catchy or virtuosic. Page is clearly out of his vocal range here, and his voice is uncomfortable to listen to. John’s string arrangements don’t really add much to the song. “Friends” is too heavy to be a ballad, but too soft to be rock. It limply hangs in limbo for the duration of the song, never really going anywhere or shifting dynamics or tempo. Near the end the song speeds up a little, but Zeppelin feels out of control, and the psychedelic Moog riff at the end is irritating. “Friends” is one of the worst Zeppelin songs I’ve heard, let’s hope the rest of the album doesn’t continue this downward trend.
Celebration Day: “Celebration Day” starts off with the annoying Moog riff from before droning on for a while until Page comes in playing rather sloppily. When Bonham and Plant enter, the song gains a bit of composure. By the one minute mark everybody is locked into a tight groove. Bonham really shines here. His drum charts are nothing spectacular, but his sense of rhythm is strangely melodic. Page’s guitar solo is a short and sweet variation on the main melody. The song ends with Page noodling around and the rest of the band rocking out slightly harder. Overall, it’s a fantastic tune. A great recovery from the piss poor “Friends.”
Since I’ve Been Loving You: The song opens with some blues noodling by Page before Bonham locks the groove in. John’s organ playing adds a nice touch. Seemingly out of nowhere, the song gets drastically louder and everyone begins to rock out harder but still in control. Plant seems to be testing out his “sexy voice” and fails miserably. Fortunately the majority of the song is an instrumental showcase, specifically Page. John is fantastic, his organ playing adds a layer of emotion that just wouldn’t be here otherwise. Page’s guitar solo is one of the most famous in rock ’n’ roll history, and does the hype justice. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is Zeppelin finally doing blues rock right. It’s one of the strongest songs in their discography. I’m starting to wonder why this album got negative reviews on its initial release. So far Led Zeppelin III is shaping up to be stronger than its predecessors.
Out On The Tiles: “Out On The Tiles” starts out balls to wall aggressive and only continues to get angrier as it continues. Plant’s verses are shoddy but the chorus is catchy enough to make up for it. The ensemble is at top form here. My only real complaint is that “Out On The Tiles” is very repetitive, but fortunately its repetitiveness recalls good punk rock instead of top forty pop. Overall, it’s another fantastic song. With the exception of “Friends”, the first side of Led Zeppelin III is extremely strong. Let’s hope the second side can match it.
Gallows Pole: “Gallows Pole” is a traditional folk song arranged by Page and Plant. Influenced by Fred Gerlach’s arrangement, “Gallows Pole” begins with some soft acoustic guitar picking accompanied by Plant’s vocals, which surprisingly fit well. The song is pretty boring until a minute in, when things speed up and Jones begins playing. By the time Bonham joins halfway through, there’s a nice country groove going. The ensemble is very tight, and despite “Gallows Pole” sounding unlike traditional Zeppelin, it works. I wouldn’t say it’s a great song, but it’s a nice refresher from classic rock’s status quo.
Tangerine: “Tangerine” is an old Yardbirds song reworked by Page for his new ensemble. Like “Gallows Pole,” “Tangerine” opens with some acoustic guitar riffing before Plant joins in. Unlike Zeppelin’s earlier acoustic songs, Plant’s vocals are subdued and fit the song perfectly. The song switches between the full ensemble and acoustic strumming for the first half before solidifying itself. Page’s first solo is melodic, but his guitar tone sounds like a dying mosquito. Thankfully Page redeems himself on his second solo. “Tangerine” ends before you know it and leaves you hungry for more. I’m really digging this new, acoustic Zeppelin.
That’s The Way: Completely devoid of Bonham’s drumming, “That’s The Way” is Zeppelin’s softest song thus far. Plant’s lyrics are nothing special, but yet again his vocals are good, downright pretty. Page’s guitar is smooth and flowing. Jones’ mandolin is very subtle. What’s best about “That’s The Way” is nobody is competing for the spotlight. Every member of the ensemble is sacrificing for the other. The true mark of a great band. I’m shocked how much Zeppelin is starting to shape up. By the time this review series is over, I might actually be a fan.
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp: Named after a cottage in Wales, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is a catchy acoustic tune accompanied by Bonham on spoons and Jones on acoustic bass. The riff is really catchy, but Plant is over-singing again. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” relies on rhythm rather than melody to keep the listener interested, and about halfway through, the problem with this becomes apparent. I stopped caring. Without something to hook me along, I had no reason to keep listening. It’s not a bad song by any means, but it certainly is boring. So much for momentum.
Hats Off To (Roy) Harper: Led Zeppelin III's final track is a psychedelic acoustic ballad. Problem is, the psychedelia is REALLY annoying and distracting. I feel like slicing Page’s strings and pouring glue down Plant’s throat. I can’t hear Jones or Bonham, but perhaps they’re there. As if it couldn’t get any more annoying, Plant loves to do this “na-na-na-na-na” thing over and over again throughout the song. This is easily Zeppelin’s worst song. I wonder if it’s some kind of practical joke on the listener? Fortunately “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” is mercifully short. What a shame to end what was shaping up to be a fantastic album on such a sour note.
Despite some weak tracks, Led Zeppelin III is the bands best album thus far. I was fully prepared to give it a perfect score until I heard “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper”. It made me resent my eardrums, so three out of four it is.