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Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin

Atlantic 7201
Released: October 1970
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 42
Certified Gold: 10/8/70

John BonhamJohn Paul JonesRobert PlantJimmy PageI keep nursing this love-hate attitude toward Led Zeppelin. Partly from genuine interest and mostly indefensible hopes, in part from the conviction that nobody that crass could be all that bad. I turn to each fresh album experiencing -- what? Certainly not subtle echoes of the monolithic Yardbirds, or authentic blues experiments, or even much variety. Maybe it's just that they seem like the ultimate Seventies Calf of Gold.

The Zep, of all bands surviving, are today -- their music is as ephemeral as Marvel comix, and as vivid as an old Technicolor cartoon. It doesn't challenge anybody's intelligence or sensibilities, relying instead on a pat visceral impact that will insure absolute stardom for many moons to come. Their albums refine the crude public tools of all dull white blues bands into something awesome in its very insensitive grossness, like a Cecil B. DeMille epic. If I rely so much on visual and filmic metaphors, it's because they apply so exactly. I've never made a Zep show, but friends (most of the type, admittedly, who will listen to anything so long's it's loud and they're destroyed) describe the thunderous, near-undifferentiated tidal wave of sound that doesn't engross but envelops to snuff any possible distraction.

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin III
Original album advertising art.
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Their third album deviates little from the track laid by the first two, even though they go acoustic on several numbers. Most of the acoustic stuff sounds like standard Zep graded down decibelwise, and the heavy blitzes could've been outtakes from Zeppelin II. In fact, when I first heard the album my main impression was the consistent anonymity of most of the songs -- no one could mistake the band, but no gimmicks stand out with any special outrageousness, as did the great, gleefully absurd Orangutang Plant-cum-wheezing guitar freakout that made "Whole Lotta Love" such a pulp classic. "Immigrant Song" comes closest, with its bulldozer rhythms and Bobby Plant's double-tracked wordless vocal croonings echoing behind the main vocal like some cannibal chorus wailing in the infernal light of a savage fertility rite. What's great about it, though, the Zep's special genius, is that the whole effect is so utterly two-dimensional and unreal. you could play it, as I did, while watching a pagan priestess performing the ritual dance of Ka before the flaming sacrificial altar in Fire Maidens of Outer Space with the TV sound turned off. And believe me, the Zep made my blood throb to those jungle rhythms even more frenziedly.

Unfortunately, precious little of Z III's remaining hysteria is as useful or as effectively melodramatic. "Friends" has a fine bitter acoustic lead, but gives itself over almost entirely to monotonously shrill Plant breast-beatings. Rob, give a listen to Iggy Stooge.

"Celebration Day" and "Out On the Tiles" are production-line Zep churners that no fan could fault and no one else could even hear without an effort, "Since I've Been Loving You" represents the obligatory slow and lethally dull seven-minute blues jam, and "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" dedicates a bottleneck-&-shimmering echo-chamber vocal salad to a British minstrel who, I am told, leans more towards the music-hall tradition.

Much of the rest, after a couple of listenings to distinguish between songs, is not bad at all, because throughout the disc Zeppelin are at least creative enough to apply an occasional pleasing fillip to their uninspiring material, and professional enough to keep all their recorded work relatively clean and clear -- you can hear all the parts, which is more than you can say for many of their peers.

Finally I must mention a song called "That's the Way," because it's the first song they've ever done that has truly moved me. Son of a gun, it's beautiful. Above a very simple and appropriately everyday acoustic riff, Plant sings a touching picture of two youngsters who can no longer be playmates because one's parents and peers disapprove of the other because of long hair and being generally from "the dark side of town." The vocal is restrained for once -- in fact, Plant's intonations are as plaintively gentle as some of the Rascals' best ballad work -- and a perfectly modulated electronic drone wails in the background like melancholy harbor scows as the words fall soft as sooty snow: "And yesterday I saw you standing by the river / I read those tears that filled your eyes / And all the fish that lay in dirty water dying / Had they got you hypnotized?" Beautiful, and strangely enough Zep. As sage Berry declared eons ago, it shore goes to show you never can tell.

- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 11/26/70.

Bonus Reviews!

It took Led Zeppelin no more than three or four weeks to hit the top of the pop charts with their third, and latest, outing. The record may still be cresting by the time you read this review. The formula is familiar enough: whip up a batch of miscellaneous blues fragments; blend with high-decibel electronic amplification and distortion; add an undercurrent of heavy bass; top with nasal vocals by Robert Plant and slippery-slideiy guitar playing by Jimmy Page.

And it works -- commercially, that is. That it results in dull music is less important than the fact that Led Zeppelin is good theater, as all successful rock almost has to be. The group has toured widely, and the image of Plant singing ecstatically, whipping his long, curly blond locks around his head, is a picture that has been indelibly recorded in the minds and hearts of countless teeny- (and some not so teeny-) boppers.

To my ears the group is a bummer. Like Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin is a symbol of the unremittingly adolescent qualities which are always active in popular music. If that's where your head is at, then groovy. I'd rather listen to those singing whales.

- Don Heckman, Stereo Review, 4/71.

Led Zeppelin's third album is money in the bank and also a solid example of a "together" group who knows what it wants to say and how to say it. Jimmy Page's composing hand is involved in nine of the 10 pieces in this set and his talent seems to grow with each new effort. The group's instrumental interpretation is exciting but still well-defined.

- Billboard, 1970.

If the great blues guitarists can make their instruments cry out like human voices, it's only fitting that Robert Plant should make his voice galvanize like an electric guitar. I've always approved theoretically of the formula that pits the untiring freak intensity of that voice against Jimmy Page's repeated low-register fuzz riffs, and here they really whip it into shape. Plant is overpowering even when Page goes to his acoustic, as he does to great effect on several surprisingly folky (not to mention folk bluesy) cuts. No drum solos, either. Heavy. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

After the bone-crunching hard rock of Led Zeppelin II, Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones tracked a collection of more acoustic-flavored numbers. Songs like "Gallows Pole" and "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" were essentially their trademark rockers played on folk instruments, but the reflective "That's the Way" and "Tangerine" indicated a new maturity. A handful of heavy riff-rockers like "Immigrant Song," "Out on the Tiles," "Celebration Day," and the hard blues raveup "Since I've Been Loving You" more than rounded out this solid (but transitional) effort. * * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Led Zeppelin III, the band's third album, was recorded in Zeppelin's mobile studio at Hedley Grange in Hampshire, UK. The album added acoustic and folk rock elements to Zeppelin's rock and blues repertoire, which also helped endear the band to progressive rock fans. It repeated the success of its predecessor, II, by topping both the US and UK charts at the end of 1970, remaining in the UK charts for over 40 weeks and the US charts for 19 weeks.

Familiar enough territory is covered in the opening "Immigrant Song," which has all the mystical sweep and grandeur Led Zeppelin fans had come to expect and reached Number 16 in the Billboard Hot 100. Blues fans are admirably catered to on the album's pivotal cut, "Since I've Been Loving You." Other tracks, such as "Friends" and "Celebration Day," show the band had lost none of its ability to deliver bombastic rock. Yet III showed that Led Zeppelin had considerably more to offer; notably a deeply held affection for folk music surfaces in the form of "Gallows Pole" -- a traditional song arranged by Page and Plant. The lilting "Tangerine" and "That's The Way" show that Zeppelin possessed the courage to go "unplugged," years before anyone heard of MTV.

The original vinyl edition was packaged in a gatefold sleeve with a novelty cover. A rotatable paper disc covered with pictures of the band members was visible through artfully positioned holes on the cover.

As of 2004, Led Zeppelin III was the #37 best-selling album of the 70s.

- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.

The third Led Zeppelin album entered the UK chart at the top, a week after starting its four-week run atop the U.S. chart, and was certified triple-platinum. The inventive cover artwork housed a picture-packed wheel, which could be turned to present different images through cut-away windows in the outer sleeve.

The thunderous "Immigrant Song" became the group's second U.S. Top 20 single, but was not released as a single in the UK, where the group did not release any singles before 1997. The first side of the album delivered the expected high-octane hard rock, but the striking flip-side was acoustic led, Page and Plant having been particularly inspired by the music of folk artists Bert Jansch, John Fahey, and Davy Graham. "Gallows Pole" features pretty banjo playing alongside John Bonham's thumping drums, while "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" is highlighted by flights of nifty acoustic guitar picking. (The track is named after a cottage in North Wales owned by friends of Plant's parents where Page and Plant worked on some of the album's material.)

Six of the tracks were recorded with a mobile studio in the grounds of a country house in Hampshire, including "Tangerine," its eloquent 12-string passages an early blueprint for "Stairway To Heaven," though the West Coast harmonies and country licks were atypical of Zep. "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper," dominated by shimmering slide guitar, is Page's tribute to the veteran folk singer. Led Zeppelin III showed us a band as capable of subtlety as of heavy metal thunder.

- John Tobler, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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