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Led Zeppelin

Swan Song SS 8416
Released: April 1976
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 30
Certified Platinum: 4/12/76

Jimmy PageLed Zeppelin's seventh album confirms this quartet's status as heavy-metal champions of the known universe. Presence takes up where last season's monumentally molten Physical Graffiti left off -- few melodies, a preoccupation with hard-rock rhythm, lengthy echoing moans gushing from Robert Plant and a general lyrical slant toward the cosmos. (Give an Englishman 50,000 watts, a chartered jet, a little cocaine and some groupies and he thinks he's god. It's getting to be an old story.)

Physical Graffiti was a penultimate of sorts ("Trampled Under Foot" was the hardest rock ever played by humans, while "Kashmir" must be the most pompous) and the new record certainly tries to keep up. The opening track, "Achilles Last Stand," could be the Yardbirds, 12 years down the road. The format is familiar: John Bonham's furiously attacking drum is really the lead instrument, until Jimmy Page tires of chording under Plant and takes over.

Although Page and Plant are masters of the form, emotions often conflict and the results are mixed. A few bars from one piece convince the listener he's hearing the greatest rock & roll, then the very next few place him in a nightmarish 1970 movie about deranged hippies.

Actually there is some fine rock on Presence. "Nobody's Fault but Mine" is strong, while "Candy Store Rock" perfectly evokes the Los Angeles milieu in which the Zep composed this album; it sounds like an unholy hybrid in which Buddy Holly is grafted onto the quivering stem of David Bowie.

Zeppelin's main concern here is to establish a reliable riff and stick to it, without complicating things too much with melody or nuance. At their best, the riffs are clean and purifying. The two dreary examples of blooze ("Tea for One," "For Your Life") may stretch even the diehards' loyalty, but make no mistake: Presence is another monster in what by now is a continuing tradition of battles won by this band of survivors.

- Stephen Davis, Rolling Stone, 5/20/76.

Bonus Reviews!

A few years ago, I had reason to believe Led Zeppelin might be the solution to the crabgrass problem -- which, as everyone knows, is America's number one problem in this Bicentennial year, easily outranking the heartbreak of psoriasis. I was doing research on the effect of music on houseplants, and the shrinking, gnarling, turning-ugly rate of my "hard-rock-listening" plants had me dreaming and scheming, I can tell you. But it turned out it was Vanilla Fudge, not Led Zeppelin, that was killing the lion's share of the plants, and now they tell me it was me, not the music, the plants were responding to, anyway.

Nevertheless, this was and still is one of your old-line, ponderous, chugging hard-rock bands, and, in view of the fact that hundreds of bands have tried to make that kind of sound, it seem rather extraordinary that Led Zeppelin has such a definite sound of its own. That's tribute to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, I suppose; they do the writing and provide the two main sounds, so it must be they who keep a force of personality coming through. It comes through here, in another album that seems to me -- as their albums usually do -- uneven. The worst of it may be "Candy Store Rock," which sounds at most like an inane tribute to Gene Vincent, but then "Achilles Last Stand" surely does go on a lot. "For Your Life" and "Nobody's Fault but Mine," though, have that good, old-time Led Zep crunch to them, reminding me that a lot of us are quite fond of this band in spite of ourselves.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 7/76.

Back after more than a year's recording break, rock's premier heavy metal rockers serve up their usual dose of crashing, wall of sound music. Difference here from most other Zep sets is a generally more sophisticated approach, with Jimmy Page spacing his solos between skilled chord playing, Robert Plant offering well-controlled vocals, and the rhythm section of John Paul Jones and John Bonham coming more to the forefront. Generally uptempo material with interesting structural changes, with one more blues-oriented song also standing out. Usual tribute to earlier rock included, but majority of set is unadulterated Led Zeppelin. One of the few groups of this genre able to retain fans as the years go by, and one of the few able to combine frenetic and controlled playing. Best cuts: "For Your Life," "Royal Orleans," "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "Candy Rock Store," "Hots On For Nowhere."

- Billboard, 1976.

Originals and influentials they obviously are, but too often individual pieces of their unprecedented music aren't necessary. They didn't have time to get really silly here, so this is unusually consistent, but "Hots on for Nowhere" is as close as it comes to a commanding cut, and I prefer "Whole Lotta Love" and "Rock and Roll" and "Dancing Days." Nu? B

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

Presence scales back the size of Physical Graffiti to a single album, but it retains the grandiose scope of the double album. If anything, Presence has more majestic epics than its predecessor, opening with the surging ten-minute "Achilles Last Stand" and closing with the meandering, nearly ten-minute "Tea for One." In between, Zeppelin adds the lumbering blues workout "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and the terse, menacing "For Your Life," which is the best song on the album. These four tracks take up the bulk of the album, leaving three lighthearted throwaways to alleviate the foreboding atmosphere of the epics, as well as their pretensions. If all of the throwaways were as focused and funny as those on Physical Graffiti or Houses of the Holy, Zeppelin would have had another classic on their hands. However, the Crescent City love letter of "Royal Orleans" sags in the middle and the erstatz rockabilly of "Candy Store Rock" doesn't muster up the loose, funky swagger of "Hots on for Nowhere," which it should in order to work. The three throwaways are also scattered haphazardly throughout the album, making it seem more ponderous than it actually is, and the result is the weakest album they had yet recorded. * * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Somewhat haphazard due to deadline pressures, Presence is the most underrated title in the Zep canon, with another engaging epic in "Achilles' Last Stand."

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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