It was 40 years ago today, November 8, 1971, that Led Zeppelin released their long-awaited followup to Led Zeppelin III, the appropriately named Led Zeppelin IV (It wasn’t until 1973’s Houses of the Holy that they actually named the albums). It featured “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”, “The Battle of Evermore”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Four Sticks”, “Going to California”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. The recording sessions also produced “Down By the Seaside”, “Night Flight”, and “Boogie With Stu”, but they didn’t make the album.
The decision to not name the album was a conscious one. They didn’t want to trade on the “commercial entity” that had become Led Zeppelin. Even the image on the outer sleeve was a commentary on commercialism: An old man and a city in decay. It was, according to Page, “a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it.” While it peaked at #2 on the U.S. charts, it became the biggest and most durable seller in their catalog.
I was able to meet and work with Led Zeppelin many times during their career and this period was particularly exciting and fruitful. I can remember them doing a stretch at The Forum in Inglewood, California. I shot many concerts at the Forum, but shooting Led Zeppelin’s were like working in a room full of static electricity: hair constantly standing straight up. They sold out both nights at The Forum in about 3 1/2 hours. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet and smart phones!
Call it Led Zeppelin IV, or The Fourth, or The Four Symbols, or The Hermit. The name doesn’t really matter. It was and is Rock and Roll, and I call it one of the best albums ever created.