Top of the Pops: Led Zeppelin III

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February 6, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Led Zeppelin III, the oddball of the family, finds its worth in purpose more so than in execution, and once that is understood it’s actually a fairly well constructed album.  It’s just not the album we’ve come to expect from the band, and that’s why it can be rather unpalatable at times.  Musically, it’s a very well done and properly constructed album; however, coming off the heels of I and II, an album inspired by folk music instead of the blues was the last thing anyone expected Led Zeppelin to make.  When people say that they don’t like III, it’s because they were anticipating Led Zeppelin II part II.

III starts off deceptively enough with the rocking “Immigrant Song”, easily recognized for Robert Plant’s wailing clarion call.  More so than “Ride of the Valkyries”, if ever there was a song to be blasted as you were going into battle on cavalry, it would be “Immigrant Song”.  It’s charging, invasive chord structure serves as a decoy to the rest of the album.

Just as fans of Bob Dylan lost it when he went electric, III has a bit of a despicable reputation as being the “acoustic album”, as if a hard rocking band like Led Zeppelin wasn’t allowed to use acoustic guitars.  The reason why III has this reputation is found on 80% of side two in the songs like “Tangerine”, “Gallows Pole”, and “Bron Y Aur Stomp”.  They’re all great songs that are critical in the overall catalogue of the bands’.  By 1970, “Tangerine”, with its subdued sincerity and simplicity was the bands’ best ballad.  Adored songs like “Black Country Woman” owe their genesis to “Bron Y Aur Stomp” as it allowed them to further explore acoustic experimentation on subsequent albums.

The highmark of the album, the most memorable song that III has to offer, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is the epic of the album that all Zeppelin albums save for II exhibit.  Out of all these epics, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is the bluesiest, as it is a straight up blues ballad. At the very least, it is this song above all others that proves Robert Plant was meant to sing the blues.  There are times when the song drags on a bit and displays pacing problems present on I but absent on II, but overall, like the rest of the album, it’s an objectively well written and masterfully executed song, it’s just a matter of personal preference.  Regardless of opinion, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a great piece of music, as is the rest of the album, however to like Led Zeppelin it’s not necessary to like it.

Being crushed between the hard rock template that was Led Zeppelin II and the omnipotent Led Zeppelin IV, it would appear that at first glance Led Zeppelin III is something of a superfluous recording.  Such is not the case though, because it cemented their acoustic mastery and allowed the band to expand musically and diversify their sound.  Subsequent songs such as “Going to California”, “The Rain Song” and “Boogie with Stu” can’t happen without III, and it’s because of III that we accepted these later songs as being worthy additions to the Led Zeppelin canon, as we had already become familiar with the idea of them going acoustic.

With the exception of the bombastic and off putting “Hat’s Off to Roy Harper”, every song on III is at the very least enjoyable.  Every song isn’t a must to listen to, but there isn’t any song besides the final track that needs to be skipped.  If you didn’t mind Zeppelin going acoustic back in 1970, then there’s no reason to not like this album.  Just because it’s not as aggressive or manic as I and II doesn’t mean that Led Zeppelin III isn’t energetic or lacking in zeal, it’s just that this go around the band chose not to go electric.  III is an underappreciated and overlooked album in the bands’ discography because at the time of its release it wasn’t what people wanted it to be.  In truth, it’s an album that is critical to the development of their sound and crucial to their entire catalogue.  But that’s Led Zeppelin; they gave us something we didn’t even know we wanted.


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