Credit must be given to BRON-Y-AUR a small derelict cottage in South
Snowdonia for painting a somewhat forgotten picture of true
completeness which acted as an incentive to some of
these musical statements - August, 1970.
Released on Oct 5, 1970, Led Zeppelin III is an acoustic tinged, folk-based album radically different from Zep's first two offerings. Perhaps tired of being branded as blues imitators, or perhaps expanding musically, Led Zeppelin III took Zeppelin fans in a totally new direction, from the psychedelic cover art down to the audio engraved into the vinyl. Fans got a taste of what was in store in the form of the Brown Bomber's "Ramble On", but Led Zeppelin III would shatter what anyone thought of the band.
Recorded mostly at Headley Grange using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio (a few tracks were done at Olympic and Island Studios), the band selected ten of the seventeen songs they had finished during recording sessions (a majority of the remainder would appear on later albums, most notably the second Physical Graffiti LP). It was produced by Jimmy Page (executive producer Peter Grant), reached number one in both the U.S. and U.K., and has sold over 6 million copies as of January 2005.
A summary of the ten tracks...
The opening track of Led Zeppelin III isn't indicative of the album as a whole. A short, straight ahead rocker relying heavily on Viking imagery and the signature Robert Plant wail, the song was inspired by the band's 1970 trip to Iceland. Released as a single a month after the album hit record stores, it was the only single released off of the album, and the single's B-side "Hey Hey What Can I Do" is the only song released while Led Zeppelin existed as a band that didn't appear on a studio album. It went to #16 in the United States and remained on the charts for 10 weeks.
The first indication of III's true sound, Friends is one of the weaker songs on the album, due in part to Plant's screaming and the covering up of a production mistake (see below). Plant totally overdoes the lyrics, and unfortunately there's not enough going on sonically to cover it up. While a substandard Led Zeppelin song is still better than most other groups' best, it still stands as the worst song on the album.
Heard alone, Celebration Day seems to start abruptly, but when heard within the context of the album, it seems to fit in fine. The reason is because an inept meddler managed to cut out the intro to the song, and the band was forced to fix it in post production. A droning synth was added to the end of Friends and blended into Celebration Day to hide the cutoff.
SINCE I'VE BEEN LOVING YOU
Aside from the first few lines which are blatantly stolen from Moby Grape's "Never", this is the first really original blues song by Led Zeppelin, and the only throwback to old Zep on III. Raw and electric (and recorded live), Plant really gets into the song, belting out the lyrics in typical fashion, but also warning the listener to "Watch out!" as Page's solo kicks in. It's ironically the centerpiece of an album that it doesn't seem to belong on, and it became a centerpiece of the live show until they reworked it into Presence's Tea For One.
OUT ON THE TILES
Featuring an off-timed and repeated guitar riff, Out On The Tiles is Brit slang for a night on the town. A voice can be heard more than once saying "Stop" at the end of some of the guitar riffs. One running theory is that this is Jimmy Page, who kept screwing up the timing in rehearsals (which may be true, since he had problems with the off-timed Black Dog as well). Another theory is that this is Plant telling Page to stop making faces at him while he recorded the vocal track. The song is apparently based on some lyrics John Bonham came up with while drunk (the working title was "Bathroom Sound"), and it's easily one of the more upbeat numbers on the album.
Gallows Pole was adapted from a traditional song attributed to Leadbelly, but was rearranged by Page and given new lyrics by Plant. The song itself defies an accurate description. It starts off with a lone acoustic guitar and Plant's voice. By song's end Page has a six-string acoustic, a twelve-string acoustic, an electric guitar going, John Paul Jones has a mandolin and a bass kicking in, and Bonham is going ballistic on the kick drum.
The lone song without lyrics penned by Plant, Jimmy Page wrote it about his girlfriend Jackie DeShannon while he was with the Yardbirds. After a false start and a short count, one of the defining Zeppelin ballads begins. The imagery presented in the song ("Measuring a summer's day, only find it slips away to gray") is so clearly not Robert Plant it's refreshing, and the time signature and lyrical flow add to the song's sweet melancholy.
THAT'S THE WAY
One of the few songs where Plant could have used the Plant Wail but chose not too, his choice to curtail his voice was a good one. A lilting melody about the loss of a friend (the boy next door), Page and Plant came up with it on the spot while taking a walk near the Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales. Aside from the guitar instrumentals ("Black Mountain Side", "Bron-Yr-Aur"), this is the mellowest you'll hear Led Zeppelin.
A song about Plant's dog, a bluish-grey furred merle named Strider. Similar to Gallows Pole in instrumentation (but decidely more down-tempo), John Paul Jones took the frets off an acoustic bass and played it that way. Meanwhile, John Bonham chips in with castanets and spoons and snapping fingers in addition to his percussion. Jimmy Page noted, perhaps jokingly, that the Stomp "has got the rattling of the kitchen sink - we've got everything in it!"
HATS OFF TO (ROY) HARPER
Page: "It's supposed to be a sincere hats off to Roy because he's really a talented bloke, who's had a lot of problems." Perhaps it is a sincere hats off, but it's close to the oddest song Led Zeppelin ever recorded ("The Crunge" and "Carouselambra" vie for that title as well). Robert Plant's voice was fed through a vibrato amp, and Page counters with a swirling slide guitar. Harper is a folk singer who toured with the band, and also had dealing with Pink Floyd (singing lead vocal on "Have A Cigar"). To get a true idea of how eccentric the song is, Hats Off To (Roy) Harper has to be listened to. Just don't do it if you've got a headache.
In what would soon become tradition, Led Zeppelin decided one releasing III with the strangest album cover possible. The album features a wheel in between the cardboard flaps in the front of the album, which have a number of holes. Rotating the wheel reveals a number of different objects. Page got the idea from wheels he saw in some old gardening catalogs that would offer which manure to use when a particular flower was selected. "Zacron" brought his idea to fruition, but Page was infuriated by the finished product, complaining that the butterflies and chunks of corn on the album were "teeny-bopperish", explaining to fans that "when you get fed-up with the LP there is the added pleasure of ripping the cover apart to find out what's on the rest of the sleeve."
If that wasn't enough, there are at least seven different pressings of the Led Zeppelin III vinyl. Original pressings have the quote "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" on the runoff matrix, a nod to Page's increasing interest in Aleister Crowley (their untitled fourth album would be released on Crowley's birthday). In addition the words "So Mote Be It" appear on both sides of the LP. Subsequent pressings put it one only one side, no sides, or replaced it with the quote "Do What Thou Wilt", again on both sides, one side, or no sides. It is also rumored that as a special added bonus the initial U.K. pressings were coated with cannabis resin.
Much of this information is culled from:
the Led Zeppelin FAQ by Thor Iverson,
archives at Electric Magic,
and the album Led Zeppelin III.