After five years of mixed criticism, huge chart successes, and four self-titled albums, in 1973 Houses of the Holy was released, marking a number of firsts for the buoyantly rising Zeppelin.
Not only was it the first album to showcase music solely produced by the band, but Houses of the Holy was Led Zeppelin’s first indisputable attempt at an avant-garde, rather than hard rock, feel. The foreboding, ethereal notes which open “No Quarter” are the prime examples of this; their echoing, dripping qualities reminiscent of a dark cave in which “The winds of Thor are blowing cold” and “They’re wearing steel that’s bright and true.”
A less dark, but equally artistic work can be found in “The Rain Song,” in which Robert Plant soothingly croons an ode to something as disassociated with the archetypal Zeppelin as “the springtime of my loving,” or “the summer of my smiles.”
The artistic qualities of the album, however, do not stop at the band’s attempts to branch out into areas of the unknown, but also back into the past, with an eclecticism not formerly seen in Led Zeppelin I, II, III, or IV. “The Crunge,” for instance, is an instant flashback to the days of James Brown’s “I Feel Good”… from John Paul Jones’ jerky bass rhythm to the upbeat lyrics, this was a song obviously meant as a tribute to rock and roll’s forefathers. Oddly enough, even reggae makes a grand entrance into the album in the form of “D’yer Mak’er,” which, with the simple addition of a steel drum, could stand alone as the work of a ska artist.
Despite its moments of borderline eccentricity, Houses of the Holy still contains elements of the classic, hard-rock Zeppelin the world had come to know and love.
Plant’s vocals shine in “The Ocean,” a track in which Jimmy Page’s riffs incessantly beat into the listener, then abruptly stop to allow a transcendent acappella section, and finally speed through a doo-wop inspired, epic ending to the album.
The complementary bookend of the album, “The Song Remains the Same,” displays a form of hard rock that is as lush and complex as the respective genre can possibly be. And fittingly halfway through the track list, the band takes the listener from the straightforward joy of “The Crunge” into “Dancing Days” with a catchy, empowered riff and the lyrics, “I got my flower, I got my power, I got a woman who knows.”
Perhaps because of its overall inventiveness (or its lack of popularity amongst parents), the album received mixed reviews but yet another overwhelming wave of support from the general public. The outlying experimentation with guitar sounds and the poetic, sometimes tender lyrics were a break away from what many consider to be the band’s masterpiece, Led Zeppelin IV, which contained tracks such as “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and, of course, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Though Houses of the Holy was less influential in the areas of hard rock, the band picked up modern art as a new mode of inspiration; the music, combined with the controversial cover (which depicts a post-apocalyptic Giant’s Causeway crawling with naked, golden-haired children) ushered in a new, inventive era for not only Led Zeppelin, but for the world of rock as a whole. To this day, Houses of the Holy is a major influence on alternative art-rock bands, and is commonly cited as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Houses of the Holy created nothing new in terms of success for Led Zeppelin; rather, it was a continuation of the long peak the band had been experiencing from 1969.
From a critical perspective, however, the most revolutionary aspect of the album is its emotional fluidity; “The Song Remains the Same” jumps into the album head-on, to later mellow out and lead into “The Rain Song,” generally considered the magnum opus of the album… its transcendence and beauty are some of the band’s most emotionally moving moments and connects with the audience on a personal basis.
To end with “The Ocean” completes the feeling that the album is less a string of songs and more of an epic story, as Plant confidently drawls: “Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain./Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the brain./Got no time to pack my bag, my foot’s outside the door.” A bit like The Odyssey, Houses of the Holy ends up not only connecting, but inspiring.
The album was only a small part of the success Led Zeppelin experienced during the years 1971 through 1975.
During their 1973 North American tour, the band broke the record for concert attendance, one which was previously held by the Beatles.
Of course, accompanying this explosive rock and roll success was an explosive rock and roll lifestyle. As the “biggest band in the world,” their fame and partying ultimately led to their downfall. A car crash, several tour cancellations, multiple riots, an arrest in Oakland, the death of Plant’s son, and, eventually, Bonham’s death by alcohol, all stand as a testament to the inner struggles of the band that seemed to be an unstoppable force.
However, because of such inventive albums as Houses of the Holy, the Led Zeppelin of 1973 are how the world remembers them… literal Rock Gods: giant, infallible, unmovable, and immortal.
Reviewer: Kaitlyn Rabe
IRC: Bill Pulice
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