Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Led Zeppelin—
III


Released 1970 on Atlantic
The Seth Man, January 2003ce
Possibly the most overlooked album in all of Zeppelin’s decade-long catalogue, “III” often gets lazily brushed aside as Zep’s acoustic record (as though “Black Mountain Side,” their acoustic underpinnings on “Ramble On” and a whole bevy of others never existed) or given the bum’s rush as some sort of forgettable pit stop between “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway To Heaven.” True, “III” is different from the Zep albums that chronologically preceded and followed it but in no way did it lack one bit in terms of content, production, execution or arrangements. Perhaps it was because "III" was such an unpredictable curveball in light of their first two albums of 1969: most obvious in primarily acoustic second side as well as the thunder of John Bonham’s drums remaining restrained or held in abeyance for the duration of not one but several songs. But it did follow the programmatic boundaries of Zeppelin's previous two LPs by beginning with a wearing and tearing rave up and waving goodbye with a stark blues while here in the time between projecting a wider dynamic picture than before albums as elements of folk music began to be worked next to and within their insistent rock-hard and raw bombast of sexual abandon. And “III” is every bit an explosion of colours, moods and extremes as the collaged, pop-art wheel grommetted to the inside of its double-folded front cover.

“The Immigrant Song” opens with a pulse of faint static and then straight into a pummeling, driving guitar riff that powers the track and plows forward like a fearsome longship cutting across the freezing, white-topped North Sea. A quick and recklessly rockin’ affair that kick things off like classic '69 Zeppelin, two and half minutes later this Norse onslaught abruptly desists to fall away into studio chatter, a cymbal tap and premature bass riffing. An acoustic guitar rings out to signal the introduction of the supine “Friends.” Bonzo has left his kit to pound out a cantering conga beat behind a North African mystery string section straight off of “Their Satanic Majesties Request” (natch, as Zep bassist John Paul Jones was involved on it in his past life as a session man arranging the string section on “She’s A Rainbow.”) This crossfades courtesy of a low pitched, mysterious Moog modulating drone into “Celebration Day” as jagged and lightning quick series of riffs appear unaccompanied to set up the underpinning of a blunt, STP-treated rockabilly blues rhythm that ensue for the entirety of the track as the other instruments and Plant’s voice accumulate into a joyous, spirited stomp. By the instrumental coda, Page had added several minor guitar bits that dance and dart all around Plant’s shrill calls for the party to continue, rocking back and forth JUST out of the feedback zone (but shrilly drops into it, anyway) as though leaning up against Plant’s throbbing Percy-scatting. The bass doubles up at the end, a constant reminder that the unassuming and quiet John Paul Jones was every bit as strong in his barely visible bass placements which you don’t hear but feel...and if they were absent? The track would fall to its knees.

“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is live in the studio with overdubbed organ tones and opens with a quiet, reflective blues guitar as Bonzo’s bass drum pedal creaks under the weight and pressure of its oppressor’s foot. Sounding like an advanced and far more finessed take of “Summertime” by Big Brother & The Holding Company, even Plant is getting into the Joplin vibe vocally and growling all through this Sisyphus-like push of love’s boulder up a mountainside to little avail (In fact, Plant even manages to visually resemble Joplin during the in-concert Zep classic, “The Song Remains The Same” during the ending sequence of “Dazed And Confused” with a sequence of high-contrast stills of Plant bringing THAT behemoth back to earth again and yup: in one he looks EXACTLY like Janis.) The sleek, oil and curving shapes of the blues body moan are all explored, condemned, cursed and back for more until it all seems to fall away like a gentle morning mist with a supremely felt-out organ passage that just flows out from Jones’ fingers. “Out On The Tiles” is grinding and driving and the sound of a punitive march although Plant’s just walking down the highway as casual as you please, singing an ol’ highway love song. The space between Page’s guitar riffing and Bonzo’s accurately placed cymbal and drum belabouring creates a magnificently powerful sex thrust that comes to a head in the chorus every time, and the coda hammers on for far longer than a typical outro (but it’s still not long enough) and is a wonderfully spiraling sawn-off thing of a riff that waywardly careens on and off into far distance.

Side two slips all but entirely into the far most pastoral climes of acoustic-based music. Beginning with a track where blues, rock and folk tracing back from Appalachia to Albion all assemble into the ancient love, death, hangman and lady theme that is “Gallows Pole.” An auxiliary of acoustic guitars both 6 and 12 string, mandolin, banjo and bass pumps all fall into place around Plant’s plaintive screech. Halfway through, Bonzo enters to drive and kick the Trad. Arr.’s arse into the 20th Century, coming on cue with a relentlessly steady and heavily whacked out trot that echo Plant’s sister making her way across the far hillocks with a sack of silver and gold to forestall the executioner’s noose (And if that doesn’t work, she’s already placed a fair ribbon in her hair and slung her neckline down rather too low in order to present her rosy bosom as a last ditch persuasive strategy...) “Gallows Pole”: a lusty, breathless reanimation of a timeless ballad of the past kissed by the electric muse of the present.

The lovelorn Page composition dating from his tenure with The Yardbirds, “Tangerine” begins with a false start, a quiet count-off and the ringing of a 12-string that opens the door quietly back into a place in the past where the weather of ancient relationships and lovers is always late afternoon of Indian summer. Plant’s vocal accents fall delicately away on the edge of ever verse while a searing, double-tracked guitar solo tears away at the stinging of the heart’s deepest losses, ending only after the bucolic wah-wah slide by Page flows back into its acoustic reservoir, where a quietly plucked flourish sweetly ends it all. Quickly mirroring this is the delicate, drum-less acoustic piece, “That’s The Way.” Mandolin counterpoints the overall feel of a plea for peace and understanding under a veil of languid melancholia as further gentle electric guitar slide/wah-wah tones are set in the background quietly washing away all worry. These colourations continually rise to the surface throughout the song as a balm as they explore and uplift the spirit through feeling alone. “That’s The Way” is an oasis from all the rush, hassles and hang-ups while reflecting them upon the surface of a quiet autumn lake and letting them wash far, far away. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” lifts the spirits in a campfire-light/hearted sing and clap along bash out as Bonzo returns with only bass drum and hi-hat from the pub down the road, and Plant’s voice is in full force: rising, bending, straining right up against the wall of cracking...but never does. Castanets clack, acoustic guitars ring and full acoustic bass tones plonk as a relaxed atmosphere of good cheer pervades. “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” breaks everything down to the barest bones for both the acoustic set and the album’s finale all at once. A hallucinatory vocal echo rockets out of nowhere into the red as an intro to a frenetically ragged blues incorporating most of Bukka’ White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down.” Page madly strums and picks away at bottleneck slide guitar a maniacally-repeated riff whose only partner is Robert Plant: dueling with vocals processed to sound like the scratchiest blues wax cylinder or 78rpm record, ever. Megaphonically treated, Plant soon is wordlessly quavering against Page’s playing and the effect is both disconcerting and spellbinding.