Happy 47th “Birthday” Houses of The Holy
On their fifth album, Led Zeppelin finally got around to naming their work something other than the band’s name followed by a Roman numeral, or nothing at all (what is commonly called Led Zeppelin IV effectively had no real title upon release). The success of the band’s first four albums gave them more freedom and money to experiment with their sound. The Resulting album, 1973’s Houses of The Holy found Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and the late-great John Bonham broadening their attention to detail and sonic palate by placing more emphasis on the contributions of their secret weapon: Jones and his ability to elevate songs with his multi-instrumental talent. John Paul Jones only played bass and Hammond B3 Organ on Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. By the time Houses of The Holy was released, he was playing seven different instruments and occasionally performing backup vocal duties. With this expanded arsenal of sounds at their disposal, Led Zeppelin swung for the fences and for the most part, hit it out of the park. Jimmy Page’s production skills had also evolved dramatically since the band released its first several albums. Instead of a British version of the blues cranked to eleven, Houses of the Holy presented a more mature and diverse version of the band than had previously been captured on record.
Songs like “No Quarter” with Jones’ trippy synth lines, Plant’s processed vocals, and Page’s eerie guitar solo sound closer to mid-era Pink Floyd than blues but Page’s guitar riff assures listeners that it is in fact Led Zeppelin you’re listening to. A song this experimental would sound out of place on the band’s first several albums but it fits perfectly within the context of Houses of The Holy. “D’yer Mak’er” is another example of the band branching out into previously uncharted territory. It combines reggae and rock, something the band wouldn’t have dreamed of doing on their first four albums. The hard rocking swagger that drew many to Led Zeppelin during the early years was not lost though with “The Song Remains the Same”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Dancing Days” and “The Ocean” providing plenty of opportunities for the band to rock out. The seven-plus minute “The Rain Song”, with its lush production and slowed tempo finds the band in rare form. There is more dynamic range in the music here and more space for individual instruments to stretch out in the mix. The only true head-scratcher here is “The Crunge”, where Plant’s vocal delivery and Page’s attempt at a funky guitar line fail to hit the mark. Despite that mid-album hiccup, Houses of The Holy (along with several songs on Led Zeppelin III and the fourth album) proved that Led Zeppelin were more than a one-trick pony.