Led Zeppelin IV, one of the best selling albums not only of its genre but of all time, turned 49 years old on November 8. As you may already know, the addition of ‘IV’ to the phrase ‘Led Zeppelin’ is a modern touch to the band’s fourth album, as the band intentionally left out a title at the time of its release as a marketing gimmick, allegedly in response to how their prior album, Led Zeppelin III, was received by critics.
For those of you who may still be wondering what Led Zeppelin IV is, it is the album that contains the well-known track “Stairway to Heaven,” the eight-minute piece which is the longest and most popular track in the album.
Looking back on Led Zeppelin now, the band contained some of the best musicians of all time in every position.
This included Robert Plant in the vocal department, John Paul Jones on bass and the various arrangements the band implemented in their music, Jimmy Page on guitar (along with his respective arrangements), and John Bonham on drums, all proving their place in history through eight studio albums over ten years.
Modern terminology, after decades of sound evolution, would prevent Led Zeppelin from being labeled as a heavy metal band in most circumstances. What we do know for sure about the quartet is that they undeniably influenced an entire genre that had yet to come together in the contemporary world, along with other heavy metal progenitors at the time, such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.
Some people may argue that The Beatles’ “White Album” is perhaps the greatest blank title or ‘title-less’ album, and that may be true for the genres that the Beatles created music in. But did the Beatles really help establish a new genre, or become as much of a musical cornerstone as Led Zeppelin did?
Being closer to the time of heavy metal than the Beatles, along with still being active when the heavy metal movement went underway, Zeppelin definitely played their part in determining this genre of music, along with the various other bands that claim them as an influence.
The statistics only reinforce the idea of how significant Led Zeppelin IV is: the album is a double diamond certified effort as of 2006 according to the RIAA, with 23 million copies sold in the US alone. This is only a million copies shy of the sales of “White Album”. The only other foreign act to beat this record is, as you may have guessed, AC/DC’s Back in Black, with over 25 million copies sold.
Naturally, I revisited Led Zeppelin IV for its anniversary. Listening to it over, the album remains quite satisfying throughout, as the closing track “When the Levee Breaks” is just as appealing as the opener “Black Dog”, while the track that many people have heard at some point in time, “Stairway to Heaven”, is in the middle of the album, on Side A for LP listeners.
In the grand scale of things, Led Zeppelin is crucial to music history, as the best-selling band of its genre while also being amongst the best-selling artists of all time. This makes it quite difficult to predict how different the 1970s would have been without the band, and what is arguably their greatest piece of work, Led Zeppelin IV.
Even if you aren’t fond of rock music and its derivatives, it goes without saying that not having the genre around would have drastically changed the other players in the music world. If you’ve never listened to this album before, or if it’s been a while since you have, there’s perhaps no better opportunity to listen to the album that shaped history and the music industry, and molded it into the way it is, than in the shadow of its anniversary, and you can see for yourself how and why it had the impact that it did.