|By Good-Evil Contributor||Sunday, 9 Mar 2008|
Contributed by Marc J. Dziezynski. Marc creates music under the alias of Emptyeye, and his website can be found here.
Early in 1973, Led Zeppelin’s long-anticipated (Well, for that time anyway) fifth album, Houses of the Holy, was released. Incredibly, it managed to live up to the expectations created by their catalog to that point, particularly the mega-selling Untitled Fourth Album (Zoso/Four Symbols/The One with “Stairway”/etc).
The album opens with “The Song Remains the Same”, a decidedly upbeat rocker that serves as a nice counter to the downer ending of their last album that was “When the Levee Breaks”–a great song, to be sure, but not exactly a happy one. All the elements of classic Zeppelin are there–Robert Plant’s shrieking wail, the sterling lead guitar work of Jimmy Page, John Bonham’s thunderous drumming, and the relatively underrated John Paul Jones holding everything down on bass while showing flashes of wizardry when the song allows for it.
From there, we move to “The Rain Song”, with acoustic guitars and violins and other elements you might not associate with Led Zeppelin. This is, to me, the one relatively less-great portion of this album. The song itself is roughly seven and a half minutes long, and while it eventually builds up to “slow rock groove” before fading back down into the elements that started the song, it takes a bit too long to get there, and doesn’t particularly lead anywhere. It’s as though they attempted to recreate “Stairway to Heaven” and it just didn’t quite work out.
The next song, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, begins similarly acoustically, but finds its way to ass-kicking mid-tempo rock before too long. This is a song you’ve probably heard on the radio before, with good reason.
The next three songs on this album are what elevate it to classic status in my estimation–”The Crunge” finds Zeppelin doing a gentle send-up of James Brown funk (“Excuse me, have you seen the bridge? I can’t find the bridge!”), “Dancing Days” is another fun rock song, and “D’yer Mak’er” (Pronounced “Jamaica”) is their take on a slow reggae tune. These three songs, completely unlike anything they had done before, represent the band as they truly were at the time–on top of the world, well aware of it, and not particularly caring about how you expected them to follow up the fourth album–they’re doing what they want, dammit, conventions be damned!
Song number seven, “No Quarter”, is a song about the ancient Norse people heading off to battle, complete with effects-laden pinao and a thin, fuzzy guitar sound that somehow works in the song’s favor.
The album closes with “The Ocean”, which begins with a riff in 15(!) before alternating between that and a more conventional 4/4 riff, which then turns into a swing/jazz sort of electric jam for the big finish.
Coming off the heels of their previous album, which today has every single one of its songs overplayed to death on the radio, albeit with good reason, Houses of the Holy is something of a miracle. It’s a snapshot of a band enjoying its mega-success, exercising their right to do whatever they damn well please–and doing it damn well, to boot.