Photo: Dick Barnatt
For The Record: How Led Zeppelin Finally Conquered The World With 'Led Zeppelin IV'
Three records in, Led Zeppelin had already solidified their place in rock history. But 50 years later, the English rock band's best-selling, bombastic, untitled fourth album, commonly known as 'Led Zeppelin IV,' still sounds like a revelation
It's the one with "Stairway."
That's all millions of fans have needed to know when picking up Led Zeppelin's best-selling fourth album, which was released 50 years ago this month. That's true in part because the record sleeve itself didn't give them much else to go on. The packaging was intentionally mysterious, without any words or insignias on the cover, only a peeling wall with a framed picture depicting a graying man hauling sticks on his back.
Colloquially known as Led Zeppelin IV, IV, or sometimes Runes in reference to the four runic symbols chosen by band members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham to represent themselves, the officially untitled affair is a massive wallop of sound, the 1971 rock classic standing as a quintessential expression of the band's lyrical mysticism, folk leanings and bruising hard rock.
For the first three years of Led Zeppelin's existence, stretching from their formation in the summer of 1968 to the release of IV, the band was in constant motion, releasing three albums in a span of just 22 months. Led by former session and Yardbirds guitarist Page, fronted by a then-unknown Plant, and anchored by bassist Jones and drum-basher Bonham, the band built its fanbase by bringing its bombastic live show to concert halls across the U.K., Europe and North America.
Breaking in America was central to the band's strategy. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean seven times to tour the U.S. before releasing IV, building from opening for groups like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly in 1968 to headlining a two-night stand at the 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden in New York City in under two years. Not long after that September 1971 run, the quartet returned to Headley Grange, where they had recorded part of III, armed with a batch of new songs that would change their lives.
By the time the band parked the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio outside the eighteenth-century retreat in rural southwestern England, its four members were locked in like a machine. The band hired engineer Andy Johns, who had just worked in the studio while tracking the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers, and as a result, the record's production values leapfrogged their previous albums, which were mostly recorded in various towns while on tour. The live-in rehearsal and recording situation at Headley Grange yielded more than enough music for their upcoming album, leaving them with extra songs that appeared on 1975's Physical Graffiti. The eight songs that made the cut, though, were stone-cold classics.
"Black Dog" opens the album with an explosive pentatonic blues-based riff in the tradition of Page's classic "Heartbreaker" [a highlight from Led Zeppelin II] and a shrieking vocal performance from Plant. Bonham deepens the groove with propulsive drumming that alternates between 4/4 and 7/8 time, providing the backbone to the call-and-response interplay between vocals and guitar. "Rock and Roll" follows, a straight-laced, up-tempo boogie inspired by Little Richard.
Zeppelin returns to the Celtic folk it explored on III for the mandolin-based "The Battle of Evermore," which finds Plant exchanging vocal lines with Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention [famously covered by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson on the Singles motion picture soundtrack in 1992, billed as The Lovemongers]. Later, contemplative, fingerpicked acoustic-folk ballad "Going to California" mellows the vibe after "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Four Sticks," an off-time experiment played by Bonham holding two drum sticks in each hand.
The album's most famous experiment came on the hypnotic "When the Levee Breaks," originally composed by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, with Johns capturing the sound of Bonham playing drums at Headley Grange with microphones hanging from a nearby stairwell. Johns slowed down the tape when he recorded the rest of the band, giving the drums an apocalyptic scale.
And then there's "Stairway to Heaven," the eight-minute epic that pulled all the band's strengths together into one song. Page wrote the song's delicate, acoustic opening section while staying with Plant at a remote cottage in Wales, then assembled the middle and climactic third section at Headley Grange, with Plant writing vocals on the spot.
"Stairway to Heaven" has become a cultural touchstone thanks to its enormous popularity on FM radio in the 1970s and '80s. The song's descending opening guitar figure became so well known that it made a cameo as "the forbidden riff" in 1992's Wayne's World, which winked at the song's enduring popularity. In 2014, that same riff was the subject of a lawsuit claiming the band lifted it from the song "Taurus" by the L.A.-based Spirit. A jury cleared Zeppelin, and the lawsuit finally ended in March 2020 when an appeals court upheld the verdict.
With legal questions in the rearview, the song's legacy is undeniable. "Stairway to Heaven" has notched more than half a billion streams on Spotify alone, and it ranked No. 61 on Rolling Stone's 2021 redux of its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Page's fiery leads in the third section topped Guitar World's list of the 50 Greatest Guitar Solos in 2009.
The seven other songs on IV have earned similar legacies through another path: sampling. Bonham's beats became foundational to hip-hop, and nearly every track on IV has been sampled—including dozens of instances for "Black Dog" and "Stairway to Heaven." But the cavernous drum intro to "When the Levee Breaks" has been sampled more than 200 times, most notably in "Rhymin' & Stealin'" by Beastie Boys, "Kim" by Enimem, "Army of Me" by Björk, and "Don't Hurt Yourself" by Beyoncé featuring Jack White.
The popularity of Led Zeppelin's fourth album endures. At present, it is the fifth best-selling album of all time in the U.S. for moving 23 million copies. Worldwide, the album has sold 37 million copies and ranks the twelfth best-seller of all time. In 1999, the Recording Academy inducted it to the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.
The monumental success of Zeppelin's fourth album turned the band into a stadium act, and the momentum carried them through 1973's House of the Holy and 1975's double-album, Physical Graffiti. The band's pace slowed during the latter part of the decade, due to a car accident that left Plant in need of rehabilitation, as well as spiraling substance abuse with Page and Bonham that ultimately led to the drummer's death in 1980.
While their post-IV musical output only strengthened the band's legacy as one of rock's most potent forces, after five decades those eight songs still sound every bit as adventurous and groundbreaking.
N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren
Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record
What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets
A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.
Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.
Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.
Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.
Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine
Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift
Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.
Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.
"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift
Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams
Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)
Best New Artist:
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.
For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.
The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.
The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.
For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.
The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.
This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.
The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
Photo: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images
Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record
Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album
For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.
Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.
The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."
As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).
Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.
Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.
"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images
Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition
Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night
Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.
There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true. Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.
"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."
Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").
Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.