Album #39: Led Zeppelin — Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
In the only real music debate I ever had with Grayson Currin, our music editor at the Independent, he expressed disappointment when I said Led Zeppelin IV was their best album. “What? III is the better record,” he replied authoritatively, standing in the lunch room while waiting for the microwave to ding. Sure, I agreed, Led Zep III IS the better record — but IV is still my favorite. He shrugged dismissively, as if to say, how can you base an argument on that?
Soaked in Tolkien references and faux mysticism, the band’s fourth studio album marked their transformation from a mere British blues-rock group to LED ZEPPELIN; by the time we caught up with them in the mid-70’s they had already become the bloated rock leviathans “Spinal Tap” would eventually so accurately mock, yet at the time it was still new to us, and my brother and I proudly wore our Zoso t-shirts until they shredded.
Officially released with no title — and adorned only with medieval drawings, a strange photo of a woodsman, and the aforementioned runes — Led Zep IV suffered from the collective scorn of having “Stairway to Heaven” as one of its tracks, even as it ensured it would be Zeppelin’s best selling album ever. But IV was also the home of “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” Rock and Roll,” “Going to California” and other songs that are still in heavy rotation on a radio station somewhere, probably this very minute.
While overexposure has no doubt worn IV’s welcome thin, it still has one song that calls out to me — literally. At about the 1:36 mark in “The Battle of Evermore” — Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s ultimate fantasy mashup — a clash of voices in the chorus conspire to sound like someone is saying “JP?” I first noticed this, back in the misty days of middle school, while listening to the track through headphones. Thinking my mom was calling me from the kitchen, I took off the headphones and went to see what she wanted. It went something like this.
“Didn’t you just call me?”
I went back to my dad’s office, where all his recording equipment was set up, and started the song over. Again, I heard my mom yell for me from the kitchen.
“I just heard you call my name.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Are you sure? I heard you yell ‘JP'”
“No, I’m sure.”
Again I went back and put on the headphones — and there it was clear as day. In the chorus, you can hear two voices collide in something that sounds almost exactly like “JP?” … I lifted the needle again and again to try and isolate the sound. “JP?… JP? …JP! … JP!?” — Suddenly, my mom ripped off the headphones.
“HEY! I’VE BEEN CALLING YOU FOR THE LAST FIVE MINUTES!”
“Wha? But — but, the song! It’s in THE SONG!”
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? DAMMIT, TURN OFF THE STEREO RIGHT NOW, I NEED YOUR HELP IN THE KITCHEN.”
I later played the track for my brother, to see if I was crazy or not, and after he too heard it he took off the headphones and said, ‘Okay, that’s weird.”