Led Zeppelin (Part 4) – Houses of the Unholy

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law – Aleister Crowley

All I know is that [with Crowley] it’s a system that works. If you put all your energies into it there’s no doubt you’ll succeed. Because that’s your true will. – Jimmy Page who went on to buy one of Crowley’s former abodes, Boleskine House in Scotland.

Ah snead yo low – Robert Plant, apparently attempting to sing “I need your love.”

How come bloggers don’t have planes and groupies?” – Music Enthusiast.

Wikipedia: “Aleister Crowley was an English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer.* He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century. A prolific writer, he published widely over the course of his life.

Sexuality played an important role in Crowley’s ideas about magick and his practice of it and has been described as being central to Thelema. (Funny how often sex winds up being central to these “religions.” – ME.)

He outlined three forms of sex magick—the autoerotic, homosexual, and heterosexual—and argued that such acts could be used to focus the magician’s will onto a specific goal such as financial gain or personal creative success.” (At John Lennon’s request his picture is on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, top row, second from left next to fellow libertine Mae West. English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, whom Crowley knew – is there as well. Second row, top left.) 

Jimmy Page had always been interested in alternative religions and first got interested in Crowley when reading the latter’s Magick in Theory and Practice. While Page doesn’t talk about his interest in magick all that much, neither has he shied away from it but has referred to it in interviews. Supposedly he tried to get the other members of the band to perform a magick ritual with only John Paul Jones abstaining. (So if this worked and they were successful, how come Jones is alive and Bonham dead? – ME.) 

Back to the music. According to When Giants Walked the Earth, “between their first show in December 1968 and their latest in April 1970, they had performed no less than 153 times in the US. They were now playing for guarantees of $100,000 per show ($700,000 in 2018 dollars.) Consequently, 1970 became the year when the band began to live large.” They bought themselves houses in the country, cars and all the good things of life. And John Bonham finally moved out of his council flat (a form of public housing) in Dudley to a fifteen-acre farm.

Plant and Page, now firmly established as the band’s primary songwriters, decided to get away to Wales to a cottage Plant knew from his childhood named Bron-Yr-Aur (“breast of gold” or “golden hill.”) This more bucolic atmosphere along with a love of the acoustic music of folkies Davey Graham and Bert Jansch, encouraged them in a more acoustic direction. And like so many other bands, they were influenced by the direction The Band had taken on Music From Big Pink. Plus they wanted to prove to the world and perhaps to themselves that they could do more than blues-based crunch ‘n roll.

Plant and Page were later joined by JPJ and Bonzo in a former poorhouse (now private residence) called Headley Grange. Per Wikipedia: “Led Zeppelin III marked a change in focus for the band from late 1960s hard rock to a psychedelic folk and acoustic sound. These styles had been present to a lesser degree in the band’s first two releases … However, on this album, the group used more acoustic arrangements, and they would remain prominent to various degrees in the group’s later releases.”

Interestingly, while it’s thought of in many respects as an acoustic album, Page makes the point that there was still some pretty hard-hitting shit on the album like the kickoff “Immigrant Song” (inspired by a gig in Iceland), “Celebration Day” and “Out on the Tiles.” Still, the rabid Zep audience was looking for – and did not get – 37 more variations on “Whole Lotta Love.” The album didn’t sell as well as the previous one and again, Zep got hammered in the rock press. So much so that Pagey did not give an interview for a year and a half.

“Immigrant Song” is a killer track, a song that Jack Black – the world’s biggest no-shit Zep fan – literally begged the band to use in School of Rock. And so they let him. (If you have never seen this movie, you should. It’s worth it just to hear Black sing “hammer of the gods.”) Heart covers this tune and blows it out of the water:

We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow
The hammer of the gods
We’ll drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde, and sing and cry
Valhalla, I am coming!

Spotify link

There is an old, old song called “The Maid Freed From the Gallows” about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. The version that Page heard and liked was by an American folkie named Fred Gerlach who was a friend and contemporary of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. “I used his version as a basis and completely changed the arrangement,” said Page. They Zepped it up:

Spotify link

When it came time to master the album, instead of putting catalog numbers on the run-out tracks, Page opted to put the Crowley statements “Do What Thou Wilt Shall be the Whole of the Law,” “So Mote it Be,” and possibly “Love Under Will.”

It was somewhere in around here that Zep started traveling on their own Boeing 720 jet airliner nicknamed the Starship. This thing had not only a piano for Jonesy to plunk on for guests but also a round bed in the back. One assumes the latter was there to afford the lads a nice rest while they drank milk and ate cookies between gigs! And they were so kindly, why, they sometimes gave young ladies rides!!

It was also about this time that Zep’s reputation for debauchery, wildness and wrecked hotel rooms began to emerge. In their, I suppose for want of a better word, defense, this behavior was fairly typical of Seventies bands. (See Rolling Stones movie Cocksucker Blues – ME.)

So if it’s Bonham riding a motorcycle through the LA Hyatt House (“Riot House” they called it), or the guys trashing a hotel room at the Tokyo Hilton or violating a young groupie with a mud shark, it’s all part of the Zep mythology. As is Page dating a 14-year old girl which, alas, happens to be true. (“Do what thou wilt.”) From the very beginning, Jones tried to distance himself from most of these antics, even sometimes traveling separately from the other guys.

The band also availed themselves of a full-time coke lady who would travel with them so the band never had to carry or touch the drug. She would apply cocaine to the nostrils with her little finger, add a touch of snuff, then finish off with a dab of Dom Perignon. (Ah yes, the good old days – ME.)

After Led Zep III, the band took a break from touring** to work on their next album. They went back to Bron-Yr-Aur to write new material then to London to record. They had considered using Mick Jagger’s mobile studio but Pagey said “I’m not giving Mick Jagger a thousand pounds a week for his place. I’m going to find something better than that.” So back to Headley Grange they went. On this album, the lads decided, I think, to mix the best of both worlds, so crunch ‘n roll along with the acoustic sounds of Led Zep III.

Wikipedia: “After the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive, critical reaction Led Zeppelin III had received in late 1970, Page decided that the next Led Zeppelin album would not have a title, but would instead feature four hand-drawn symbols on the inner sleeve and record label, each one chosen by the band member it represents. (More mystical Crowley shit.)  The record company was strongly against the idea, but the group stood their ground and refused to hand over the master tapes until their decision had been agreed to. 

Page has also stated that the decision to release the album without any written information on the album sleeve was contrary to strong advice given to him by a press agent, who said that after a year’s absence from both records and touring, the move would be akin to “professional suicide.” (For any other band, yes – ME.)

Page thought, “We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing.” He recalled that Atlantic was insisting that a title had to be on the album, but held his ground, as he felt it would be an answer to critics who could not review one Led Zeppelin album without point of reference to earlier ones. (Pagey’s loathing for the rock press was acute and actually fairly understandable.) 

I think anybody with even a passing acquaintance with rock music knows what happened next. Led Zep IV was the band’s biggest-selling album to date and in fact, the album is one of the best-selling albums of all time with more than 37 million copies sold as of 2014. As of 2018 It is tied for third-highest-certified album in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America at 23× Platinum.

The critical acclaim was great and widespread and even Rolling Stone managed to – in 2003 – rank it number 69 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” which described it as “the peak of Seventies hard rock.” (RS also listed Houses of the Holy #148, Led Zep II #79, Physical Graffiti #73. And in a complete justification of my entire existence on earth, they ranked Led Zeppelin the highest, at #29.)

There was literally a black dog wandering around Headley Grange during the recording of this album. Robert Plant explained in an interview with Cameron Crowe: “Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized. Things like ‘Black Dog’ are blatant, let’s-do-it-in-the-bath type things, but they make their point just the same.” (Do it in the bath? – ME)

Per Rolling Stone: “It was Jones, not Page, who came up with the unique 5/4 riff for “Black Dog.” As Jones told Cameron Crowe, “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.” (I learned this lick but it was a bitch to play. You can hear Bonzo counting out time on the record so they wouldn’t lose track – ME.

And of course, this was the album that spawned “Stairway to Heaven.” Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 40 years, you know this song. Not much to say about it that hasn’t already been said. It’s a great song that along with ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘Free Bird,’ form the holy trilogy of most inappropriately requested songs. (If I meet a guy playing acoustic guitar or for that matter, tuba, theremin or zither, I usually ask him to play a medley of all three – ME.)

The song is essentially a Page/Plant composition with Jonesy helping on the arrangement. As to its origins, well, there’s that whole ‘borrowed’ thing again. The short story is that Zep and Spirit toured together and Zep was sued (and won) not too long ago for plagiarism. (You can read about and hear it here in my earlier post.)

The interesting thing is that the judge did not allow the jury to hear both compositions, rather asking them to decide based on sheet music. Which was literally one of the stupidest fucking things I ever heard in my life. Another judge recently overturned that and back to trial they will go where I predict Zep will lose big-time. And that will be a lot of money going to Randy California’s estate. I could be wrong. But If I was on that jury I’d award it in a heartbeat. I take no particular glee in that. But I have pretty good ears and I hear it.

Page’s solo in the original is iconic and he nailed it after three attempts. This is a live version from Madison Square Garden in 1973. The inaugural public performance of the song took place at Belfast’s Ulster Hall on 5 March 1971. JPJ recalls that the crowd was unimpressed: “They were all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew.”

Spotify link

Next (and final) post- Zep rules the roost. And Led Zeppelin hits a power line, crashes and burns.

*Crowley was an incredible mountaineer and climbed pretty much everything except Everest. He was part of the first aborted mission up K2. For a brief period of time in the 19th century, climbing up sandy rock edifices was a thing. He is one of the few to successfully climb up a long-gone natural structure at Beachy Head in England called Devil’s Chimney. BTW, If you’re so inclined, you can find all sorts of stuff on YouTube purporting to invoke Satan if you listen to “Stairway” backward.

**Astonishingly, although Zep played a couple of major concerts at Earl’s Court and Knebworth, their last-ever tour of the UK ended in January 1973. They never toured there again.

 

 

46 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin (Part 4) – Houses of the Unholy

  1. Two stone cold classic albums there. I love Led Zep III – Immigrant Song, Celebration Day, Tangerine… but there’s no denying the wonder and status of IV as their greatest. Did you know Black Dog was also inspired by Mac’s Oh Well?

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    1. Ah. You doubtless missed my encomium to Zep 1. I understand why so many people think ZOSO is the best but I’m a Zep 1 guy all the way. It’s my go-to. I mention too, maybe in the previous post. that Rolling Stone ranks it highest of their albums which is ironic as they couldn’t have slagged it off more mercilessly when it came out.

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        1. Don’t be silly old chap. I’m partial to the Ritz in, I believe, Piccadilly. Or perhaps that’s afternoon tea. I always get those confused.

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        2. BTW, nice job on Brexit! Who’s in charge over there, Steve Bannon? Come March – is it March – you will have one foot in the EU, one on a banana peel.

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        3. BTW, nice job over there on Brexit. (Unlike here where we are a well-oiled machine.) Who’s running that shitshow? Steve Bannon? Nigel Farage? The National Front?

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        4. Fingers crossed but that particular nightmare appears to be collapsing rather than, say, throwing toys from a lean and denying close to a million people their pay

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        5. Hey, now. You can’t compare your collapsing empire (see:Kinks, Arthur) with our utterly failed experiment (see: everything post-JFK assassination.) Who wins? Or loses?

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  2. I didn’t know any of that stuff at the start of your take. I never was Mr Zep but I always dug their music. The two albums you featured are solid. So much good stuff on both of them. I think I told this story to yeah another blogger. When they came to Van for the first time my brother went and took a dumb girl instead of his cool little snot nosed brother. What a dork.

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    1. The Crowley stuff hovers over the whole story. He was a fascinating guy. In fact I just picked up a book on his life. As to your brother taking some girl to a show instead of his little brother, gee whiz, wonder why?

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        1. I was thinking the Beav but wrote down ‘Sons’. I can hear both Wally and the Beaver whining to the old-man. Then Mr Cleaver giving out some of that good old American down home wisdom. “Beaver don’t be an idiot go play with Fred Lumpy”.

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        2. Either you’re older than I think or you spend way too much time watching TVLand. I liked Eddie Haskell. “Nice to see you Mrs. Cleaver.” And as soon as she’s gone he’d start dumping on the Beav. Classic suck-up.

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  3. The third album may be my favorite of theirs, at this point in my life, due to the acoustic and folk influences. (Too many “hammers of the Gods” for too many years for me.) As for your inclusion of the obligatory witchcraft, drugs, hotel rooms, and groupies… I’d claim that you’re raising a middle finger at me, but I KNOW this isn’t the case. 🙂

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    1. Wow, you may be the first person I know who listed III as their fave. I dig it too, more so in retrospect than I did at the time. The middle finger reference is lost on me. I assume you’re saying “Pete doesn’t wanna hear about non-music stuff but screw him.” If I’m interpreting that right, trust when I say I wasn’t thinking about you when I wrote it. 🙂 Clarify that one if I’m misinterpreting.

      But I will tell you as I mentioned to CB, my interest in Zep has been reinvigorated for sure as a result of this series. But I found Crowley so fascinating that I bought and am currently reading a bio of him. A one-of-a-kind oddball.

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  4. Yeah, my comment in Part One expressed relief about your sticking to music (and avoiding the sensational). Hence, my middle finger comment here. But hey, I can handle the one-finger salute occasionally! (I’ve now learned the spirit of Aloha.)

    Over the years I’ve shifted between I, III, and IV, but III has it for me, now. “Gallows Pole,” “Croys Harper”… wow. I’m more into the softer, less bombastic stuff now, although it knocked me out at one time in my life. (Plant was interviewed by Dan Rather recently and admits the same thing.) And I totally get it about becoming reinvigorated over artists after one writes about them. This happened to me with the Turtles, Doors, Velvets, Syd Barrett, Tom Rapp, Maggie Roche… and will probably happen with the Doobie Brothers! (when I get to them.)

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    1. No middle finger here. Note that in my first post I said I would “touch on those areas because with Zep you can hardly avoid them. But if you want those stories in greater depth, well, you can find them.” So I could hardly avoid them. Plus they’re so fucking juicy! 🙂

      Zep 1 is it for me, then ZoSO, Zep II, then Physical Graffiti, then Zep III, then Houses. The others? Meh. What is it with Dan Rather and rockers? I watched his interviews with both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts. And why has he not interviewed (I’m assuming) R.E.M for reasons I’m think you get, yes?

      Don’t forget your promised Roxy Music post.

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  5. Yes, I saw those Allman interviews. My favorite is the one he did with Roger Waters, who is a pretty deep cat, and doesn’t hold back, and the two of them met on the same intellectual level. Despite the obligatory drug questions – endlessly fascinating to “establishment” types – I love how Rather digs into things other interviewers would shy away from. He brought up guns and the rebel flag with Lynyrd Skynyrd and – Gary Rossington excepted – made the others look like idiots.

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    1. Hmm. Yeah, I gotta see if I can catch the Waters one. He has caught beaucoup grief for his pro-Palestinian stance, even losing sponsorship dollars due to it. I like listening to smart musicians get interviewed. Elton John and Pete Townshend are both very bright opinionated guys in that respect. Do you know that Waters and the now-disgraced Charlie Rose are old friends? I see him interviewed once on Roses’ old show. I’ll have to check out that Skynyrd one as well. BTW, it’s pretty easy to make the average rocker look stupid.

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    2. BTW, as to your comment about the bombastic vs. the softer, I confess that while I’m more into the softer stuff than I was when younger, I am by no stretch of the imagination into the bombastic less. I am like a teenager in my tastes sometimes. If I were to start a band it would be hard-driving blues, Zep, maybe some BOC-like metal all the way. Along with that some funk, jazzy stuff Allmans and even a little Dead. I’d throw in an AC/DC ‘ballad” periodically for fun. 🙂 This may in part be enhanced by the fact that I can play so much of his stuff now on the gee-tar. I actually have a mash-up of 23 Zep songs (intros/solos) that I play for fun and it is 90+% crunch ‘n roll. I am just not a mellow guy and never will be. Rock and roll!

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      1. I guess if you play electric blues-rock guitar, you’d lean more away from “mellow” than toward it! I’m not mellow all the time, but my tastes have definitely evolved since my teen years (which is not intended as a slight). Angus Young can still get me roused (sometimes), but I’m closer to the other Young (Neil): “Old Man,” then “Rockin’ in the Free World,” then repeat!

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        1. Yes, exactly. And the true thing is this Pete – up until about two years ago, I wasn’t playing guitar well enough to master this shit. And then some magic happened and I can play ALL this shit. And so it’s been a resurgence for me. I started taking a jazz class and got really bored with it. But when I play Page/Beck/Hendrix/Allman/Clapton licks it gets me down to my toes.

          But yeah, despite that I’ve definitely broadened. I listen to more jazz, but less fusion. I listen to more classical. Singer/songwriters, though, still largely bore me unless their names are Dylan, James Taylor or Paul Simon.

          And the other thing is that too many of our peers have checked out. They’re in their 50s and 60s and all they want is a nap and to listen to ‘Tapestry.’ Fuck that. What are they gonna do when they’re 90? I dig that you hike. You’re out there. That’s YOUR rock ‘n roll, in a sense. I’m more of couch potato. But my couch time is spent playing the blues. In the immortal words of the late, great Johnny Winter (at the beginning of Johnny B. Goode) – Rock and Roll!

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  6. Aw man, IV/ZOSO/Four Symbols is my favourite. First Zeppelin album I fell in love with after numerous attempts to get into the others. Truth be told, it’s Jones and Bonham that make that one for me… their contributions are phenomenal. Not to say Plant and Page don’t do their thing, but I guess I paid attention to them more. When The Levee Breaks has long been my favourite Led Zep tune… just can’t be beaten. Not even with a stick.

    … and it’s still the only Zeppelin album I own on vinyl. I said I’d rectify that one day, but I just haven’t been in a rush.

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      1. I will do. I ended up making my own list, too… got me in a Led Zep mood. Currently listening to IV, though. Not a slice of filler on that album at all.

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        1. Yup. That’s not so good. But then, I blame the major labels for creating a situation where that was allowed to happen as much as the streaming services for taking advantage of it.

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