10 Rare Facts About Led Zeppelin IV

10 Rare Facts About Led Zeppelin IV | I Love Classic Rock Videos

Led Zeppelin live in 1973 - Led Zeppelin Concert Footage / Youtube

Led Zeppelin IV, which is what fans call the untitled fourth album of the heavy metal pioneers, is one of the most iconic and analyzed records in rock history. Every riff, lyric, and symbol has been dissected and debated for decades. But even the most die-hard fans might be surprised by some lesser-known facts about this legendary album.

In his book Led Zeppelin FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Greatest Hard Rock Band of All Time, author George Case dives deep into the band’s history, separating fact from fiction. He argues that the band’s rapid pace of creation during their early years often led to misinterpretations. With the constant pressure to record and tour, there wasn’t always time for grand philosophical statements in their music or album art.

Case sheds light on the often-exaggerated myths surrounding Led Zeppelin, reminding readers that much of their work was more spontaneous than meets the eye. This fresh perspective allows us to appreciate the band’s raw talent and creative energy in a new light.

So, even if you think you know everything about Led Zeppelin IV, prepare to be surprised. Buckle up as we explore ten fascinating facts that will challenge your understanding of this legendary album.

1. There’s a defiant reason behind the unconventional cover

Led Zeppelin IV, stands out not only for its iconic music but also for its unique cover art. Unlike most albums, it features no band name, logos, or even song titles. This seemingly unorthodox choice, however, had a deeper meaning, as guitarist Jimmy Page revealed in a 2001 interview.

According to Page, the bare cover wasn’t intended as a rebellious act against their record company. Instead, it served as a powerful response to music critics who dismissed the band’s early success as mere hype. These critics argued that Led Zeppelin’s initial popularity wasn’t a result of genuine talent but rather a product of clever marketing and industry manipulation.

“It was designed as our response to the music critics who maintained that the success of our first three albums was driven by hype and not talent. … So, we stripped everything away, and let the music do the talking,” the guitar maestro revealed to reporter Brad Tolinksi.

2. That unique intro sound in “Black Dog” is actually an unintentional result of studio technology

The opening of the iconic track “Black Dog” features a unique and somewhat unsettling sound that instantly sets the tone for the song. This sound, however, has a surprising origin, as explained by Case Led Zeppelin FAQ.

According to the author, the sound is not a deliberate musical element but rather a byproduct of studio technology. Page, known for his extensive use of overdubbing, recorded multiple guitar tracks for “Black Dog”. To ensure these tracks played in perfect sync, the tapes needed to be meticulously aligned during the editing process. The resulting sound of this process, the tape rolling and adjusting, was unintentionally captured on the final recording.

Instead of removing this unexpected sound, Page embraced its unique character. He likened it to “the massing of the guitar armies”, perfectly capturing the raw energy and intensity that he envisioned for the song’s opening.

3. Everything in “When the Levee Breaks” is subtly slowed down except Robert Plant’s vocals

“When the Levee Breaks” is renowned for its earth-shattering drum sound, creating an atmosphere of immense power and impending doom. While the unique acoustics of Headley Grange’s stairwell played a role in capturing this effect, the true secret lies in a clever studio manipulation.

As many have speculated, the massive sound wasn’t solely achieved through natural reverb. In fact, everything except Robert Plant’s vocals was subtly slowed down during the mixing process. This technique, described as making the song “really heavy”, contributed significantly to the song’s signature heaviness and created the illusion of a slow-motion, almost physical experience for the listener.

This revelation highlights the band’s innovative approach to recording and their willingness to experiment with studio techniques to achieve their desired sonic landscapes. By subtly manipulating the tempo, they transformed a powerful performance into an iconic moment in rock history, showcasing their ingenuity and solidifying their place as musical pioneers.

4. “Four Sticks” is the least popular track

While every song on Led Zeppelin IV holds a special place in the hearts of many fans, George Case identifies “Four Sticks” as the album’s least popular track. He acknowledges the difficulty in making such a claim but ultimately concludes that it might be the “least listenable” song on the record.

The Led Zeppelin FAQ author clarifies that his opinion doesn’t stem from disliking the song itself. He simply believes it holds less appeal compared to its counterparts on the album. This sentiment might even be shared by the band themselves, considering their exclusion of “Four Sticks” from their 1990 box set, which featured seven out of the eight tracks from Led Zeppelin IV.

In the grand scheme of the album’s iconic status, “Four Sticks” may not stand out as prominently as the other masterpieces. However, its inclusion still contributes to the diverse soundscape and showcases the band’s experimental spirit, solidifying Led Zeppelin IV as a truly remarkable collection of songs.

5. The album was recorded in other studios as well, not just in Headley Grange

While the mention of Led Zeppelin IV’s recording often conjures images of the supposedly haunted Headley Grange, the album’s journey extended far beyond these walls. Case sheds light on the diverse locations that played a role in shaping this iconic record.

Headley Grange undoubtedly holds a significant place in the album’s lore, particularly due to its unique acoustics and the legendary recording of “When the Levee Breaks” in its echoing stairwell. However, it wasn’t the sole recording studio for Led Zeppelin IV.

Recognizing the limitations of Headley’s “unprofessional” environment, the band utilized other established studios like Island Studios and Sunset Sound for various parts of the album. This diverse recording experience ultimately enriched the album’s soundscape.

6. The band acknowledged some of their song’s inspirations, albeit in a subtle manner

Led Zeppelin faced criticism from blues enthusiasts for heavily borrowing lyrics in their early works. Case reveals that the extent of this “borrowing” continues to be uncovered, highlighting an interesting shift in the band’s approach to songwriting credits.

The author cites a discovery while listening to Count Basie’s “Going to Chicago”. The song’s lyric “Sorry that I can’t take you” appears at the end of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”, with the rest of the lyrics credited to Memphis Minnie. This revelation suggests that the band, aware of the growing scrutiny, began acknowledging their lyrical inspirations, albeit subtly.

This instance showcases Led Zeppelin’s evolving approach to songwriting credits. While their earlier work incorporated elements from other artists without explicit attribution, they seemingly recognized the need for transparency by the time they reached Led Zeppelin IV.

7. And no, “Stairway to Heaven” does not have secret backward messages 

One of the most enduring rumors surrounding Led Zeppelin IV is the alleged presence of backward satanic messages within the epic “Stairway to Heaven”. However, according to George Case, this claim holds no truth and is solely a product of speculation and cultural anxieties.

Case emphasizes that the idea of backward messages only emerged in the 1980s, long after the album’s release and the band’s disbandment. This coincides with a period of heightened religious conservatism in the U.S., where concerns about hidden satanic influences permeated various forms of popular culture, including music. Led Zeppelin, with their heavy sound and mystical imagery, became an unfortunate target for such accusations.

While the band did occasionally utilize backward recording techniques for sonic effects, the author clarifies that these were purely creative decisions devoid of any hidden messages. These techniques served to enhance the music’s atmosphere and texture, not to convey any cryptic or subversive content.

8. There was already a popular song with the same title when Led Zep recorded “Stairway to Heaven”

While Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is widely considered one of the greatest rock anthems ever written, the title itself wasn’t entirely original. As Case points out, the concept of a “Stairway to Heaven” had already been explored in music years before Led Zeppelin’s iconic track.

The surprising forerunner comes from none other than pop singer Neil Sedaka. In 1960, he released a song titled “Stairway to Heaven” on his album Neil Sedaka Sings Little Devil and His Other Hits. This earlier version, though vastly different in style and genre from Led Zeppelin’s rock masterpiece, even achieved mainstream success, reaching number nine on the charts.

While Led Zeppelin undoubtedly redefined the concept of “Stairway to Heaven” with their epic composition, acknowledging the earlier namesake adds another interesting layer to the song’s history and underscores the continuous evolution of musical ideas.

9. The band recorded more than just eight songs for IV

Led Zeppelin was known for their meticulous approach to songwriting and recording, often holding onto material until they felt it was fully realized. This practice extended beyond individual albums, with some songs finding their final form years after their initial creation. 

Case talks about the existence of several songs from Led Zeppelin’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti that originated during the recording sessions for III. Tracks like “Boogie with Stu” and “Black Country Woman” were born during this period but ultimately weren’t included on the final album.

This suggests a wealth of creative material existed beyond the eight iconic songs that made it onto Led Zeppelin IV. While these songs eventually found their place on a different album, their initial association with IV demonstrates the band’s extensive creative output and their constant exploration of musical ideas. It also leaves listeners with the intriguing possibility of what IV could have been with the inclusion of these additional tracks.

10. The four symbols weren’t really that complex

The iconic symbols adorning Led Zeppelin IV‘s cover art have intrigued and mystified fans for decades. However, George Case reveals a less complex story than many might assume.

Contrary to popular belief, the symbols weren’t meticulously chosen to represent profound meanings or hidden messages. Case suggests that John Paul Jones and John Bonham selected their symbols with relative indifference, opting for simple designs without deeper significance. Similarly, Robert Plant’s choice of a feather within a circle stemmed from a possibly fabricated account of a lost civilization, reflecting the era’s fascination with mysticism.

Jimmy Page’s symbol, often interpreted as “Zoso”, holds a slightly deeper historical connection. While not satanic in nature, it can be traced back to a 16th-century document depicting the astrological symbol for Capricorn. This elaborate representation of the zodiac sign deviates from modern simplified versions but ultimately signifies a celestial association rather than anything occult.