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William Austin

The Led Zeppelin III Story...

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It is common knowledge in Led Zeppelin history that there was severe backlash to the band "changing their sound" with the release of the third album, but it has always seemed to me that this is an exaggerated story.

I don't believe I have ever heard or read a bad remark about that album from any real fan of the band, young and old. Sure, the critics didn't have a lot of good things to say about it (and some of the reviews are just as harsh as you might imagine), but seriously, the critics almost never had anything good to say about Led Zeppelin.

Now, I must admit that when I was first introduced to their music (through a friend who lent me their first five albums on CD about six years ago, and incidentally, LZ III was his favorite), the first album was the one I liked the most, and the other ones took some time to grow on me. So I can understand that the third album no doubt came off as quite different that the first two to many fans. But I certainly don't think anyone really disliked it. They still continued to buy more albums and concert tickets for the next 10 years.

The band themselves certainly didn't seem to think they changed their sound. The way Bonham put it in the Sydney interview sums it up best... every album is different, but they're all unmistakably the same... the band records songs they write and choose the best ones to put on the album.

I'm not saying this is completely a mythological story, obviously not everyone shares the same opinions about the band and their music, but it just seems like a bit of an urban legend that developed through the years... all of it stemming from the really bad press.

Anyone else feel this way? Any first hand stories of that album?

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I find the whole backlash myth overstated. Maybe a few lunkheads and radio programmers were put off because there wasn't an obvious "Whole Lotta Love" part deux. Good riddance to those people. That was the band's intent...to weed out the sheep from the band's true fans who had the adventurous spirit and faith in the band's intentions to follow them wherever they wanted to go sonically.

The record still hit #1 and the 1970-71 tours that straddled the release of the album mark a legendary high point in Led Zeppelin's concert career. The people who saw the band on these tours were the ones who created the incredible word-of-mouth buzz about Led Zeppelin's live appeal and fed into the enormous growth in Led Zeppelin's drawing power.

And in the long run Led Zeppelin III has sold a fair amount of units over the years.

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I absolutely love it, it's my favourite and there are quite many other fans that feel that way.

But some of the directions they took with some albums, would definitely not make them that famous and successful.

I'm not saying they wanted to be or that it matters, but without making II and IV what they are and Physical graffiti, they wouldn't

be what they are today.

 

But in retrospect and put in between those albums III is a masterpiece and I think it's great not even Immigrant song and 

Out on the tile sound that heavy and I could write for hours about emotions I have over the album and about various songs and sections,

but I would just like to say, I love the long chorus melodies which are all over the album and are actually pretty rare in Zep's music

 

and I always liked the rather freestyle form of it! It's also quite complex, although less then Houses of the holy and Presence,

but it's more in sort of free style which I love, quite a few free style guitar strum patterns in many songs, songs that build into

many different and new sections(Celebration day, Out on the Tiles, Gallows pole builds not just with many new instruments but into new weird sections, starts with weird chords too, Tangerine has many little sections, but no real riff and so on and so on, quite a few free style strumming: Friends intro and towards the end, Born-y-aur-stomp and ofcourse Hat's of to (Roy) Harper is very free style), complex overdubbing in Celebration day, complex bass patterns and end chords in different places in Immigrant song,

not that many repetitive riffs, emotional an personal lyrics and well just more acoustic songs than usual, which I love

 

all this makes it much more exciting and chaotic and free then the more repetitious style within songs of Led Zeppelin II and IV and even Graffiti and Presence.

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It’s really just a wonderful album, filled to the brim with Light and Shade, very eccentric and I for one am eternally glad Zep just went for it.   

Show me the Deep Purple, Sabbath, et al album with this much depth.  Zep was light years beyond their contemporaries and imho still lapping the field in today’s corporate focus group bullshit music world.

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I consider the first two albums to mostly be an advertisement for their performance capabilities, to draw people to their shows. I consider III, IV, HOTH, and PG to be the band actually writing music in their comfort zone, true to their own creative sense with no intention to make a "radio" track. That's artistic integrity.

I also think Zep gets credit for spawning alternative rock with the third album. Friends, Celebration Day, OOTT, Tangerine- these songs are neither here nor there. It's hard rock, folk, country, world music all in one. Fast forward to 90s rock and tell me the song writing wasn't similar. 

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And then there is SIBLY which is such great blues, which just enough free floating blues singing and little guitar solos and two main solos and technical screams and drum and keyboard fills, but also great hooks and nice little chorus riffs. Amazing to be able to play blues so uncommercially and listenably at the same time.

As someone alredy mentioned, Zep could just be so artistic and varied and still so listenable and successful! It's not like they didn't follow any rules or like it was totally experimental music, but they infused so much creativity and originality and great production into it! Amazing! The vision was just amazing and the way they managed to expand it all live! Just great! 

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Perhaps it should still also be mentioned that Tangerine, That's the way and Bron-y-aur stomp are to quite a large degree pop and Zep always had some pop elements and a pop song here and there, but that only saves this album in terms of commerciality for general public, not for Zep I and II fans, as do Fool in the rain, Hot dog and most importantly All my love on ITTOD. Similar with some songs on Houses, but nothing saves Presence, that one is truly for us fans.

What matters is they still managed to make these songs so artistic and creative and end the album with Hats instead of Hey, hey what can I do.

So they always made amazing, creative and musical music, but it's cool that some little spice element that makes a weird album more accessible to general public, doesn't necessarily make it more accessible for a Zep fan at all, so it's still great experimentation.

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11 hours ago, SamoKodela said:

What matters is they still managed to make these songs so artistic and creative and end the album with Hats instead of Hey, hey what can I do.

Would have been much better to end it with Hey Hey What Can I do.

I love that song, but I've always skipped Hats Off. Too much tremelo on Plant's voice.

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6 hours ago, Christopher Lees said:

Would have been much better to end it with Hey Hey What Can I do.

I love that song, but I've always skipped Hats Off. Too much tremelo on Plant's voice.

That's exactly one of the things that makes Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin! To end it with Hats!

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39 minutes ago, SamoKodela said:

That's exactly one of the things that makes Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin! To end it with Hats!

Yes indeed.  I always really liked Hats Off and even way back when I thought it was such a different and interesting way to end an album, especially such a diverse album.

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About as close as you can get to the perfect album.

I'm not sure about the backlash at the time because I hadn't been born yet but boy, were those people who rejected it missing out.

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For me, III is like a single album version of PG insofar as it's approach. Full of different ideas and sound textures. Like Mook said, it's is about as perfect an album as you can get. III is second in rotation only to PG and not by much. I think it a better, more diverse album than IV and almost as eclectic as HOTH.

Those fans who do not like it or do not think it as good as the other albums make me wonder. Everyone has their preferences but actual dislike for such a gem is rather strange.

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5 hours ago, Mook said:

About as close as you can get to the perfect album.

I'm not sure about the backlash at the time because I hadn't been born yet but boy, were those people who rejected it missing out.

I was around at the time and that is why I consider the description in the OP of a "severe backlash" to be nonsense. Listen to September 4 or September 19 1970. Do you hear a "severe backlash" from the crowd?

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All music can be gotten by people but not all people will get all music. If you think this album is weak then you don't get it. I like being one who does.

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6 hours ago, Strider said:

I was around at the time and that is why I consider the description in the OP of a "severe backlash" to be nonsense. Listen to September 4 or September 19 1970. Do you hear a "severe backlash" from the crowd?

Everything you said here is part of the point I was trying to make. 

It is part of the Led Zeppelin folklore that the third album was met with confusing and negative reaction (maybe "severe backlash" was too strong of a term, but you get what I mean) from fans and critics alike because it was so different from the first two. 

However, being a fan for over six years now, I find that story to be a bit of a myth. One reason being due to the lack of backlash from fans. Fans booed Dylan from going electric, surely they'd boo Zeppelin for going acoustic, right? But no. 

Now granted, the dates you mentioned were before the actual release of the album, but you spelled out my exact point.

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15 minutes ago, William Austin said:

It is part of the Led Zeppelin folklore that the third album was met with confusing and negative reaction (maybe "severe backlash" was too strong of a term, but you get what I mean) from fans and critics alike because it was so different from the first two. 

However, being a fan for over six years now, I find that story to be a bit of a myth.

Myth?

The sales lagged on the third album and the band was highly disappointed by that. That can be taken as a negative reaction, rather than a positive reaction. Over time the album has gained respect as well as more positive reviews. Nowadays it is looked upon rather favorably by critics, but back then, the sales lagged behind those of the first two albums.

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How much of LZ III ended up in the live set?. I have seen images of them playing acoustically sat down at the front of the state. Personally I have never seen sales as a mark of quality for an Lp.    

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Posted (edited)

Way back then in the States, "Immigrant Song" was getting a lot of airplay I seem to remember -- so people just assumed III was going to be another heavy album like the first two previous. 

When a certain segment of Zep fans got the new album home, III probably took them for surprise at first, maybe even disappointing that it wasn't heavier. 

Hence, maybe bad word-of-mouth caused sluggish sales (relatively, it still sold well compared to most other bands). 

Anyway, it grew to be one of my all-time faves by the group.

Edited by dpat

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I think LZ3 tended to get overlooked during Zeppelin’s existence because of the albums that came before and after. LZ2 and the 4th album are both pretty massive on every level. It’s pretty easy to see how a largely acoustic based release would get overshadowed... especially after the bombast of 2 and with the huge 4th album coming after. 

HOTH was in a similar position being between 4 and PG. But now both in the long term are regarded as 2 of their greatest works. Neither release impacted the bands drawing power. They continued to only get bigger in popularity, especially live.  

3 for me now is only second to Physical Graffiti.

My cousin’s husband, who is 10 years older than me, wasn’t a big Zeppelin fan. He loved CSNY, Bread .. stuff like that.. But he loved 3 and gave me my 1st copy of it. 

I would have loved to have heard what was coming after ITTOD. Because that was a transitional album.. much like 3 and Houses. 

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10 hours ago, anniemouse said:

How much of LZ III ended up in the live set?. I have seen images of them playing acoustically sat down at the front of the state. Personally I have never seen sales as a mark of quality for an Lp.    

The question this thread is about is not the quality of Zeppelin III, but the reaction to it back in the 70s. One reaction was the sales lagged and that is a significant metric to measure. I think it's a good metric because it's not opinion based; it's factual. But since the 70s, the sales rose and it's gone, I think, double platinum now. So the initial reaction was disappointment, to some degree, but over the long haul, I think the quality of the album (which is great) is reflected by the increased sales.

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I've always preferred III over II. Zepp IV is in a class of it's own but Zepp III is far from a bad album. You get hard rock, blues, and acoustic all in one album. Plants voice was at his peaks on III & IV. I could take or leave Hats Off To Roy but, it's not terrible and amusing to listen to if I'm in the mood. I agree with some that Hey Hey What Can I Do shoulda went on the album but I can understand why they'd leave it off. Poor Tom could've fit on there somewhere too.

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31 minutes ago, Gratefulzepp said:

I've always preferred III over II. Zepp IV is in a class of it's own but Zepp III is far from a bad album. You get hard rock, blues, and acoustic all in one album. Plants voice was at his peaks on III & IV. I could take or leave Hats Off To Roy but, it's not terrible and amusing to listen to if I'm in the mood. I agree with some that Hey Hey What Can I Do shoulda went on the album but I can understand why they'd leave it off. Poor Tom could've fit on there somewhere too.

Hats Off to Roy Harper is the first song in three albums that I found myself skipping over. In my view, every song on I and II is worth listening to over and over again (except Moby Dick, but I would listen to that even just for the riff and the hot licks). I like Key To The Highway and I think that could have gone on III instead of Hats. Plus, it's closer in spirit to Hats than a poppy song like Hey Hey What Can I do. Personally, I think III would have been a whole level better with Hey Hey. It would have been a strong closer to side 2.

I can see why people were disappointed in III. Here comes Led Zeppelin out of nowhere, putting out two landmark albums chock full of new style heavy riffs and aggressive guitar playing with over the top vocals in 1969, breaking onto the scene and exciting everyone with a brand new sound. Everyone was immediately blown away by the newness of the sound, by the riffs. They never heard anything like it before. It scratched an itch they didn't even know they had. So here's this brand new band with this new exciting sound and the third album comes out not delivering what they've whet the mass appetite for. Sure, the acoustic songs are good, but there were already a ton of good acoustic songs out there. I and II brought something new and exciting. The acoustic stuff was not new and exciting. People were listening to those catchy riffs on the first two albums over and over again because they were so addicting and they couldn't wait for more, but instead they get sleepy acoustic stuff like That's the Way and Roy Harper.

Fans had to wait until the fourth album came out to satisfy their hunger for new, creative riffs, which Zep delivered in spades with Black Dog, Four Sticks and Misty Mountain Hop.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Christopher Lees said:

Hats Off to Roy Harper is the first song in three albums that I found myself skipping over. In my view, every song on I and II is worth listening to over and over again (except Moby Dick, but I would listen to that even just for the riff and the hot licks). I like Key To The Highway and I think that could have gone on III instead of Hats. Plus, it's closer in spirit to Hats than a poppy song like Hey Hey What Can I do. Personally, I think III would have been a whole level better with Hey Hey. It would have been a strong closer to side 2.

I can see why people were disappointed in III. Here comes Led Zeppelin out of nowhere, putting out two landmark albums chock full of new style heavy riffs and aggressive guitar playing with over the top vocals in 1969, breaking onto the scene and exciting everyone with a brand new sound. Everyone was immediately blown away by the newness of the sound, by the riffs. They never heard anything like it before. It scratched an itch they didn't even know they had. So here's this brand new band with this new exciting sound and the third album comes out not delivering what they've whet the mass appetite for. Sure, the acoustic songs are good, but there were already a ton of good acoustic songs out there. I and II brought something new and exciting. The acoustic stuff was not new and exciting. People were listening to those catchy riffs on the first two albums over and over again because they were so addicting and they couldn't wait for more, but instead they get sleepy acoustic stuff like That's the Way and Roy Harper.

Fans had to wait until the fourth album came out to satisfy their hunger for new, creative riffs, which Zep delivered in spades with Black Dog, Four Sticks and Misty Mountain Hop.

And yet their most famous song is Stairway to heaven, mostly acoustic song, with no real heavy core riff. 

And there were some good riffs on III. Immigrant song, Celebration day and Out on the tiles are all top heavy riff songs, the last two have fantastic choruses too, yet somehow they just didn't turn out to be such big hits.

I think this all shows that being true to yourself is the best decision, even if you might decide on purpose to go for your older more successful style a bit more, when you see an album is not doing that well. Afterall Zep were very young and two of them were practically living on the street just two years earlier, you can't blame them for the heavy sound of IV, but they played their hearts out again on Houses and on IV their honesty gave us all Stairway to heaven.

So yeah, I think fans do like the heavy riffs most, but they sure damn love Stairway, Going to California and Battle of evermore.

So it's hard to explain, maybe it's more about the amount and type of both acoustic and electric songs on III, but it's a classic and everything proves it these days, even IV haha.

Edited by SamoKodela

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Posted (edited)

And I love IV, but sometimes it's almost to powerfully and to loudly produced and I love the complexity of Black dog and Four sticks, but some of the others are almost too simple or atleast too straightfoward for me, while Immigrant song is not that heavy on three and quickly over and then I can listen to so many forms of intricate and at times complex music.

I also like how studio Kashmir is not that heavy and the studio sound of Stairway drums. There are other examples of studio stuff like Tangerine, That's the way, Babe I'm gonna leave you, You shook me keyboard sound, IMTOD drum sound and so on. 

Hard to pinpoint it, it's like saying the 21.6. 1977 version of No Quarter is so fantastic and so unbelieveable in improvisation and over the top heavy at the same time, but the 23.6. has got the perfect sound. I know most would say IV has an absolutely fabulous sound to it, but so do both of these bootlegs, I'm just talking about the second one being more artistic, less heavy and more beautiful and tasty sounding.

Edited by SamoKodela

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