“Houses of the Holy” – Led Zeppelin (1973) [english]

We are in 1973 and from that 1969 that had seen Led Zeppelin upset the musical world, transfiguring the British blues of American matrix in a kind of hard-rock embryonic, it was only 4 years. Four years that in that period of ferment and artistic-musical chaos, were an eternity. Just think that the greatest left-handed genius who has ever picked up a guitar, Jimi Hendrix, “worked” just 4 years, but that seems to us 20 or 30. This was “that time”, a kind of temporal hole, in which time and space did not seem to have the importance that we give it today. There was the feeling of having to do everything and immediately, to write the ideas, record them, arrive before someone who maybe stayed up at night with just the same idea and could “steal” it. A boil of minds and artists truly unique and that will never be repeated.  The band led by the magician, not only of the guitar, but also of the production Jimmy Page, had reached the fifth record. After four records that, as mentioned, had revolutionized the very conception of pop-rock music of the time, in fact a genre, which then, in turn, had turned their sound on the shores of acoustic rock with folk influences that no one had ever imagined. Here also on a commercial level it was all new, no record company had ever dealt with a band that rejected any kind of standard : no title, no name on the cover, no precise references to the band, no singles. For the experts they were commercial suicides that instead were largely denied by history. When we got used to that succession of Roman numbers that gave their name to their records and fans then expected the sequel (both title and music), here comes finally a record with a name, Houses of the Holy.  Also wrapped in the mystery that enveloped everything Page thought or did, always anti-commercial therefore without any reference on the cover, but closer to those standards that fled like the plague. The cover, one of the most beautiful and innovative ever seen on one of a record of rock music, depicted the expanse of basalt columns of the town of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, furrowed by children climbing there (actually they are twins of 7 and 5 years, Samantha and Stefan Gates). The photographic studio Hipgnosis created a masterpiece that today certainly would not have been possible and indeed today brings various censorship problems on social media if someone tries to use the cover to celebrate this wonderful…absurd record. Compared to previous records, Atlantic Records, the band was allowed to use paper ties with the name of the album and the band, to help sales. We do not know if it served the purpose, but the record made the usual bang all over the world.  The pieces that make up yet another masterpiece by Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham, and with the decisive help of the wizard of the console Eddie Kramer, are 8 and immediately amaze at the first listening for the usual eclectic and never banal way of approach to rock. There are all kinds of influences and in some passages we see in practice the introduction of new genres and brave influences ranging from folk to reggae. The usual criticism killed them, but with them they had an open account and we know well Page’s hatred for music critics. The recordings also took place in Mick Jagger’s house in Stargroves, as they used to do in those crazy and creative years, the fireplace became the place where amplifiers made the sound magical and the living room was good for drums. The opening of the album is dazzling, The Song Remains The Same was supposed to be an instrumental track and it seems so, the initial riff with the twelve strings of Jimmy Page is electrifying, the solos that overlap and the bass of John Paul Jones that imparts lessons of rhythm like a great jazz player, the drums of Bonham that invents a sound that no one ever matched. A song so exceptional that the good Plant did not want to stay out of it and invented a text, which now, I think really perfect to fit. His voice was always the same, unattainable ugola rock, a song that always played a crucial role in their live performances and gave the title to their film-concert. Concerts that were the most requested spectacle in the world, river shows of over 3/4 hours that no one had ever done, the world set fire to far and wide aboard their private jet the Starship. Just after one of these gigs in Los Angeles, Page was almost challenged by the good George Harrison of the Beatles, who was a fan of theirs : “You guys don’t have a ballad to get on little girls like us, you can’t write them“. Here is the push needed to write The Rain Song, a fantastic acoustic intro and a dreamy text, Plant’s voice did the rest : masterpiece. Over The Hills and Far Away seems to follow the same footsteps of the previous song : acoustic folk guitar as incipit and the delicate voice of Plant, another ballad then? No because in a climax of innovative emotions for the time, the scene is taken by a scratchy riff of Page and the usual frantic rhythmic duo Bonham-Jones. Plant’s ability to go from ballad to rock was one of the band’s secrets. A singer with this ability was and will remain almost unique. 4 artists in their field were the best and together they were unreachable. Displace was in the ropes of the 4 English guys and they did great with the next The Crunge, a fun piece that takes inspiration from the works of funk magician James BrownJohn Bonham’s genius in improvising in the studio with crazy ideas had been put on record. The synthesizer also makes its appearance for the first time. Contextualize the song in 1973 and you will have a piece that, although not a masterpiece, will be really unique.  The pop-rock excursion of Dancing Days, it seems a way of saying to the world “we can play and write any genre better than anyone” and its sound was also the reason why, so they told later, the title-track was discarded and then re-proposed in the next Physical Graffiti : too many similarities that would have made the concept a bit redundant. Between the two songs, Houses of the Holy was definitely more inspired. Here’s the next D’yer Mak’er is the song that most left fans stunned and even a little disappointed : a piece inspired by reggae that they said they composed and recorded just after the opener, in practice the band needed cheer and lightness. Light yes but not banal, certainly strange, but innovative. Here too there is the feeling that Page enjoyed and not little to record things that no one expected from him, to show that he produced like nobody else. The following was of such a glaring and shining beauty that everyone forgot about the previous reggae, No Quarter is a very dark rock ballad that the wonderful keyboard (enriched by the use of mellotron) of Jones, to which the writing of the piece must be recognized, gives a dreamy, fantasy-like atmosphere. The riff generated by the six strings of Page is an emotional monolith that accompanies the uvula of Plant towards quality peaks never even thought. The piece is very long, 7 minutes, but no one will notice it so much you are intent on closing your eyes and let yourself be guided in this misty forest of the English countryside, a fresco painted on tape, one of the most beautiful and innovative pieces ever written. Friends we are in 1973 and some sounds no one had ever even imagined, let alone put them on magnetic coil. The album will end with a song that dissolves in a wonderful way the emotional tension of the previous, The Ocean (the ocean to which it refers is the crowd of adoring fans who follow them) but raises the rock tone and the voice of Plant shows a super performance, but it is the drums that make the song a successful, unreachable, simplicity. The secret of the compact and granitic sound was him, the late John Bonham, whose tragic death in 1980, put an end to the band and its sound. Sure the up and down that Jimmy Page gives with his fingers on his wonderful six strings are a jewel of inestimable value and the song is the worthy conclusion of a brave and musically perfect work, which gave the band the head in a chart of the globe. Led Zeppelin after this work had not finished to amaze and give milestones : the largest concert in history in Tampa, the foundation of its own label Swang Song Records, but especially the double album Physical Graffiti, which will be released just two years later and will be yet another masterpiece, perhaps the last of an incredible discography. A discography that will inevitably be marked by the demise of a decade that had exhausted its mad rush, by personal tragedies and by the even more tragic beginning of the following decade, but this is another story that doesn’t affect the value of a record like Houses of The Holy. Albums that must necessarily be considered as one of the most important in the history of music.

Good listening,

Trex Willer

(you can find italian version of the article at this link : https://www.trexroads.com/houses-of-the-holy-led-zeppelin-1973/ )



Pubblicato da Trex

Sono un blogger e scrittore appassionato di musica indipendente americana. Scrivo gialli polizieschi e ho inventato il personaggio del detective texano Cody Myers.

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