#278: Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin
The LAST Led Zeppelin album? You’re telling me there’s no more Led Zeppelin on the RS 500 list? That well and truly bums me out.
This is a somewhat polarizing Led Zeppelin record because it’s extremely weird. They branch way out, infusing songs with proto-reggae and punchy soul instead of straight folk-rock. Also, the title track is literally on a different record (#144, Physical Graffiti), so there’s that.
And the album art. Freaking look at it. See those naked kids? They’re actually naked twins, Stefan and Samantha Gates. Stefan is something of a personality in the UK now, with a career as like a food writer or something. For some reason, learning that disturbed me even more. I’m just imagining him crawling up the side of that mountain, then reaching the top only to discover that God was a delicious meal of fish and chips.
Creepy artwork and weird musicianship aside, some people adore Houses. In fact my boyfriend said this was his favorite Zep record so far. He couldn’t name most of the songs, but he recognized most of them immediately.
That’s probably because it has the coolest opening guitar riffs in history, on basically every song. “The Song Remains The Same” is a testament to the power of guitar heroes, featuring Page playing basically every different style you can think of and somehow making it coherent. (Even with Robert Plant squealing above him like a tiny little girl.)
Surprisingly, there are a number of contemplative, echoing ballads. “The Rain Song” is a folk song that defies explanation, with Robert Plant showing a considerable amount of restraint by not trying to do backflips with his voice. And “Over the Hills and Far Away” is one of the greatest acoustic songs ever, even after the electric kicks in. They’re just living for their dream and a pocket full of gold. God, sometimes Led Zeppelin makes me wish I was a hobbit.
But Led Zeppelin also needs to party, so they also get down with James Brown tribute “The Crunge” and the subtle party anthem “Dancing Days,” both of which open with riffs so sharp I got a hangover.
As we say goodbye to Led Zeppelin on this journey down the RS 500 list, we reckon with their somewhat stained legacy for the final time. But guess what, this album seems to be wholly original. So I don’t feel weird or traitorous by saying that Zep has some truly brilliant moments on Houses. Like the amazing “D’yer Mak’er,” which is apparently a riff on a reggae beat, and apparently has a title that rhymes with “Jamaica” in British English, which is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard. It has a staccato guitar rhythm that is too heavy metal to be proper reggae, too jaunty and offbeat for rock. “No Quarter,” on the other hand, is a nearly formless sonic painting, taking you high through the air and deep underwater. Closer “The Ocean” is all the greatest hits: an incredible guitar riff, a haunting a cappella breakdown, a faint doo wop chorus towards the end. Who else but Led Zeppelin would try to marry all those things in one song? Who else should?
That’s why I’ll miss Zep’s presence on the list: They weren’t just rock stars, they were real musicians, and I think people sometimes forget that. I’ll miss them because I love the sound of a guitar slicing silence in two.
Craziest Cover I Uncovered: This cover of “D’yer Mak’er” from Lady Gaga in frikking 2006.