Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

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Strange tunings, brooding mellotrons, and scary children with no clothes, help usher in a new golden age of Rock supremacy for Zeppelin

The majority of Houses was recorded at Stargroves, a country estate in Berkshire owned by none other than Mick Jagger, employing The Rolling Stones’ mobile studio. Further sessions took place at London’s Olympic studios, followed by additional work at Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix’s old haunt, in New York, under the supervision of engineer/producer Eddie Kramer.

By the time the album was completed, Houses Of The Holy would mark the beginning of a new phase for the band, one which saw Led Zeppelin’s popularity rise up into the stratosphere, especially in America, a country whose many sports stadiums were an ideal environment for Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham’s colossal, near-volcanic overtures.

Let it be said that the first three songs are right up there with the best of anything in the Zeppelin canon. “The Song Remains The Same” is a cavalry charge of frantic guitars, bass and drums, complemented by Plant’s emotive multi-orgasmic vocal delivery. The pace quickly changes with “The Rain Song”, an exquisite rock-ballad dominated by Page’s elegant guitar and John Paul Jones’ graceful, uplifting mellotron. After a tender start, the track gently rises and falls, before concluding with an orchestral-like climax at the end. Certainly it’s one of Zeppelin’s most beautifully arranged numbers, and probably not really what George Harrison had in mind when he suggested that they should write more melodic tunes.

The record’s other showpiece is “Over The Hills And Far Away” (a title Plant borrowed from Beatrix Potter), another fine folk-rock composition, with some superb acoustic playing by Page, while Jones and Bonham are locked in tight, providing powerful, though never overbearing, backup, as Plant wistfully reflects on “how much there is to know” as he gazes “along the open road”. From here the band detours in all manner of directions. The white funk of “The Crunge” thunders along quite nicely, and even includes a parody by Plant on James Brown’s “Take it to the bridge” by adding “Where’s that confounded bridge?” right at the end.

Side two begins with “Dancing Days”, a heavy rocker built around an exotic guitar riff by Page, and Plant’s post-hippie vocal, containing lyrics such as “I got my flower, got my power… as the evening starts to glow”. Strangely it was the first track off the album Atlantic submitted for radio play. The reggae influenced “D’yer Mak’er” began life as a jam at Stargroves, with Plant and the boys mimicking 1950’s doo wop, before deciding to record the song proper and include it here. Despite its dubious merits, the track obviously had commercial appeal, and was released as a single in the US, managing to break into the Top 20.

Recorded a year earlier at Headley Grange, “No Quarter” is a sinisterly mysterious creation, thanks largely to Jones’ spooky piano, synth and bass, while Plant’s vocals are given a certain otherworldly presence, supported by Page’s slightly demonic sounding guitar, heightening the dramatic effect. Overall the playing is understated, but no less full of tension, as if each four members were literally battling against a blizzard.

Bonham’s midlands accent introduces the album’s final track: “We’ve done four already but now we’re steady and then they went… one, two, three, four”, before the entire band comes crashing in together like a quartet of boulders down a mountain. Page’s big meaty riff is what holds the listener’s attention most, although Bonham plays with such force as to make your windows rattle and floorboards shake. Title “The Ocean” was Plant’s metaphor for the group’s many devoted fans, who not only flocked to buy their records but see them in concert en mass.

When Houses Of The Holy was issued in March 1973, the critics reaction was mixed. But who cares what critics say anyway – because the album peaked both the UK and US charts, and saw them break box-office records previously held by The Beatles’ performance at Shea Stadium. And while devoid of much of the intensity of their first four albums, Houses not only holds its own, but also laid down some of the groundwork for future releases, most notably their magnum opus Physical Graffiti.

2 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy

  1. I overdosed on Zeppelin by the time I was 16 from all the bootleg albums a friend of mine lent me and I poured in to blank cassettes and taped over other things for. 40 min live versions of Dazed and Confused left me that way and 20min epic versions of No Quarter floored me. This album was a hit and miss for me. No Quarter is still one of my all time fav Zep tracks but this album was too bright for me and still is at times and lacks the musical fortitude that other albums paved evenly for me. The Rain Song is the other stand out track for me. The rest of the album was either over played on the radio (a la Song Remains…, Over the Hills…, The Ocean, Dancing Days and D’yer Maker) and ruined them for me and songs like The Crunge was rarely heard and should have been played live and more often than at 3am on that late night/early morning B-Sides program. I always skipped to the three I enjoyed the most on this album but felt that the band tried deliberately to stand out and away from their previous albums with this one. It’s great in its own right, I just got sick of it from everyone playing it to death and I did my own kamikaze dive on it too. Nowadays I can just put it on and appreciate it for what it is and not have it be ruined again. Cheers

    1. I know what you mean. Radio is responsible for destroying a lot of great music. You’re right, the best way to enjoy this album is in moderation, that way one can appreciate it on its own terms

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