The Making of ZoSo
Extracts from the book "The Making of ZoSo"
By ROBERT GODWIN ©
Did you know?:
• When Led Zeppelin released its fourth album, the band had performed more than 220 shows in 24 months.
• Led Zeppelin IV - more commonly known as ZoSo, after the mysterious symbols that adorn the album artwork - was released on Nov. 8, 1971 in the United States and Nov. 19 in the United Kingdom.
• In later years it was referred to as "The Suicide Album" due to Atlantic Records belief that it was going to be a commercial flop. This opinion was held because of the band's insistence that no writing would appear anywhere on the album jacket. What began as an attempt to shrug off the "hype" accusations which were still dogging the band, ended up as one of the great accidental marketing moves ever. By leaving the album jacket untarnished by titles or logos, the artwork itself became the focal point for discussion amongst fans and critics. The implication being that there must be some heavy mystical significance to the pictures.
• Those seeking further meaning may perhaps find it interesting to purchase a copy of Nintendo's Star Trek video game cartridge. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are required to fathom the mysteries of ZoFo to progress their way through the maze.
• One odd Canadian note: In the mid-1980s, Atlantic announced that the album would be going Diamond (sales of one million units). To promote this auspicious event, which had been achieved by only half a dozen albums previously, a promotion was launched whereby the one millionth copy would be re-mastered and inscribed with a secret message. The lucky person would be able to claim a diamond and gold Zeppelin brooch/pin. The prize was quite desirable as the diamond was supposedly one carat, and so hordes of retailers and punters flocked to the shops and snapped up the latest pressing run. After many months, nobody had come forward to claim the prize and it was duly forgotten, until finally, about two years later, a young lady from Ontario came forward. It seems she had purchased the album years before but had never listened to side two - she had bought it exclusively for Stairway To Heaven. The audio message was inscribed between Four Sticks and Going to California.
• What was clearly an inspirational setting for them, Bron-y-Aur gave birth to a sound which previously had not been associated with Led Zeppelin. Plant and Page (in the isolation of the Welsh mountains, where supposedly they were without electrical power) could only use acoustical instruments and so many of the songs composed there were created with simple guitar structures and basic percussion. Some of the songs which came from this session were Bron-y-Aur Stomp, Bron-y-Aur, That's the Way, Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?, Down by the Seaside, Poor Tom, Gallow's Pole. This softer sound followed through into continuing rehearsals at Headley Grange, and although the bootleg sources are not identified too clearly, it is possible that No Quarter, Going to California, The Rover and possibly Stairway to Heaven may all have begun life at Bron-y-Aur.
• The album was rehearsed and partly recorded at Headley Grange. Built 1795. Two Storeys. Stone Structure. Tiled roof. Sash windows. Five pedimented dormers with decorative fascia boards. Long low wing and other adjoining additions. Converted into a private dwelling in 1870.
Originally Headley Workhouse, the building was rented out to various bands in the 1970s for six or seven years. The "Minstrel Gallery" is a large open stairway and was where John Bonham's drum kit was located for the recording of "When the Leveee Breaks". Various other songs for Led Zeppelin III and ZoFo were written and recorded in the drawing room.
Headley Grange was originally built in 1795 as a "Poor House". It was the centre of a well-publicized riot in 1830 and was converted into a private home in 1870. It is located in the village of Headley in eastern Hampshire (a county in southern England on the border of Page's home county Surrey) and even today the building is "listed" as a landmark due to its colorful history. A local author, John Owen Smith, wrote a book about the building called "One Monday in November - The Story of the Selborne and Headley Workhouse Riots of 1830."
John Owen Smith: "Some of my friends well remember listening to the "noise" from the Grange - at one point, one of their mothers went over to complain that her children were trying to revise for an exam, and the music stopped - "they were quite nice about it," my friend said. Others remember listening to the music, with varying degrees of approval, as they worked their allotments just across the road. The Grange is not the only place in Headley with a "pop" history. Fleetwood Mac lived in another big house in the village for a while."
• Two Sides of the Coin
Disc & Music Echo: "If Zep III gave the first indications that their music was by no means confined to power rock then this new album consolidates their expanding maturity. The eight cuts contained herein follow through with unbridled confidence expounding in greater detail the ideas formulated on the previous collection."
Sounds: "A much overrated album ... the first track Black Dog clatters along with all the grace and finesse of a farmyard chicken. Stairway To Heaven ... palls dramatically with repeated plays inducing first boredom and then catatonia."
• Stairway To Heaven
First known live performance: Belfast Ulster Hall March 5th 19971
Last known live performance by Led Zeppelin: Berlin Eissporthalle July 7th 1980
Video footage: The motion picture The Song Remains The Same
Memorable bootleg versions: Headley Grange December 1970 Rehearsal
Recorded at Island Studio One
Mixed at Island Studio One
• Over the years Page has been the songs most vocal advocate within the band. When plant refused to perform the song anymore after the band's demise, Page played it as an instrumental. His appearances during a string of charity concerts in 1983-1984 were highly charged emotional events with Stairway concluding the evenings proceedings. Plant's absence was barely noticed as the audience cheerfully sang along.
Page: Bonzo and Robert had gone out for the night, and I worked really hard on the thing. Jonesy and I then routined it together. Later, we ran through it with the drums ... Robert was sitting there by the fireplace just writing away and suddenly there it was ... It is a pretty good representation of what we are doing now. There are different moods in the song which lasts ten minutes. We want to a do really long track one day, but not yet. We know where we are going as a group. We are four individuals who have found a common denominator in music. There is a lot of inspiration coming through on this new album. We're getting better all the time. Robert's words to Stairway To Heaven are brilliant - the best he's ever written. I did write lyrics, but after Robert had written 'Stairway', there was just no point in my writing any more lyrics since I wasn't gonna top anything like that and he obviously was.
Plant: "It was done very quickly. It was a very fluid unnaturally easy track. There was something pushing it saying 'you guys are OK, but if you want to do something timeless, here's a wedding song for you. I think it was the ambiguity of the lyrics. Everybody can interpret them however they will. It's potential optimism, lyrically it's saying that if you hold tight, you can make it all right. Whatever it is, it's saying a different thing to every other person, as was Kashmir. It's also incredibly English. It sounds almost medieval. At times it sound like, you know, you want to have swirling mists. It just kows that there's so many different twists and turns to everyone's life. If you keep a diary or you express yourself in any way you refer to it. Writing songs kind of tells you how you were at the time at least how you were projecting yourself at various points in time. Jimmy and I just sat by the fire it was a remarkable setting. I mean Hawkwind were probably humming in the background! I don't consider there was anything particular special about it. The only thing that gives it any staying power at all is it's ambiguity. It's a very positive song. There's one very well known line "there's a lady who's sure all that glitter is gold" it's as old as the hills. From that moment on from writing that down "there's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold" ... she's going to get exactly what she wants ... "and when she get's there she knows if the stores are all closed" ... it's like she can have anything forever so long as she doesn't have to think about it .. and so on ... but good will prevail over the whole thing and logic will reign and all that ... Jimmy and I just sat down in front of the fire and came up with a song which was later developed by the rest of the band in the studio."
• On that particular night a young engineer called Richard Digby Smith pulled the nightshift.
Richard Digby Smith: " I can recall the take of Stairway to Heaven. It was a very large room. Page was playing acoustic guitar sat at the front with four tall baffles that completely enclosed him. There were no windows at all and you couldn't see in or out, it was just like a little square. Jones was to the right of him playing Moog bass which was the industry standard at the time. You know, it was a keyboard, Moog keyboard bass. Bonzo just sat at the back you know waiting for that bit where he comes pounding in which is about ten minutes into the song (laughs). There were these big orange speakers with Page standing between them and we played him back through them as loud as possible and he just leaned up against the speakers with his ear virtually pressed against them with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and rattled out that solo. You'd never think people would be talking about this 25 years later I sometimes get people coming up to me saying. "I know someone who assisted on Stairway To Heaven", but I was the only assistant that night.
• On a press tour in 1994 Plant and Page appeared on a latenight Japanese newscast for which they agreed they would take a request and perform it on the spot. The request, naturally, was Stairway which Plant had vowed he would never sing again. Right up until the cameras were ready to roll they were going to perform "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" but at the last minute Plant relented and they performed a truncated, but surprisingly soulful, version of Stairway with just guitar and vocal.