The Ballad of Led Zeppelin IV

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

zep4Recently, my friend Chip posed a question on Facebook, asking what one album every serious music fan should own. My head exploded as I tried to figure that one out, and indeed judging by the responses, hardly anyone was able to name just one album.

Try it yourself [and be sure to follow the link at the end of this post to find out which album I eventually decided upon].

After long deliberation (and assuming that we’re limiting this to just the Rock Era), I’ve decided that one answer I’d throw in the ring would be Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, not because it’s the best or most influential album, but simply because of its ubiquity in record collections far and wide – everyone seemed to own a copy. And mostly because it reminded me of this story: 

Years ago, my roommate & bandmate Steve and I were talking about common albums that people had in their collections. At the time (1985 or so), some of the ones we most frequently encountered – regardless of the collection owner’s level of musical enlightenment, or their status (or not) as a collector – included Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, the Bob Marley collection Legend, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, among others. And of course, Led Zeppelin IV.

My favorite song from the fourth Led Zeppelin album:

“Oh yes, I used to have a copy of Zeppelin IV,” I said. “but when I was off at boarding school, a friend of my sister borrowed it and then claimed that someone had stolen it from her school locker.”

Steve started laughing hysterically. “Let me tell you a story,” he said.

“When I was in high school [the same school as my sister and her friend], I was walking down the breezeway with its rows of lockers one day while everyone was in classes. I noticed one locker hadn’t been closed all the way, and I could see what looked like a record album inside. Sure enough it was, and it was Led Zeppelin IV!”

He stood and walked over to his vinyl collection, fingered through to the “L’s” and pulled out the weathered record. “Here’s your album,” he smiled as he handed it to me.

Ah. Full circle. Home at last. And all that. Fast forward to now, and I hate to say that record is no longer in my collection; either sold off like so many along the path of changing musical and physical landscapes, or accidentally absorbed in some other roommate’s stacks of 12-inch wax. I don’t even have it in my iTunes library, though there are many other Zeppelin albums there. Nonetheless, every nuance of its recordings has burned into my brain like riding a bike, even though it’s not my favorite album by the band. (That would be Houses of the Holy, which oddly isn’t as deeply imprinted in my skull, but feels better in there.)

So, the fourth album by Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham may not be the one record that everyone should own, but it was at one time a record that most everyone did own. That’s gotta count for something.

Now back to the original question: What album do you believe every serious musical fan should own?

UPDATE: Mau has written a post concerning this question, and I’d agree with his opinion of the best answer to this question. How about you?


Posted in misc | 6 Comments »

  • Rob

    I get your thinking, and I understand where you’re coming from, but given this particular album’s ubiquitousness, wouldn’t it make sense for a “serious” rock-era fan to choose something maybe less well-owned? Or am I just not understanding the question? Anyway, I’m with Mau in thinking the “White Album” would be the record every serious fan should own. And BTW, the album (or in my case, cassette) that I took from an “open locker” in junior high was Boston’s “Boston.” I still feel guilty about it. Sorry there, kid whose name I’ve forgotten. . . .

  • I’d agree with you & Mau that it would have to be The Beatles, and it would have to be The White Album. It’s a question that can be interpreted many ways, or that at least can be affected by several subjective preferences (how “good” or “iconic” is the album? how “serious” is the fan? Etc.). I think you’ve understood the question perfectly, and make a good point since ubiquity can often signal mediocrity, and that would be something a “serious” fan would most likely try to avoid. Not that Zep IV is mediocre. It was just one of the albums I considered as an answer, and in doing so was reminded of this particular incident, which was a story I wanted to tell.

    Boston, eh? That’s another example of a right-common album – one that has merits but wouldn’t be considered *the* album to own. If I had been that kid at your junior high, this post may have been written about Boston rather than Zeppelin! Buncha hooligans I have for friends ; )

  • Mau

    I love that both of you have stories of stolen records. I somewhat “stole” a record from a record store in my teens. Not really stole, but you can get the story here:

    for the record, long live classic rock.

  • Your biggest crime may have been actually linking to White Tiger in an otherwise superbly respectable music blog. (Oh, and I love that story and think my comment at the end of it is particularly hysterical!)

  • Rob

    That’s no crime: Two weeks ago when someone from Simon & Schuster sent me a promo copy of a Haitian memoir I had no interest in reading, I brought it over to Barnes & Noble and told them someone had given it to me as a gift and I didn’t have the receipt. Walked out with a debut novel called Truth in Advertising, which I grabbed mainly because the cover, apropos of the title, caught my eye. And I’ve done that MANY times before.

  • Mau

    way to stick it to the man. all in the pursuit of intellectual enlightenment.