Happy 40th Birthday Led Zeppelin IV

Last week was a big week for the hard rock/heavy metal world. First of all the channel VH1 Classic decided to use the date of 11/11/11 as a day to celebrate heavy metal because of the famous gag from This Is Spinal Tap. However, it really was an important week for the genre. Instead of celebrating a fake album like “Smell the Glove,” it was the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the most influential albums of all time, Led Zeppelin’s untitled album (aka: Led Zeppelin IV, The Fourth album, Four Symbols, ZOSO). But you probably know it as “the one with that f***in’ “Stairway to Heaven” song”.  This led me to raise the following question: Is LZ4 losing its status in rock history, or is it still the most overrated album in rock history?

Led Zeppelin IV
The album's cover

Don’t get me wrong, I love the album. I am a Led Zeppelin fan. I still have the CD, even after purging about 90% of my CD collection. On its own merits, it a great album. With not one, but two songs that reference Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is a must own for all geeks! And it’s influence is still being felt in the 21st Century. “Going to California” was used for the final episode for HBO’s series “Entourage.” And the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina brought “When the Levee Breaks” into the limelight.

For a long time, the band and their fourth album were overpraised and overplayed on FM radio stations across America. And even though practically every heavy metal musician cites Zeppelin as a major influence, they are not a heavy metal band. In regards to the album, much stronger arguments can be made for other records being the magnum opus for the band (e.g.: Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin II). But it all boils down to the fourth track, the 8:02 opus, “Stairway to Heaven.” The artists themselves recognize that the song is overrated. Vocalist Robert Plant once referred to it as a “wedding song” (he was not giving it a compliment). Although it is still a staple on classic rock stations, the younger generation and their DJs are not so enthralled, removing the superlative suffixes from the adjectives that once described song (great, not greatest).

The is one superlative that should remain. It did inspire one of the greatest parodies of all time. Little Roger and the Goosebumps recorded “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island,” a song the band and their management did not take lightly. That the band got sued makes the parody even better. I’m sure after four decades, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant couldn’t care less about it, but it does show what enormous egos they had at the time. Maybe they saw a little of themselves the first time they saw “Spinal Tap” and realized that a little humility was in order, and it was time their egos were taken down from eleven.


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