Vinyl Voyager: ‘Led Zeppelin III’ showcases ‘Immigrant Song’ and folk rock flair

It’s common form for bands to focus their first two albums assigning themselves to a specific sound. With a successful debut, fan bases grow accustomed to a band’s style. Naturally, that style is usually emulated with a sophomore album so fans aren’t alienated or disappointed.

The third album is where many popular acts find themselves at a creative edge. By now, musicians usually have matured or become weary of their signature musicality.

“Led Zeppelin III” is a testament to the evolving tendencies of those who are relentlessly talented and the sonic expansion artists pursue to avoid being typecast.

Initially panned by critics, “Led Zeppelin III” has developed a well-deserved appreciation since its release. Primarily conceived in an 18th-century Welsh hilltop cottage, the exhausted superstars entrenched themselves in a mystical landscape after an arduous North American tour.

No electricity meant Jimmy Page and Robert Plant would be forced to ditch their typically heavy blues tropes for an acoustic run at songwriting — hence the folk rock sentiments and drastic departure from what fans and critics expected.

These are my favorite tracks from Led Zeppelin’s recently remastered classic, etched onto freshly cleaned, virgin black vinyl, of course.

1. “Immigrant Song”

Overplayed, over-respected and certainly overshadowing the rest of Led Zeppelin III, “Immigrant Song” is often the only reason unseasoned listeners delve into this record. It’s a shame really, and yet I get it.

How can anyone resist a two-minute battle chant so immaculately tuned for pillaging and raiding that you can’t help but feel like a frenzied Viking warrior scanning the horizon in blood lust?

The wailing vocals, galloping rhythms and powerhouse drumming are the makings of a perfect Led Zeppelin hit. Yet, it hardly captures the essence of why “Led Zeppelin III” is so revered in hindsight.

2. “Friends”

Here is where Led Zeppelin finds itself escaping the confines of past works and stepping into untouched territory. A jovial opening acoustic riff from Jimmy Page and enthralling percussion from John Bonham meld together into a fairly unassuming skeleton.

It isn’t until the mesmerizing string arrangement by bassist John Paul Jones melts over everything else, layering on the tension until a final release kicks in, as a wavy Moog synthesizer floods the soundscape with vibration.

3. “Since I’ve Been Loving You”

Harkening back to the band’s blues roots for a moment, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is an epic reminder of why Led Zeppelin is rock royalty.

Plant outdoes himself here, using his earth-shattering voice to pierce the track with mournful cries about love’s double-edged blade. Page is equally impressive and ravages through the seven-minute monument with virtuoso and seismic cataclysm.

It may contradict the group’s newfound folk, but you simply must place this track somewhere amongst the top of Led Zeppelin’s impenetrable canon. It transcends time as a figurehead for rock ‘n’ roll’s ability to sear your heart with raw emotion and expressiveness.

4. “That’s The Way”

Picture yourself laying on a bed of grass, face to the sky, clouds floating by with a breeze caressing your hair. The whooshing tree leaves jostling in the wind mask the sound of you popping the cap on your favorite drink. As your lips touch the bottle and cool liquid excites your taste buds, a flock of birds blot the sunlight and stream over the rolling hills before you.

Hours fade, but your smile never does. And as the tension from a week’s worth of work evaporates from your fatigued bones, you’ll understand life is trying to teach you how things ought to be.

“That’s The Way” kind of feels like that. A lesson in life’s subtler beauties and how to appreciate them.

5. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”

Page’s guitar god status is denied by none, though many overlook his acoustic prowess for crowd-pleasing air guitar workouts like “Stairway to Heaven.”

Although much of “Led Zeppelin III” is essentially a guitar spotlight, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” protrudes amongst them with Page’s incredible picking and rhythm keepings.

The blue-grass inspirations are helped along by Bonham’s stomping and improvised percussion while Jones’ fretless bass adds a vibrato-tinged zaniness.

This track’s romping attitude is infectious, and resisting the inevitable foot tapping and hand clapping is futile.

Tell the reporter about your vinyl collection at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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