Kiefer’s Music Mondays: ‘Zeppelin IV’

Otherwise known as “ZoSo,” “Runes,” or by its technical name: four indescribable symbols.

If you go to the village of Headley in Hampshire, England, there is a poorhouse, built in 1795, known as Headley Grange. A three-story building constructed as a workhouse for the poor under government assistance, the construct’s history would be set in stone outlasting its physical stone walls with the release of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, colloquially referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, which was recorded in that very building in 1970, and released in 1971.

Produced by Jimmy Page himself, the album was inspired by three main afflatuses: Headley Grange itself, four symbols representing the members of the band, and the unwavering decision to name the album after those runes or not at all. These muses would provoke the group to work outside the consistencies of modern music, resulting in a myriad of styles and recording methods.

Songs like “Black Dog” feature a capella sections dividing hard rock riffs. “The Battle of Evermore” was written on mandolin. “Going to California” is a Joni Mitchell-inspired acoustic track. “When the Levee Breaks” is a rock and roll redux of a Memphis Minnie blues song from 1929. “Stairway to Heaven” is an unfolding symphony of brilliantly beautiful wording and mastermind musicianship. Every song lends to the cryptic miscellany and magic that makes this album work in all its mind-bending diversity. The album would go on to be the group’s best selling album, as well as one of the most sold records in history.

In defiance to the backlash the band had received on previously titled III, Page adamantly refused to name the album, include any liner notes or track listing on the album’s packaging, a decision he backed by claiming, “We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing.” The gatefold illustration inside, titled “The Hermit,” has become probably the most commonly known tarot card. The “ZoSo” symbol, in fact not a word or script at all, has turned into the most recognized term for the album aside from the massively misconstrued title Led Zeppelin IV (an assumed title due to their previously named Led Zeppelin, II, and III). Nonetheless, this remains their most identifiable album both artistically and musically.

In Headley, Hampshire, there stands an ambiguous building made of stone. The noises recorded in the 200-plus year old Headley Grange would go down in the chronicles of time; the very place where a black labrador retriever wanders the grounds, the muse of the song named “Black Dog;” the very room where “Stairway to Heaven,” one of the world’s most famous and revered songs, was written in a single day. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones would go into the ethos along with the recording ediface immortalized by the untitled album.

Listen to: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Going to California,” “When the Levee Breaks”