Album Reviews: Led Zeppelin's IV and Houses of the Holy

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These latest releases in Led Zeppelin’s reissue series should need no introduction, as they have been massively popular and all over the radio for decades. IV (aka Untitled), which first appeared in 1971, has sold nearly 30 million copies, making it among the best-selling albums ever. Houses of the Holy, which debuted in 1973, didn’t do quite as well, but still managed to find 11 million buyers—enough to make Taylor Swift’s hot latest release seem like a bit of a flop by comparison.

You might call IV the quintessential heavy metal album, but that would be understating its achievement. Drawing on its trademark mix of blues, rock and acoustic folk, Led Zeppelin shifts effortlessly between genres here, sometimes mid-song, and produces classic after classic, among them “Rock and Roll,” “Going to California,” “The Battle of Evermore” and of course “Stairway to Heaven.” (True, I wouldn’t mind if I never heard that last song again; but that’s only because it has been so overplayed.)

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The even more adventurous Houses of the Holy—the first Led Zeppelin album to consist entirely of original material—draws on reggae (“Dyer Mak’er”) and funk (“The Crunge”) and uses more overdubbed orchestration. Some of the musical side trips work better than others but the album boasts a preponderance of winning material, including “No Quarter,” “The Song Remains the Same” and “The Ocean.” If I were forced to choose, I’d buy IV before Houses of the Holy, but both albums are essential to any representative collection of rock music.

Like their predecessors in this series, these reissues are two-CD sets that pair a remastered version of the original record with related, heretofore unreleased bonus tracks. The remastering of both albums by Jimmy Page brings out previously unheard subtleties and makes the music sound better than ever.

The bonus tracks add less. Unlike the three previous reissues, these focus not on alternate versions or live material but rather on alternate mixes of the original releases. If you’re a serious fan, you might find them of some interest, but I can’t imagine many listeners would call them essential.

On the other hand, these deluxe editions are each selling for about the price of a single disc, so you’re not paying extra for the remixes. If you don’t own the original albums, or if your copies of them have worn out over the years, by all means pick these up.

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Jeff Burger (byjeffburger.com), a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon as well as Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters and Leonard Cohen…

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