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Jimmy Page on recording the 4th album

This is an inside peek into Led Zeppelin's untitled album as told by Jimmy Page. It is from a BBC series entitled "Classic Albums".

Jimmy Page: From the first sort of blues oriented album, the second one was rock & roll, I think they assumed the third was going to be, you know, yet again rocking on, and the added fact that Led Zep II was like "THE" classic rock album and I think they expected like I know the record company expected a follow-up to "Whole Lotta Love" which obviously wasn't on this. But however, we always stick to how we were shaping at the time. Anyway, we never really made a point of trying to emulate something that we had done before, so consequently the whole thing came out 'Zeppelin are a hype' blah, blah, blah, and it came to the point where we thought 'right, on the next album we we'll make it an untitled album with no information on it whatsoever, virtually saying if you don't like it, you don't have to buy it for the name.

Q: Fans refer to it as Led Zeppelin IV or the runes album because of the runic symbols on the sleeve, but what did the band themselves call it?

JP: I think Four Symbols at the time was how it was referred to by us, but it is runes, yeah runes, but I don't think we used to refer to it as the runes album ourselves, but they were runes. This was the whole idea, you know there was this things we you see on the illustration that's with the lyrics.

Q: To record the album Led Zeppelin installed themselves, and the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio at Headley Grange in Hampshire. Not that it was a conventual rehearsal set up.

JP: Apparently, it was a victorian work house at one time, that's what I was told. It was a sort of three story house with a huge open hall with a staircase going up and that's where we get the classic drum sound on "Levee Breaks" I'll come onto that later, but that's what it was. It had incredible uh I loved it. It was a pretty ostear place, I loved the atmosphere of it. I really did personally. The others got a bit spooked out by it.

Q: So there they were, ready to rehearse and record. What happened next?

JP: Whenever we got together from the third, fourth, fifth album etc, around that time we would always say 'what have you got?' to anybody else to see if Jonesy had anything to be honest. Robert and I were doing all of the writing up to that point, unless it was a number which sort of, like a blues number. For instance, "When the Levee Breaks" is, and then we would make a split between the four of us. We were always trying to encourage him to come up with bits and pieces so to speak, cause that's usually what they were, he never came up with a complete whole song or anything, (until 'In Through the Out Door'). But he had this great riff with "Black Dog" and I added some sections to it as well and then we had the idea actually, I must be totally honest, I suggested, how you get the breaks with the vocals. That's it, I've finally owned up as no one else will in the band, but that was the idea to give it the vocal thing then the riffs in.

Q: And what's that noise on the front of the track?

JP: That's the guitar's warming up. To me, the most important part about anything is to have a really good bass and drum sound because I knew after that I'd be working on the guitar. So, I did all the rest of the guitar overdubs in Ireland.

Q: But the basic tracks were done at Headley Grange?

JP: Yes. We had the drums in the hall and sometimes the drums were in the room as well, (in the sitting room with the fireplace) and the amplifiers were all over. When Bonzo was in the hall, Jones and I were out there with earphones, the two sets of amps were in the other rooms and other parts such as cupboards and things. A very odd way of recording but it certainly worked. When you've got the whole live creative process going on, that's how things like "Rock and Roll" come out.

Q: And how exactly was that?

JP: I think we were attempting "Four Sticks" and it wasn't happening and Bonzo started the drum intro to "Keep a Knocking" (by Little Richard) and I played the riff automatically, that was "Rock and Roll" and we got through the whole of the twelve bar bit (the first verse). We said 'this is great, forget "Four Sticks" let's work on this' and things were coming out like that.

Q: "Rock and Roll" was recorded in two or three takes, a happy incident inspired by the set up at Headley Grange. Another benefit of being there was that the creative process was not confined to a timetable and there were instruments lying around, like a mandolin belonging to John Paul Jones.

JP: I remember seeing it. We were living in the house, some would go to bed and I would sit up and play quite a bit and I picked it up and it just came out! I had never played one before, the tuning is totally different. That was something about that period. It was a time of great inspiration, you know. Anyway that came out.

Q: Who's idea was it to use Sandy Denny on "The Battle of Evermore"?

JP: That was an idea of Robert's. He had this idea to bring in Sandy Denny. I though it worked out well.

Q: What about guitars? Did you have a lot of them with you?

JP: All the guitars I had, (I didn't have many at that point). For example, I know everyone knows me for the double neck, but in fact I had to get the double neck to handle "Stairway" because even though I had played six string acoustic, electric and twelve string electric. I couldn't do it on one or the other. The double neck was the only way of being able to handle it. Now everyone's familiar with it. It may not make a lot of sense but it was quite a complicated song to actually get across to everybody. I know one of the bits that was difficult for Bonzo at the time was the twelve string fanfare into the guitar solo and that took a bit of time. We were going over and over it from the beginning to the end quite a few times, with Robert sitting on the stool listening and he must have got inspiration as he wrote these lyrics then. He said I think I've got some things for it. We had an old Revox tape recorder at that time and I remember there were a good 70 to 80% of the lyrics there.

We played it at the L.A. Forum, it's a long track when you think about it, a hell of a long track. You know how difficult it is when you go and hear a concert and hear a number from a band for the first time and that's quite a long time to concentrate on something. I remember we got a standing ovation from a considerable amount of that audience and we went 'wow'! We knew it was good, we didn't realise that people would latch onto it, but from testing the gauge of it like that it was an early reaction. We thought 'that's great, fabulous'.

We'd be doing things that just, you know, playing around and this, that and the other suddenly. For instance I remember "Misty Mountain Hop" - I remember coming up with the opening part of that and then we would go off into that. Jonesy put the chords in for the chorus bit and that would shape up. We used to work pretty fast. A lot of that ("Misty Mountain Hop") would have been made up during the point of being at Headley.

Q: But they didn't all come that easily?

JP: "Four Sticks", I remember, we tried that on numerous occasions and it didn't come off until the day Bonzo who was just playing with two sticks on it and we tried all different things, then one day he picked up two sets of sticks, so he had four sticks, and we did it. That was two takes, but that was because it was physically impossible for him to do another. I couldn't get that to work until we tried to record it a few times and I just didn't know what it was and I still wouldn't have known what it was, we probably would have kicked the track out, but then Bonzo went and I'm not going to repeat the language he said at the time, but it was nothing to do with the fact that it was taking a long time. We had actually gone in to try on a fresh occasion and he just picked up the four sticks and that was it.

Q: Why did you choose to release the fourth album as untitled?

JP: It started of originally going out without any information whatsoever, nothing. Then it was coming down to maybe we will have one single on it and then it got to the point where we all chose our own symbols.

Q: Jimmy's being the hermit.

JP: Some people say it has illusions of Jolman Hunt (a painter) but it hasn't. It actually comes from the idea from the tarot card, the hermit and so the accention to the beacon and the light of truth. The whole light so to speak.

Q: The last but one track on the album is "Going to California"

JP: That was another late night guitar twiddle, you know, the structure of it at Headley. That was the good thing about staying at that place. You didn't have anything like a snooker table or anything like that. No recreational purists at all. It was really good for discipline and getting on with the job. I suppose that's why a lot of these came at Headley Grange. For instance "Going to California" and "Battle of Evermore" came out. But obviously then we got together and it was just away and a far, it was Jonesy on the mandolin, myself and Robert singing on it.

We went over to mix it at Sunset Sound (L.A.). This is Andy Johns and myself and Peter Grant was there as well. he came over. The funny thing is on "Going to California" you got "The noises of the canyon got to tremble and shake" curiously enough when we landed, this is absolutely true. Apparently, as we were coming down the escalators into the main terminal there was a slight earthquake. In fact, it was quite big actually. It cracked one of the dams there in San Diego and the in the hotel before going to the studio you could feel the bed shaking. I thought 'well, here we go'.

Q: When people talk about drum sounds, they often refer to Led Zeppelin and "When the Levee Breaks" in particular. It wasn't all down to John Bonham's playing as producer. You knew what he wanted to hear.

JP: Having worked in the studios for so long as a session player, I had been on so many sessions where the drummer was stuck in a little booth and he would be hitting the drums for all he was worth and it would just sound as though he was hitting a cardboard box. I knew that drums would have to breath to have that proper sound, to have that ambiance. So, consequently we were working on the ambiance of everything, of the instruments, all the way through. I guess this is the high point of this album. You've got something like "When the Levee breaks" which was with Bonzo in the hall and on the second landing was a stereo mike and that's all there was. But that whole drum sound and all this ambiance is now captured digitally in the machine. Where we would do it that way, you have now got it in machines. I think we set a trend with all of this.

Q: On to the final cut on this classic album "When the Levee Breaks".

JP: "The Levee" was recorded at Headley Grange with the mobile truck and it was at this point, I believe to the best of my recollection that John Bonham had been attempting "The Levee" before as a riff. I had a whole concept of how this thing was going to end up, but it just so happened we put a mike into the hallway which, as it was a three story house with the stairs going all the way up, had all this beautiful space. So, on the second landing was just a stereo mike and the sound was just phenomenal. That was it it was going to be "THE" drum song. As soon as it was set up, it was the one we went for and it worked. We had a couple of attempts at it before which just didn't feel right. It must have been in the hands of the Gods really. We would say 'wait until the drum kit arrived and everything is going to be fine'. At the end of it where we've got the whole works going on this fade, it doesn't actually fade, as we finished it the whole effects start to spiral all the instruments are now spiraling. This was very difficult to do in those days. I can assure you. With the mixing and the voice remaining constant in the middle. This only really comes out on the headphones. You hear everything turning right around. In fact, at the time I was extremely happy with "The Levee".

Q: Looking back is there anything you would change about the album?

JP: Yes, I would do it with click tracks, synthesizers and sampling (Jimmy laughs) and then I would retire (more laughter). No, no I've really got fond memories of those times and the album was done with such great spirit. Everyone had a smile on these faces. It was great.
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September 07, 1968 - The band fulfills some old Yardbirds dates in Scandanavia
September xx, 1969 - Jimmy Page is reported saying the second album will be harder than the first
September 19, 1970 - Led Zeppelin gross over $100,000 for two performances at Madison Square Gardens on the same day
September xx, 1971 - Jimmy Page is furious over a live Yardbirds release. It was forced off the shelves
September xx, 1971 - The band vacations in Hawaii
September xx, 1972 - Discussions to play various countries ends with a decision to play Japan again
September xx, 1973 - Jimmy Page considers a live release of material before releasing a new album
September 14, 1974 - Led Zeppelin and CSN&Y jam at an after party
September xx, 1975 - Jimmy meets up with Robert in Malibu, where he is staying on a tax exile
September 12, 1976 - Page and Bonham return to Switzerland and record a drum piece title Bonzo’s Montreux
September 08, 1977 - Page takes to the stage with other well knowns at a WEA records sales conference
September 15, 1978 - Zep road manager Richard Cole and Bad Company’s Simon Kirke get married in a double ceremony
September 17, 1979 - Promoter Fred Bannister forced into liquidation over Knebworth Sales with Led Zeppelin
September 18, 1980 - Jimmy reviews a new stage set up and technical details for the Eighties Part One tour at Swan Song offices
September 25, 1980 - John Bonham is found dead in Jimmy Page’s Windsor mansion by sound technician Benji Le Fevre
September 12, 2007 - It was announced at a press conference by Harvey Goldsmith that the remaining members of Led Zeppelin would reunite with Jason Bonham on drums.
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