Houses of the Holy Album Review

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Jakob Birnbaum, Writer

Almost 50 years ago on March 28, 1973, Led Zeppelin released their fifth album Houses of the Holy. Produced by legendary guitarist Jimmy Page, the band continued experimenting with new music dabbling in funk, reggae, progressive and psychedelic rock. 

Members, Page, vocalist, Robert Plant, bass and music arranger, John Paul Jones and drummer, John Bohnahm, worked for months at various studios including the Rolling Stone mobile studio and recorded a couple of songs at Mick Jagger’s (The Rolling Stones singer and writer) house in order to put this experimental masterpiece together.

While the album was commercially successful, critics were more mixed and hateful towards the Album. Rolling Stone Magazine writer Gordon Fletcher said this album was “one of the dullest and most confusing albums” he has ever heard. However, I feel the critics were caught off guard and were expecting a more beautifully-crafted rock piece that was similar to their previous album. Later on, the magazine would retract the statement and praise the album ranking it #278 on their 500 greatest albums of all time list.

The album opens with a song that indeed doesn’t remain the same: “The Song Remains the Same.” Like many Led Zeppelin songs, it isn’t about the crazy lyrics that don’t make any sense; it’s about firing on all cylinders and opening the album with a banger. Plant singing about “sweet calcutta rain” and “California sunlight” shows how talented and high-range his vocals are and demonstrate why he is one of the best male vocalists in rock.

Another notable and underrated song on the album is the progressive rock ballad “The Rain Song,” whose fun fact was inspired by George Harrison of the Beatles. After complaining to Bohnam about the band’s repertoire stating to Bohnam that “The problem with you guys is that you never do ballads,” Harrison said, the band took this criticism seriously and crafted a peaceful ballad. Sure its slow pace, similar to the band’s signature “Stairway to Heaven” can be a turnoff for their hard rock viewers, but the slow, beautiful and peaceful buildup to another big epic solo before calming back down is something that Led Zeppelin is very good at.

My favorite song on this album is the mythology-inspired “No Quarter.” Written by Page, Plant and Jones, it starts off as an instrumental to get listeners engaged with the song before repeating the instrumental with Plant’s beautifully crafted lyrics such as “The winds of Thor are blowing cold.” Then there is a two-minute piano and guitar solo before a conclusion that blows the rest of the song out of the water. 

While the album doesn’t have any bad songs, “The Crunge” could be considered filler. Inspired by James Brown’s funk rock style, all four band members contributed their unique writing style, which turned the song into a mess. However, it is a good kind of mess with great synthesizer and vocals despite some of the repetitive nature, and Plant asking the listener if they have “seen the bridge.”

Other notable songs on the album are the reggae-inspired “D’yer Mak’er” (pronounced jer-may-ker), the folk-rock jam “Over the Hills and Far Away” and the hard rock doo-whop inspired “The Ocean,” which is a beautiful closer to the album. 

While the album only has eight songs, many other songs from the recording sessions were cut from the album and released on later albums. Songs like “The Rover,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Black Country Women” were released on their next double album Physical Graffiti, and another song, “Walter’s Walk,” was released on their final album Coda.

Houses of the Holy is a very trippy and experimental masterpiece in Led Zeppelin’s discography. I wholeheartedly recommend this album to anyone who loves rock, wants to get into Led Zeppelin or wants to listen to something new.