It Fit In High School #1 – Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses Of The Holy’

Welcome to the first edition of It Fit In High School – a new bit I wanted to try out. The  premise is simple: I re-listen to albums that I primarily listened to in high school with a pair of ears that have eight more years of experience digesting music within them, along with thousands of albums under their belts. Now you’re thinking about ears wearing belts. That’s ok. In fact, that’s perfectly normal and encouraged. It will help us get into our first edition with a clear and open mind. Earbelts. For the first half of high school I almost exclusively listened to classic rock, along with big rock like The Killers, Muse and The Mars Volta. Maybe we’ll touch the entry-level indie rock that helped get my taste to where it is today as well.

The first album I’ll be diving (back) into is Led Zeppelin’s fifth LP, Houses Of The Holy. Led Zeppelin was by and far my favorite band going into high school and held that honor proudly throughout my freshman and sophomore year. Once I started phasing out the Kohl’s video game graphic tees from elementary and middle school, Led Zep claimed the spot as the leader of my graphic tee empire. I grew my hair out to an outrageous length, so much so that I could have been confused for a member of LZ if someone were to take purely hair silhouettes of the band and my own. No body, face or anything – just hair. Without the overwhelming locks, I was just another chubby, pasty white kid with braces, frameless glasses, rosy cheeks that played the violin. I can see self-deprecating reflection being a staple in this series already, and I LOVE that.

Why I’m choosing Houses Of The Holy to be the first entry here is likely because out of their first six records, AKA the straight-up-gold-classic-money-printer period, Houses is the one I’m least familiar with, or maybe the one I remember the least. I don’t want to take on the pinnacle classics right away, plus I know that after the four self-titled records the band started to get weirder with instrumentation, recording quirks and songwriting. This seemed like a logical starting point. A split in the world of LZ. Two worlds, same band – here’s the fission point. Does it err more on one side than the other? That’s why I’m here, folks. Does the world need another cis white male voice tossing words into the classic rock canon? Hell no. Will it be fun? Uh I mean, probably. I hope so!

  1. “The Song Remains The Same”
    Right out of the gate, Led Zeppelin makes it clear that the main driving force for the record will be Jimmy Page and his wild guitar and Bonham as just a beast on drums. Page goes off on this track with all sorts of different tones and timbres; from bright and jangly, to a rollicking warble, to a crushing, classic distortion. Bonham on drums and Jones on bass hold a steady backup throughout the track, not really switching anything up but holding up their part of the bargain. Although Bonham is definitely really loud in the mix compared to how most drums now sound, I think. The usual man of attention, Robert Plant, almost seems like an afterthought on this song. Although the majority of the dynamic shifts mold around vocal lines, it seems like the guitar is anxious to get back in the action, as on almost every verse, you can hear Page noodling in the background like “alright alright, this is fine but let’s get back to the fun part, right?” This is quite a burning burst to get the album started. Straight up rock n roll with rockabilly theatrics.
  2. “The Rain Song”
    Pretty bold to have this sensitive slow burner after the massive firecracker that started the album. The song is straightforward: a delicate mix of electric and acoustic guitars backed by what sounds like a synthetic orchestra, a contemplative Plant, a minimal Bonham and and a steady Jones. The climax of this song right after the 5:00 mark is pretty dope and triumphant, with piano helping build the dynamic stairs that the vocals, guitar and drums ascend to reach the song’s peak. This song is just a tad too long for my tastes, but it’s still real pretty and was a joy to revisit.
  3. “Over The Hills And Far Away”
    I heard this song a ton on morning radio on my way to high school. That was definitely by design. It’s a great morning song that starts with a nice, shimmery 12-string acoustic and simple vocals that transitions into a country-tinged romp with a warped solo in the middle. Aside from the wild solo that bounces from between channels, the rest of the track doesn’t really do anything for me. It’s pretty standard and I can see how it would appeal to the white bread morning radio crew of suburban Ann Arbor.
  4. “The Crunge”
    I completely forgot about this song’s existence in LZ’s catalog. In high school I remember showing this to all my music teachers telling them to try and pick out the time signatures. It’s a fine song with some interesting ideas but in 2019, I’m not into it. Although the synthetic horn sounds that start at about a minute in are dope and silly sounding. Reminds me of Brodyquest and songs on one of their later albums In Through The Out Door.
  5. “Dancing Days”
    Not a super huge fan of that main riff. It’s fine and catchy, but the whole song seems kind of rushed / slapped together. I do like the weird keyboards throughout the track that follow the melody of the guitar. Honestly not too much to say on this one.
  6. “D’Yer Maker”
    This was a huge hit right? The white man rippin’ off rocksteady? The star on this track is obviously Bonham’s drums. In the version I have it’s almost like the drums are at the very front of the mix and Page, Jones and Plant are second fiddle. They’re just everywhere. Is this the first time I’m bringing up mixing on this segment? I’m gonna guess that a lot of albums I dive back into from the 60s – 80s have some pretty goofy / innovative at the time mixing decisions. We’ll see. This song’s kinda boring to me now.
  7. “No Quarter”
    Damn – maybe the best Led Zeppelin song? By and far the best song on this album, anyways. This thing is dripping with atmosphere, with the murky mellotron, the crunchy guitars (with a GREAT riff / melody), the steady percussion and Plant’s weary vocals. LOVE the tone of that piano that comes in about halfway through the track. Like a bright and pure voice to cut through the fog. Even the quick guitar solo is great. Very much a Pink Floyd vibe on this track. I remember in high school this song routinely gave me chills. Glad to see it still holds up.
  8. “The Ocean”
    Ok this song slaps. It’s mad snappy with great breaths of silence to really make the moments when the instruments come back in that more satisfying. Likewise, Bonham’s snare in this song is CRISP. Guitar is punchy. Plant is wild. This sound is a perfect transition to go into their following album, Physical Graffiti. Very similar production and arrangement to many songs on there.

So how do I end this? Well, Houses of the Holy both met and fell short of expectations. I remember liking it a lot more back in the day, but the songs that hit really help cement this album as a solid very good. The first and last two songs on the album are the best ones, and the four in the middle are just ok. Revisiting an album of an ex-favorite band is like looking through the social media profile of a best friend that you haven’t talked to in a while. You’re looking at pictures of this person and you’re thinking to yourself “is that really the person that I’m so close to? They look like a normal person! But I feel an innate special connection to them regardless.” Something like that. Also, like I said before I did the track breakdown: does the world really need another voice talking about decades-old, verified classics? Not really, but I thought it’d be fun.

SO: Houses of the Holy fit in high school… how does it fit in 2019?

It fits kinda like a hoodie where the torso and neck still feel fine but for some reason the arms are tighter than normal. It doesn’t impact you too much looks wise but you definitely notice some tightness around in the shoulder blades and biceps when you raise your arms, so you’re usually adjusting and moving things around when you wear it, trying in vain to stretch it out before going out for the day. But in the end, it’s cozy and will support you.

About Very Warm

Usually cool dude stuff.
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