The sky is filled with good and bad that mortals never know.
– The Battle of Evermore from Led Zeppelin IV
This week marks the second wave of Led Zeppelin releases including remastered and expanded versions of the British rock legends’ fourth and fifth studio albums, 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV and 1973’s Houses of the Holy. Led Zeppelin’s unnamed fourth album, often referred to as “Zoso,” went on to sell 23 million copies in the U.S., making it the third most successful album ever. Led Zeppelin IV features some of the perennial staples of classic rock radio including the epic “Stairway to Heaven.”
Like many young men journeying through the jungles of adolescence in the 1970’s, Zeppelin became the soundtrack for my own coming of age. Composer Jimmy Page layered walls of guitar orchestration married to the musical alchemy produced by his hand-picked fellow band members; the mystical lyrics and wailing unrestrained libido of lead Singer Robert Plant; accomplished musician and composer John Paul Jones; and the one who laid down the Thunder of the Gods, the late drummer John Bonham.
The music of Led Zeppelin reveals some key and sometimes paradoxical messages of their music but also reflected in the lives of many of their generation. On the second Led Zeppelin album you find the anthem of male sexual conquest “Whole Lotta Love.” You also find at the close of side two, a tender love song Plant penned about his wife at that time, “Thank You.” On their fourth album you hear the sexual braggadocio of the blues/rock masterpiece “Black Dog” followed by the poignant, nostalgic and spiritual tones of Stairway to Heaven…ear numbing anthems of sexual revolution…and the longing for the innocence and simplicity of the hippie ideal. This paradox was also reflected in their lives as country gentleman and family men when home and a horde of sexual barbarians when travelling with the band (though many of these accounts while based on some truth are now thought to be highly exaggerated.)
The power and mystique of Led Zeppelin is not only based on their talent as composers and musicians but also came from being plugged into the zeitgeist of their times. This was an age of a naïve trust that the advancement of personal liberation and exploration was the greatest ideal of an evolving mankind. At the same time the youth of this period chased a longing for deeper emotional intimacy and spiritual communion in the shark infested waters of sexual liberation, drugs and social revolution.
The sexual, social and musical revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’s produced some amazing music. What Led Zeppelin and the other musical and social architects and promoters of sexual revolution failed to understand, is the connection between unrestrained sexual liberation and social chaos, disease and death. But look more closely at the music and lyrics of Zeppelin (some which borrowed themes and imagery from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and you will find that there were deeper and darker battles being waged between lust and love, light and darkness, heaven and hell:
The Sky is filled with good and bad mortals never know…The dark Lord rides in force tonight, and time will tell us all. Oh, throw down your plow and hoe, Rest not to lock your homes. Side by side we wait the might of the darkest of them all.– Battle of Evermore
St Paul wrote something similar a few thousand years earlier:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians, 6-12)
Led Zeppelin was a powerful musical focal point for the emerging social and spiritual forces being unleashed during this time period. They not only gave a voice to those forces, but along with other musical groups of that period they helped till the spiritual and social soil, fanning the flames of the cultural and sexual revolution of the 1960’s and beyond.
Zeppelin reigned at a time when the “powers of this dark world” St Paul speaks of seduced and manipulated political, religious and legal leaders to embrace the end-game of the sexual revolution… legalization of abortion in 1973. Since that time over 55 million of our fellow citizens have been lost to abortion…and countless men and women have been deeply damaged by the participation in their death.
The power and beauty of the music of Led Zeppelin remains and transcends the sometimes darker influences on some of the band members and their lifestyles, especially when touring. Lead Singer Robert Plant is known for his preening and sexual posturing when performing with Zeppelin, but he also wrote some of their more compelling lyrics. The continued allure of Zeppelin is that the beauty, power and message of their music at times reached out to awaken the listener to consider that there was something more beyond the silly sexual posturing of Plant and the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle.
The lyrics of the classic Stairway to Heaven, remind us that as we continue to rip apart the fabric of western civilization…we better take some time to assess the costs of unrestrained individualism and sexual liberation:
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run There’s still time to change the road you’re on.– Stairway to Heaven
Fifty Five million dead…millions more wounded.
Let’s hope and pray…there’s still time to change the road we’re on.