Like The Beatles did with pop on Rubber Soul and The Clash did with punk on Sandinista!, so did Led Zeppelin expand upon what could be expected from a heavy metal band on Led Zeppelin III.
But while Rubber Soul just seemed like a natural extension of what The Beatles were already doing and Sandinista! seemed like The Clash purposefully challenging both themselves and their audience, Led Zeppelin initially faced a considerable amount of backlash from their audience for the mostly acoustic Led Zeppelin III.
As a teenager in the 1970s, I continually heard how Led Zeppelin III was too mellow (despite having “Immigrant Song,” “Celebration Day” and “Out on The Tiles”) and therefore sucked. And indeed, even now, it (along with its polar opposite, Presence) remains the worst-selling album of their initial run.
But, of course, that just means that it was ripe for rediscovery, as outside of “Immigrant Song,” none of the songs from Led Zeppelin III have truly penetrated the popular consciousness, and given that teenage boys of the 1970s were pretty much wrong about everything else, it only makes sense that Led Zeppelin III is now feted as being one of their greatest albums.
And a lot of that rests upon the once much-maligned second side, the centerpiece of which is the lovely, mysterious “Tangerine,” a song that Jimmy Page had kept in his back pocket since his Yardbird days (which, let’s be reminded, was only a couple of years prior), and while mostly acoustic, also features a fuzzy guitar solo halfway through.
Also: pedal steel guitar, which gave it an almost country sound, despite that whenever John Bonham came on the chorus, he was playing a straight John Bonham rock beat, so the end result felt almost discombobulated — a song that was trying to be in two places at once. Usually that’s a recipe for disaster, but what saved it was a low-key and heartfelt performance from Robert Plant on the verses and his double-tracked harmonies on the chorus.
I’m not going to lie: it took me a long time to get over the prejudices instilled in me from my teenage years, and it wasn’t until the 1990 box set that I discovered “Tangerine,” where sitting in a different context, it suddenly jumped out at me like it never had on Led Zeppelin III.
But that was over a quarter-century ago, and now both “Tangerine” and Led Zeppelin III are stone cold favorites.
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