So what if John Bonham hadn’t died? What if, instead of being Led Zeppelin’s last studio album, they continued to record — ever more sporadically, of course — for the next couple of decades instead?
How would In Through The Out Door be looked at then? Obviously, it’s now seen as The Last Led Zeppelin Album, with all of the psychic weight that entails. Added to that is the fact that In Through The Out Door is clearly their weakest studio album, continuing the decline that some detected (wrongly!!!) in Presence, and some folks might even assume that it was a good thing they had an excuse to break up before further tainting their legacy, like other ::coughs, The Who, coughs:: bands didn’t do.
Which is to say, in the alternate universes where John Bonham didn’t die, In Through The Out Door is probably viewed much differently. It’s probably seen as a reaction to Presence, which was all guitars and nearly all Page-Plant compositions, but mostly it would be seen as their John Paul Jones album.
For, ahem, reasons, In Through The Out Door is the Led Zeppelin album with the least amount of Jimmy Page and the most amount of John Paul Jones, and while Jones is a helluva musician, songwriter and arranger, he’s not Jimmy Page.
So while there were some great songs on In Through The Out Door — “Fool in the Rain” and the first 2/3 of “Carouselambra” — there were also throwaways like “Hot Dog” and “I”m Gonna Crawl.” And there was also “All My Love,” which I hated upon contact, grew to utterly despise as it got shittons of radio play, and am happy to ignore for the rest of my life.
That radio play, of course, came primarily during the year or so where In Through The Out Door was still just The Latest Led Zeppelin album, and more importantly, the Only Led Zeppelin Studio Album That Came Out When I Was In High School. It had three long years since Presence, which came out as I was finishing 8th grade, but I was now a senAt that point, I was reading Creem and Rolling Stone and Trouser Press and every other magazine I could get my hands on, and I remember Rolling Stone’s pan of In Through The Out Door (in the same issue as a glowing review of Rust Never Sleeps) and the Creem letters section being filled with scads of The Clash vs. Led Zeppelin letters.
Because apparently, it was impossible to love both The Clash and Led Zeppelin. Apparently, that was the case in 1979. But, of course, as I think we’ve established, I did love both bands, and tried to give In Through The Out Door a fair shake, but the only think that truly bowled me over was the opening track, the dark and mysterious “In The Evening,” which opened with nearly a minute of trippy vaguely-Eastern meandering before being called to life by Robert Plant.
What followed was easily one of the most successful riff duels between Jimmy Page & John Paul Jones. Page playing a riff whammybarred into submission, only to be resuscitated by Jones’ synth lines over and over again. Unlike everything else on the album, “In The Evening” walked the line of being something they hadn’t tried before while still being recognizably, uniquely Led Zeppelin.
Meanwhile, Robert Plant is anticipating Ghostbusters on the chorus:
Oh, I need Zuul love
I need Zuul love
Oh, I need Zuul love
I just got to have
But of course, the best part of “In The Evening” is Jimmy Page’s solo; his last great moment on any Zeppelin studio album, which kinda just gets ripped from the guitar seemingly at random, and then explodes into a million balls of light that eventually dissipate as the song quiets down for a few bars.
That guitar comes back at at the end, perhaps helping to invoke Zuul herself for his comrade-in-arms. It’s actually a pretty auspicious beginning for In Through The Out Door, and portended things for the rest of the record that never actually happened.
But that was OK, because Jimmy Page & John Bonham were already talking about the next album, which would have been more rocking. I’m really kinda jealous of the folks in the parallel universes who got to hear that one.
“In The Evening”
“In The Evening” performed live at Knebworth, 1979
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