English rock band Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album, commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, was released on 8 November 1971 by Atlantic Records. Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page, it was recorded between November 1970 and January 1971 at several locations, most prominently the Victorian house Headley Grange.

After the band's previous album Led Zeppelin III received lukewarm reviews from critics, they decided their fourth album would officially be untitled. This, along with the inner sleeve's design featuring four symbols that represented each band member, led to the album being referred to variously as the Four Symbols logo, Four Symbols, The Fourth Album, Untitled, Runes, The Hermit, and ZoSo (which was derived from Page's symbol).[2] In addition to lacking an album title, the cover featured no band name, as the group wished to be anonymous and to avoid easy pigeonholing by the press.[3]

Led Zeppelin IV was a commercial and critical success, featuring many of the band's best-known songs, including "Black Dog", "Rock and Roll", "Going to California", "Stairway to Heaven", and "When the Levee Breaks". The album is one of the best-selling albums of all time with more than 37 million copies sold.[4][5] It is tied for third highest-certified album in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America at 23× Platinum.[6] Writers and critics have regularly placed it on lists of the greatest albums of all time.

Recording sessions

Recording sessions for the album began at Island Records' newly opened Basing Street Studios, London, at the same time as Jethro Tull's Aqualung in December 1970.[7] Upon the recommendation of Fleetwood Mac,[8] the band then moved to Headley Grange, a remote Victorian Estate house in East Hampshire, England, to conduct additional recordings. Here they used the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. Jimmy Page later recalled: "We needed the sort of facilities where we could have a cup of tea and wander around the garden and go in and do what we had to do."[9] This relaxed, atmospheric environment at Headley Grange also provided other advantages for the band. As is explained by Dave Lewis, "By moving into Headley Grange for the whole period of recording, many of the tracks [on the album] were made up on the spot and committed to tape almost there and then."[9]

Once the basic tracks had been recorded, the band later added overdubs at Island Studios, then took the completed master tapes to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles for mixing. However, the mix ultimately proved to be less than satisfactory, creating an unwanted delay in the album's release. Further mixing had to be undertaken in London, pushing the final release date back by some months.[9]

Three other songs from the sessions, "Down by the Seaside", "Night Flight" and "Boogie with Stu" (featuring Rolling Stones co-founder/collaborator Ian Stewart on piano), were included four years later on the double album Physical Graffiti.

Album title

After the lukewarm, if not confused and sometimes dismissive, critical reaction Led Zeppelin III had received in late 1970, Page decided that the next Led Zeppelin album would not have a title, but would instead feature four hand-drawn symbols on the inner sleeve and record label, each one chosen by the band member it represents.[8] "We decided that on the fourth album, we would deliberately play down the group name, and there wouldn't be any information whatsoever on the outer jacket," Page explained. "Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing."[10]

Page has also stated that the decision to release the album without any written information on the album sleeve was contrary to strong advice given to him by a press agent, who said that after a year's absence from both records and touring, the move would be akin to "professional suicide."[11] In Page's words: "We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing."[11] In an interview he gave to The Times in 2010, he elaborated:

It wasn't easy. The record company were sort of insisting that the name go on it. There were eyes looking towards heaven if you like. It was hinted it was professional suicide to go out with an album with no title. The reality of it was that we'd had so many dour reviews to our albums along the way. At the time each came out it was difficult sometimes for the reviewers to come to terms with what was on there, without an immediate point of reference to the previous album. But the ethic of the band was very much summing up where we were collectively at that point in time. An untitled album struck me as the best answer to all the critics — because we knew the way that the music was being received both by sales and attendance at concerts.[12]

Releasing the album without an official title has made it difficult to consistently identify. While most commonly called Led Zeppelin IV, Atlantic Records catalogues have used the names Four Symbols and The Fourth Album. It has also been referred to as ZoSo (which Page's symbol appears to spell), Untitled and Runes.[9] Page frequently refers to the album in interviews as "the fourth album" and "Led Zeppelin IV",[11][13][14] and Plant thinks of it as "the fourth album, that's it".[15] Not only does the album have no title, but there is no text anywhere on the front or back cover, or even a catalogue number on the spine (at least, on the original vinyl LP release).

The four symbols

The four symbols representing (from left to right);
at the top; Page, Jones
at the bottom; Bonham and Plant

The idea for each member of the band to choose a personal emblem for the cover was Page's.[11] In an interview he gave in 1977, he recalled:

After all this crap that we'd had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it'd be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.[11]

Page stated that he designed his own symbol[8][9] and has never publicly disclosed any reasoning behind it. It has been argued that his symbol appeared as early as 1557 to represent Saturn.[16][17][18] The symbol is sometimes referred to as "ZoSo", though Page has explained that it was not in fact intended to be a word at all.[8]

Bassist John Paul Jones' symbol, which he chose from Rudolf Koch's Book of Signs,[8] is a single circle intersecting three vesica pisces (a triquetra). It is intended to symbolise a person who possesses both confidence and competence.[9]

Drummer John Bonham's symbol, the three interlocking (Borromean) rings, was picked by the drummer from the same book.[8] It represents the triad of mother, father and child,[9][19] but, inverted, it also happens to be the logo for Ballantine beer.[9]

Singer Robert Plant's symbol of a feather within a circle was his own design, being based on the sign of the supposed Mu civilisation.[8][9]

Sandy Denny's symbol of three downward-pointing equilateral triangles.

A fifth, smaller symbol chosen by guest vocalist Sandy Denny represents her contribution to "The Battle of Evermore"; the figure, composed of three equilateral triangles, appears on the inner sleeve of the LP, serving as an asterisk.

During Led Zeppelin's tour of the United Kingdom in winter 1971, which took place shortly following the release of the album, the band visually projected the four symbols on their stage equipment. Page's symbol was put onto one of his Marshall amplifiers, Bonham's three interlinked circles adorned the outer skin of his bass drum, Jones had his symbol stencilled onto material which was draped across his Fender Rhodes keyboard, and Plant's feather symbol was painted onto a side speaker PA cabinet. Only Page's and Bonham's symbols were retained for subsequent Led Zeppelin concert tours.[20]

Packaging and artwork

The 19th-century rustic oil painting on the front of the album was purchased from an antique shop in Reading, Berkshire by Plant.[8][9][21] The painting was then juxtaposed and affixed to the internal, papered wall of a partly demolished suburban house for the photograph to be taken. The block of flats seen on the album is "Salisbury Tower" in the Ladywood district of Birmingham, England.[22]

Page has explained that the cover of the fourth album was intended to bring out a city/country dichotomy that had initially surfaced on Led Zeppelin III:

It represented the change in the balance which was going on. There was the old countryman and the blocks of flats being knocked down. It was just a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it.[11]

However, regarding the meaning of the album cover, he has also stated:

The cover was supposed to be something that was for other people to savour rather than for me to actually spell everything out, which would make the whole thing rather disappointing on that level of your own personal adventure into the music.[23]

The album cover was among the 10 chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010.[24]

The inside illustration, entitled "The Hermit" and credited to Barrington Colby MOM, was influenced by the design of the card of the same name in the Rider-Waite tarot deck.[9] This character was later portrayed by Page himself in Led Zeppelin's concert film, The Song Remains the Same (1976). The inner painting is also referred to as View in Half or Varying Light and was sold at auction under that name in 1981.[25]

Varied versions of the artwork within the album exist. Some versions depict a longhaired and bearded supplicant climbing at the base of the mountain, while some others do not show the six pointed star within the hermit's lantern. If the inside cover of the album is held vertically against a mirror, a man's face can be seen hidden in the rocks below the hermit. Speculation exists that the face is actually that of a black dog.[25]

The typeface for the lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven", printed on the inside sleeve of the album, was Page's contribution. He found it in an old arts and crafts magazine called The Studio which dated from the late 19th century. He thought the lettering was interesting and arranged for someone to create a whole alphabet.[21]

Release and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[26]
Blender 5/5 stars[27]
Christgau's Record Guide A[28]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 5/5 stars[29]
Entertainment Weekly A+[30]
Mojo 5/5 stars[31]
MusicHound Rock 5/5[32]
Pitchfork 9.1/10[33]
Q 5/5 stars[34]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[35]

In the lead-up to the album's release, a series of teaser advertisements depicting each symbol was placed in the music press.[9] The album was a massive instant seller. It entered the UK chart at No. 10, rising to No.1 the following week and stayed on the chart for 90 weeks.[9] In the US it stayed on the charts longer than any other Led Zeppelin album and became the biggest selling album in the US not to top the charts (peaking at #2).[9] "Ultimately," writes Lewis, "the fourth Zeppelin album would be the most durable seller in their catalogue and the most impressive critical and commercial success of their career".[9] At one point, it was ranked as one of the top five best-selling albums of all time.[29]

Led Zeppelin IV received overwhelming praise from critics.[29] In a contemporary review for Rolling Stone, Lenny Kaye called it the band's "most consistently good" album yet and praised the diversity of the songs: "out of eight cuts, there isn't one that steps on another's toes, that tries to do too much all at once."[36] Billboard magazine called it a "powerhouse album" that has the commercial potential of the band's previous three albums.[37]

Robert Christgau originally gave Led Zeppelin IV a lukewarm review in The Village Voice, but later called the album a "genre masterpiece",[38] and wrote that it showed the band at the pinnacle of their songwriting.[39] Even though he found their Medieval ideas limiting as usual, he said that it is "the definitive Led Zeppelin and hence heavy metal album".[28] In his review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine credited the album for "defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of '70s hard rock", while "encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues".[26] In his album guide to heavy metal, Spin magazine's Joe Gross cited Led Zeppelin IV as a "monolithic cornerstone".[40] BBC Music's Daryl Easlea said that the album made the band a global success and effectively combined their third album's folk ideas with their second album's hard rock style,[41] while Katherine Flynn and Julian Ring of Consequence of Sound felt it featured their debut's blues rock, along with the other styles from their second and third albums.[42] Led Zeppelin's Rock Hall biography described the album as "a fully realized hybrid of the folk and hard-rock directions".[43] Music journalist Chuck Eddy named it the number one metal album of all time in his 1991 book Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe.[44]

Awards and recognition

In 2000, Led Zeppelin IV was named the twenty-sixth greatest British album in a list by Q magazine.[45] In 2002, Spin magazine's Chuck Klosterman named it the second greatest metal album of all time and said that it was "the most famous hard-rock album ever recorded" as well as an album that unintentionally created metal—"the origin of everything that sounds, feels, or even tastes vaguely metallic".[46] In 2003, the album was ranked number 69 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", which described it as "the peak of Seventies hard rock".[47] It was also named the seventh-best album of the 1970s in a list by Pitchfork.[48]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Mojo United Kingdom "The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made"[49] 1996 24
Grammy Awards United States Grammy Hall of Fame Award[50] 1999 *
The Guitar United States "Album of the Millennium"[51] 1999 2
Classic Rock United Kingdom "100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever"[52] 2001 1
Rolling Stone United States "500 Greatest Albums Ever"[47] 2012 69
Pitchfork United States "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s"[48] 2004 7
Q United Kingdom "The Greatest Classic Rock Albums Ever"[53] 2004 *
Robert Dimery United States 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[54] 2005 *
Q United Kingdom "100 Best Albums Ever"[55] 2006 21
Classic Rock United Kingdom "100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever"[56] 2006 1
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame United States "The Definitive 200: Top 200 Albums of All-Time"[57] 2007 4
NME United Kingdom NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[58] 2013 106

(*) designates unordered lists.

2014 reissue

A remastered version of Led Zeppelin IV was reissued on 27 October 2014, along with Houses of the Holy. The reissue comes in six formats: a standard CD edition, a deluxe two-CD edition, a standard LP version, a deluxe two-LP version, a super deluxe two-CD plus two-LP version with a hardback book, and as high resolution 96k/24-bit digital downloads. The deluxe and super deluxe editions feature bonus material. The reissue was released with an inverted color version of the original album's artwork as its bonus disc's cover.[59] The album's remastered version received widespread acclaim from critics, including Rolling Stone, who found Page's remastering "illuminative".[60]

Track listing

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Black Dog" 4:54
2. "Rock and Roll"
3. "The Battle of Evermore"
  • Page
  • Plant
4. "Stairway to Heaven"
  • Page
  • Plant
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. "Misty Mountain Hop"
  • Jones
  • Page
  • Plant
6. "Four Sticks"
  • Page
  • Plant
7. "Going to California"
  • Page
  • Plant
8. "When the Levee Breaks"



Chart (1971–72) Peak
Australian Albums Chart[63] 2
Canadian Albums Chart[64] 1
Danish Albums Chart[65] 2
French Albums Chart[66] 2
German Albums Chart[67] 9
Japanese Albums Chart[68] 2
Norwegian Albums Chart[69] 3
Italian Albums Chart[70] 2
Spanish Albums Chart[71] 8
UK Albums Chart[72] 1
US Billboard 200[73] 2
Chart (2014) Peak
Polish Albums (ZPAV)[74] 18


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[75] Platinum 60,000^
Australia (ARIA)[76] 9× Platinum 630,000^
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[77] Gold 100,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[78] 2× Diamond 2,000,000^
France (SNEP)[79] 2× Platinum 970,866[80]
Germany (BVMI)[81] 3× Gold 750,000^
Italy (FIMI)[82] Platinum 100,000*
Netherlands (NVPI)[83] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[84] 7× Platinum 105,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[85] Platinum 100,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[86] Platinum 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[87] 6× Platinum 1,800,000^
United States (RIAA)[88] 23× Platinum 23,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

See also



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  10. ^ Adams, Cecil. "What Do the Four Symbols on Led Zeppelin's 4th Album Mean?". straightdope.com. Retrieved 11 August 2008. 
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  19. ^ In the 1990 Bonham tribute radio special, "It's Been a Long Time", son Jason Bonham confirmed that the symbol was chosen as a representation of man, woman and child-
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  32. ^ Graff, Gary; Durchholz, Daniel (eds) (1999). MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 662. ISBN 1-57859-061-2. 
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External links

Preceded by
Top of the Pops, Volume 20 by Various artists
UK Albums Chart number-one album
4–18 December 1971
Succeeded by
Electric Warrior by T. Rex