When Led Zeppelin III was released, I was the only person in my college dorm who liked it better than their second album. My feelings may have changed forty years later but by October 5, 1970, I was the program director of the college radio station, so my opinion really mattered. I still feel it is an excellent album and a unique release in the Led Zeppelin catalogue.
It seemed everyone was waiting for the second coming of “Whole Lotta Love,” but Jimmy Page went in a different direction. It was not as heavy, as it featured a number of acoustic pieces and even contained some folk elements. It had a slicker production than their first two albums and strayed from their established raw blues style. For many of the tracks, mellow and thoughtful were words of the day. While critical reviews were mixed, at the time it was a commercial success, as it topped the American album charts and has sold in excess of six million copies.
This is also an instance where the original vinyl cover adds some panache to the affair. It had a rotatable disc which added hours of additional entertainment pleasure while you listen to the music. Yes, I am over exaggerating but it was innovative.
“The Immigrant Song,” which opens the album, is a quick burst of energy. It contains folk lyrics hidden in some typical Led Zeppelin mind thumping music. Robert Plant’s voice hits some impossible notes.
“Since I've Been Loving You” is an enduring blues rock song and would have fit well on either of their first two albums. Written by Page, Plant, and John Paul Jones, it was recorded virtually live in the studio and thus has more of an improvisational feel. Jimmy Page’s guitar solos are some of the best of his career and the song became a staple of their live shows.
Side two of the original vinyl release is where Led Zeppelin really strikes out into new territory. “Gallows Pole” is an update of the old folk traditional song “Maid Freed From The Gallows,” but they used Fred Gerlach’s version as their inspiration. The track begins gently and builds throughout. The acoustic trio “Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp,” "Tangerine,” and “That’s The Way” are all acoustic-based, and when taken as a unit as the original album intended, it presents Led Zeppelin in a new light. “Tangerine,” in particular is a lost treat as it is one of the most intricate songs of the band’s career.
Led Zeppelin III is sometime overlooked, as it was released in between two of the best selling albums in rock history. It remains one of the more interesting stops in the Led Zeppelin journey.