Although Led Zeppelin's much-maligned third album remains divisive to this day, it's now widely accepted that it was not, after all, the product of some collective brain fade or bizarre schizophrenic episode within the band. The persistent perception of it as an acoustic album is also an inaccurate and oversimplified view. But it's easy to understand how misconceptions could arise, especially when it was first released.
The sense of anticipation surrounding Led Zeppelin III was simply enormous. The success of their first two albums (I, II) had transformed Zep into the biggest band in the world. It's hardly surprising, then, that their decision to radically change tack would cause confusion and consternation. Where I and II were blues-rock workouts with acoustic and folk embellishments, III was essentially the opposite. The embellishments and embroidery became the central focus.
Much of the album was written at a remote cottage in Snowdonia called Bron-Yr-Aur while guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant recuperated following an extensive US tour. The cottage had no electricity which encouraged the pair to explore the band's mellower, pastoral side. That the results originally met with such a lukewarm critical response was unfair, if predictable. The acoustic introductions to so many of the songs continue to fool those casually skipping through the album just to make sure they dislike it as much as other people say they should. The reality is a little different.
Ironically, given the album's generally laid-back feel, III features one of the band's most blatantly overt big-trouser moments. Opener Immigrant Song, with its strident riff and macho subject matter, is proto-heavy metal at its best. It's true that the bulk of the material doesn't favour rock, with even Celebration Day and Out on the Tiles lacking the sledgehammer weight of previous efforts, but this is no lightweight fluff. The slow blues of Since I've Been Loving You and the touching That's the Way are other clear highlights which have earned their place on any genuine best-of collection. Elsewhere, the wistful folk rock of Tangerine and Gallows Pole - another Zep arrangement of a traditional folk song - bolster what is by any reckoning an underrated work.