Everyone has their music origins, and I definitely remember some of the first records that were in my parents’ collection or in the house of my uncle. Santana’s Abraxas, Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon and El Chicano’s Viva Tirado were albums favored by my mom and dad, while Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality was what I craved when I had to stay next door with my Uncle Wayne. These records had a big influence on my outlook of not only music, but album covers and how art and design had a role in how music was interpreted. In my case, I was a three and four year old having to figure out what these images were and what, if anything, they had to do with what was coming out of the speakers. I’ve talked about how John Rowles’ “Cheryl Moana Marie” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” also played roles in my life as something that was more than records found within the box of 45’s that were near our stereo in California. Yet looking at everything I’ve ever listened to, there is one album for me that reigns near the top as the monarch of everything.
Houses Of The Holy was my introduction to Led Zeppelin, and what an introduction. It was a record that was played loud everywhere I went, and when records were played loud, I couldn’t help but to listen. I’d sit in the living room as a three year old, with the album cover in my lap and wondering who these naked kids were. Where are their parents, I’m sure I asked myself. Where are they going? What are these holes they’re coming from, and where is this mysterious place? Who is that man on the inside, and is he going to throw the girl down the mountain? How come everything is orange, yellow, blue, and green? So many questions but no answers were to come upon staring at this cover for 40 minutes at a time.
As I approached the double digits in age, I would have a few more Led Zeppelin records, including Led Zeppelin III and the (untitled 4th album). In my early teens, I had all of their albums on cassette, specifically the Atlantic reissues from the late 70’s. It had come as a shock when I discovered drummer John Bonham died, which meant I could never see them in concert. From what one of my uncles had told me, Led Zeppelin had played in Honolulu a number of times before they were banned for life. That was his story, and for years I believed it. I later discovered that those Honolulu shows were done before and including the (untitled 4th album) but once they reached a certain level of success, they were not to return to Hawai’i for shows ever again. In turn, Led Zeppelin created a mystique which lead to false rumors, until I discovered how to find out the truths of these rumors for myself.
In my teen years, I had a Houses Of The Holy door poster. My first LZ CD was Houses Of The Holy, specifically the West German target pressing. I read Hammer Of The Gods, watched The Song Remains The Same and went through many articles about the band, and how the music on the (untitled 4th album) had become a classic in itself, partly due to the success of “Stairway To Heaven” and how the album was eventually purchased as a single since the U.S. didn’t release the song as a 45. I understood it and respected it, but while I’ve gone through their music many times over, bought and raided bootlegs to hear them go through the motions in many combinations, I found myself always returning to the record that made me a fan in the first place.
Walking side by side with death
The devil mocks their every step
The snow drives back the foot that’s slow
The dogs of doom are howling more
They carry news that must get through
To build a dream for me and you
They choose the path that no one goes
As a kid listening to a Led Zep album that had a lyric sheet, I had no idea what any of this meant or what they were referring to. I just thought that they were going somewhere, they’re walking on some kind of sacred ground, and now they’re going to places unknown. “Oooh, that’s cool”. Mix that up with how the band presented the music itself, and it was a seven-minute joy ride, one that we could always return to from the start at any time.
You told your mother I’d get you home
But you didn’t say that I got no car
I saw a lion, he was standin’ alone
With a tadpole in a jar
What kind of innuendo is that? Regardless of what it meant (or doesn’t mean), I always loved Page’s guitar and the Jones/Bonham rhythm section, before the song ends with a slight “spring”-ish feel.
Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many many men can’t see the open road.
Many is a word that only leaves you guessing
Guessing ’bout a thing you really ought to know
My favorite part of the song is when the band fades out and all you hear is a guitar and its distant echo, before you hear another guitar and accompanying bass, taking us finally over the hills and towards a new home.
Even though this is their ballad, a very mellow one at that, there are a lot of things to get out of this. Wikipedia also states that the band used “Slush” as a working title for this song due to it having an easy listening arrangement, which also makes sense considering Jones’ piano work (specifically around the part of the song where Plant says “talk, talk, talk, talk”) sounds like something from either an easy listening album or a country record. It comes out of nowhere and almost doesn’t fit at first, but due to the tone of the lyrics and that rise in mood, it seems to fit in a unique manner. It then leads to the band wrapping up the song until that powerful echo closes Page’s guitar solo.
Then the album begins.
I had a dream, oh man
Crazy dream, oh…
Anything I wanted to know
Any place I needed to go
Hear my song, now, people won’t you listen now
Sing along, oh… you don’t know what you’re missing now
Any little song that you know
Everything that’s small has to grow
and it always grows
The band soon rise once again as Plant sings “push, push it… aaaaah!” and as a kid, I had no idea what was going on but it sounded great. As I got older and would listen to “Whole Lotta Love” and other songs, was this one of Plant’s many orgasmic moments in song? The band went back into the groove that started the song, but with a different guitar solo from Page. Jones went higher with his bass notes, all while Bonham is pounding the hell out of his kit, but this is nothing. All of a sudden, Plant yells out a “nah nah nah nah naaaah” and he offers up the song’s core, the centerpiece of everything:
sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu star bright
The song remains the same
I was born and initially raised in California, and for the longest time I could never figure out the other words. It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 that I realized that he was saying “Honolulu star bright” and I thought oh, that’s where I live. I loved the reference to Calcutta rain, and as I was getting into Indian classical music for the first time through The Beatles, I found the reference to be one of mystery but one I thought could be soothing in the right frame of mind. By the end of those four lines, it seemed that no matter where you were, there you are. Fair and simple, you make do with things and live and love.
The band get into yet another groove, and as someone who was raised near a beach and the ocean, hearing the way this song goes into valleys and reaches peaks is like someone surfing. There’s a bit of calm waters before you catch yourself waiting for the ocean to rise again and you’re in the tube, waiting for a hopefully powerful ride. It gets that way after the 3:40 mark, as Page seems to dance around a bit, before things get incredibly bombastic in strength and volume after the four minute mark. Plant lets out a quick moan (another thrust?) before the band get ready for the swell of another wave. All of a sudden, that wave rises again and the band are once again on top as Plant sings something that sounds like “oh, are we gonna do it now?” before he unleashes his final statement:
Sing out Hare Hare
Dance the Hoochie Koo
City lights are oh so bright
as we go sliding…
Do these lines really mean anything in the grand scheme of things? I know Plant was known for coming up with random lyrics, often from other songs, during live performances, but did he actually write these words down and said “I’m going to sing this with all of my heart”? Yet referring to California, Calcutta, and Honolulu earlier in the song, somehow these lyrics make a small bit of sense, as he is revamping what was established before ending the song with a ride towards the ocean shore. Also, who exactly is this “we” and what are they sliding down on? The answer, like the location of the bridge, remains unknown.
Oddly enough, while the band did record a title track for the album, it was not used until the group put together Physical Graffiti two years later for their first album on their own label, Swan Song. Perhaps its lyrics tell the tale of what they tried to accomplish with the album:
From the houses of the holy, we can watch the white doves go
From the door comes Satan’s daughter, and it only goes to show
There’s an angel on my shoulder, In my hand a sword of gold
Let me wander in your garden and the seeds of love I’ll sow
Or maybe not.
Even though it could easily be placed within the album’s eight song line-up, the world now knows that it will never fit. It may fit perfectly to separate the sides (i.e. between “The Crunge” and “Dancing Days”) but someone who has grown up with this album will never fiddle with the sanctity of this album, with these eight songs, in the exact order. For me, the holiness of Led Zeppelin will always and forever be found here, at Giant’s Causeway, climbing naked as children until our youth ends as we all grow up to climb over to explore the great unknown.