Nineteen Seventy: popular culture would have you believe this was the year that saw the decisive nails go into the velvet lined coffin marked 'the spirit of the sixties' and the counterculture produced by young people in San Francisco, London, Toronto, Paris and Prague. The Beatles finally split, the Manson murders had scared the shit out of many a rock star and the death of a fan at Altamont Speedway, not to mention the deaths of Janis, and Jimi had brought a heavier, paranoid feeling to rock and roll. Protests continued to rage against the Vietnam War, musicians were still at the vanguard of outsider politics and young people still sought expression and rebellion in rock and roll. Rock wasn't dead even if the sixties were. It is true to say that this was the decade when the worm turned and the word 'industry' was commonly added to the word 'music' but that was all still to come when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant decamped to Welsh countryside in May 1970 with an acoustic guitar, no musical boundaries and a pocket full of gold.

At the dawn of the decade Zeppelin found themselves as heirs apparent to the disintegrating Beatles with record sales, concert attendances and Melody Maker awards coming out of their ears but they were a different proposition to the Fab Four. There was no universal critical acclaim, no pronouncements that what they were creating was significant art. No instead, the touchstones for Led Zeppelin in the press were terms like 'hype', 'arrogance' and 'Neanderthals'. As a result the band shied away from interviews and television appearances and built a mystique that endures to this day but above it all they produced thrilling, risky music. Their first two albums had been at the forefront of the emerging hard rock and heavy metal scenes but had always blended wider influences like folk, blues and country into their potent brew. Full of confidence and swagger after the pillaging of the US over the previous 18 months the band could afford to sit back and expand their palette for their third effort and, for Page and Plant in particular, to develop their nascent song-writing partnership. It was, according to Plant, "...time to step back, take stock, and not get lost in it all".

The third album, released on October 5th 1970, shocked listeners on its arrival for its apparent left turn into acoustic folk. "I, II, III...and Zeppelin weaken!" was the sarcastic headline in the Disc and Music Echo. If you peruse the track listing you will find evidence contrary to this prevailing notion with cuts like 'Immigrant Song', 'Celebration Day' and 'Out On The Tiles' rocking as hard as any of their older material. "III" did display their softer, more thoughtful side though as well as the sense of humour they were so supposedly lacking.

The record clatters into life with the marauding two-note riff and Viking narrative that is 'Immigrant Song'. Casting the band as the invaders whose "only goal is the Western shore" they show their ability to have a laugh at their reputation. Second track, 'Friends' is the first all acoustic number, featuring a relentless eastern tinged guitar pattern, tablas and strings is a real treat pointing the way to future classics such as the mighty 'Kashmir'. Emerging from the synthesizer drone that precedes it is the classic hard rock of 'Celebration Day' with Plant catching the prevailing mood of the album over John Paul Jones' throbbing bass line with the euphoric chorus: "My, my, my, I'm so happy, I'm gonna join the band/We are gonna dance and sing in celebration, We're in the promised land." Track four really put a line in the sand with the doubters left behind. 'Since I've Been Loving You' is the band's definite blues song and not a 'borrowed' lyric or theme in sight. A masterclass in dynamics the song builds and builds until Jimmy Page casually dashes off one of the most memorable and emotional pieces of lead guitar in recorded history.



Closing the first side of the record is a Bonzo led good time rock and roll number 'Out On The Tiles' the drums barrel along and Plant's vocal melody invites a sing-along. You can imagine smiles being shot all across Olympic Studios when it was being recorded. 'Gallows Pole' traces its roots back to the Mississippi Delta and Lead belly's 'Gallis Pole'. The song unfolds the story of a man doing all he can to avoid the noose and incorporates banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar. The song would be reprised amongst others for Page and Plant's Unledded record in the nineties. 'Tangerine' a song from Page's Yardbirds days is wonderfully poignant and features some rather intimate and fragile slide guitar and another stellar performance from Plant who really finds himself on this album. The melancholic, childhood tale of 'That's The Way' really is the standout number on "III" in many respects and drew the kindest words from one of their biggest detractors Lester Bangs, who remarked that 'it's the first song they've ever done that has truly moved me. Son of a gun, it's beautiful.' That is recommendation enough for me. The album ends with two more up-tempo acoustic tracks including the barnstorming 'Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp' name checking the inspiration for many of this album's songs and others in the Zeppelin canon including 'Down By the Seaside', 'Bron-Yr-Aur', 'The Rover' and 'Poor Tom'.

Led Zeppelin "III" may not have proved to be the best selling album of the band's career or the biggest fan favourite. It did, however, cement one of the most potent song-writing partnerships of the twentieth century, dismiss the heavy metal tag following the band once and for all and pave the way for the best selling and most loved album of their career the following year...