When on April 10, 1970 Paul McCartney announced the separation of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin were preparing to play a concert in Miami, as part of one of their U.S. tours. There, a number of media outlets asked them if they felt they were the heirs to the greatest rock band of all time. It was a legitimate question, the first two Zeppelin albums, released in 1969, had been number one on both sides of the Atlantic and they were the band that sold the most tickets for their concerts. However, one thing separated them, because while the Beatles had a real love affair with the music media, who did not stop praising their work, Jimmy Page's band lived a nightmare with the specialized press that accused them of being monolithic and macho. But by that time the band was already in rehearsal for a totally different album...
During Zeppelin’s first year there was hardly a break for the band, who had to record their second album in different studios between gigs, so when Robert Plant told Jimmy Page that they should go and kick back in Bron-Yr-Aur, a rural house in the middle of Wales, where he had spent his summer holidays as a child, the guitarist and producer didn't hesitate. The bucolic environment influenced them, and the desire to find a different vibe led them to a more acoustic sound, influenced by guitarists like Bert Jansch, Roy Harper (to whom they would dedicate a song) and John Fahey, whom Page admired, and by the British folk of Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band, which were groups very much to Plant's taste.
The fact is that when in May they took time out to record and were joined by John Paul Jones and John Bonham at Headley Grange, a country studio, the album was imbued with that atmosphere of camaraderie. Consequently, Page let the rest of the band help more in the composition, with Plant writing all the lyrics, except for Tangerine, and Jones contributing arrangements, like the extraordinary string arrangement on Friends.
The band's most acoustic album opened with one of its most powerful songs - with the best-oiled rock machine in the world, spurred on by Plant's screams, Page's incredible riff and the rhythmic precision of Bonham and Jones. Few cuts have influenced later heavy metal more than Immigrant Song. Then comes Friends, the first song on which Page's acoustic Harmony Sovereign H-1260 can be heard, and the first that makes clear the orientation of the album. Here you can already hear some oriental influences, several years ahead of the album that Plant and Page would make in 1994.
With Celebration Day the electricity returns in style. I think this is one of the most underrated songs by the band, as it includes an epic riff and one of their best choruses, besides a fabulous solo by Page. Then comes one of the best blues this band ever recorded, Since I've Been Loving You, with an absolutely colossal Page on his Les Paul and a much more sophisticated general feeling than on the first two albums. Out On The Tiles closed the side A strongly, with another great riff from Page and an absolutely brutal Bonham on drums; enough to earn him a credit on the composition.
Side B however is the really acoustic one, opening with the incredible recreation of the traditional song Gallows Pole, with Page using acoustic and electric, but also a banjo, and joined by Jones on mandolin. Tangerine is an acoustic beauty that was written by Page alone, with a psychedelic touch that may be due to the fact that the guitarist had already composed it in 1968 during his time with the Yardbirds. For its part That's the Way became a fundamental piece in the acoustic parts of his concerts and made Page admire Plant much more as a lyricist. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp has a country feel and is a tribute to the place where they were inspired. The album closes with a recreation of Bukka White's Shake 'Em On Down, on which the band pay homage to their friend Roy Harper.
The band had done it, they had delivered a totally different work to their first two albums, but had managed to transmit the same strength through these acoustic tracks. When Led Zeppelin III was released it was a tremendous success, climbing in the first week to number one in the British and American charts - but when Page read the reviews he could not believe it, now they were accused of copying the acoustic sound coming from California and Laurel Canyon, specifically that of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. This was something that was totally unfounded, although on their next album there was a tribute to that sound (and to Joni Mitchell in particular) with Going To California. Few appreciated at the time that the press’s response to this great album was a hard blow for Page and made the guitarist distant himself from the media and concentrate on his next project… of recording the best rock album ever, but that's another story...