On March 28, 1973, Led Zeppelin released their fifth studio album, which found the band expanding their musical styles in a major way.
Produced by guitarist Jimmy Page, Houses of the Holy was recorded much the same way as the untitled album that preceded it. Having utilized the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio and digging the experience, they decided to do so again, making use of the “mobile” bit to do the recording at Stargroves, Mick Jagger’s manor house and country estate in Hampshire, England. To help keep a semblance of sonic cohesion, the band also brought back Eddie Kramer as recording engineer.
This time around, Led Zeppelin opted to set aside virtually all of the blues-rock stylings that had helped kickstart their career, instead diversifying their sound to include everything from swing and reggae, psychedelia and funk, and ballads and rockers alike. It’s filled with song titles that immediate conjure up memories of the band’s glory days, including the opener, “The Song Remains the Same,” as well as “No Quarter” and “Dancing Days.”
“I would say Houses of the Holy is an album of many moods,” Page told Guitar World. “Each song captures an essence of a feeling, an emotion or sensitivity, and you can hear the band maturing as we play all these different styles. You can see the expansion and risks we were taking...or should I say, the new territory that is there to be civilized and conquered.”
It must be said that Rolling Stone was not a fan of the sonic evolution, with critic Gordon Fletcher calling Houses of the Holy “one of the dullest and most confusing albums I've heard this year.” Nor was Chris Welch, who called the band out in Melody Maker for seemingly being afraid to continue embracing the blues, which he described as “what they do best.”
That said, Led Zeppelin fans clearly couldn’t give a toss for the critics’ opinions - they promptly sent the album to No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. - and it wouldn’t be long before Houses of the Holy began to receive reappraisal. Classic Rock Magazine named it one of their 100 Greatest British Rock Albums, Pitchfork placed it in their top 100 albums of the 1970s, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has it in their definitive 200 albums of all time.
Oh, and there’s one more that we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention: last year, even Rolling Stone placed the LP within its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Took ‘em long enough.