Robert Plant was involved in a serious auto accident in Greece during 1975 which put a crimp in Led Zeppelin’s touring and recording plans. Presence was finally released March 31, 1976.
It was a more modest affair than their last studio album, the long, sprawling and brilliant Physical Graffiti. In a way it was less ambitious as it contained no acoustic tracks or keyboards. Still, even an average Led Zeppelin album was better than 95% of the rock that was being produced during the mid-seventies. It’s amazing to think it was one of their least commercially successful releases yet still reached the number one position on the United States album charts while selling three million copies.
The album only contained seven tracks. The best of the lot was the 10-minute lead track, “Achilles Last Stand.” John Bonham’s powerful drumming and Jones’ use of an eight-string bass provided a solid rhythm foundation. Jimmy Page then overdubbed his guitar parts more than a dozen times. The song became a staple of their concert act and the various ways Page played the guitar parts were always an adventure. “For Your Life” contains a classic Robert Plant vocal delivered while he was still laid up in a wheel chair. John Paul Jones, a transvestite, New Orleans, and a hotel fire are part of the lyrics of “Royal Orleans.”
The second side of the original vinyl release begins with “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The writing credit was given to Page and Plant but grew out of Blind Willie Johnson’s “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” which he released during the late 1920’s. Zeppelin’s version features modified lyrics plus they transform it from a traditional blues piece to a building rock/blues classic. “Candy Store Rock” has a fifties rockabilly feel as Plant tries to channel Elvis Presley. “Hots On For Nowhere” is my least favorite track as it just loosely rolls along. “Tea For One” is a nice slow blues outing. This nine minute track evolves as it progresses and features some nice interplay between Bonham and Page.
Presence has aged well over the years. It may not reach the consistent heights of the group’s previous studio albums but does contain some solid and at times excellent rock that one would expect from them. It is still well worth a listen now and then.
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