By 1975, Led Zeppelin were at the peak of their powers. They were one of the biggest bands in the world. Every time they released an album, it was to critical acclaim and commercial success. Led Zeppelin albums sold by the million.  That had been the case since Led Zeppelin released their eponymous debut album album in 1969.  

When Led Zeppelin was released in January 1969, it was  certified double platinum in Britain. Elsewhere, Led Zeppelin was certified gold in France, Holland and Switzerland. In Canada, Led Zeppelin sold a million copies and was certified diamond. This was almost unheard of. However, this was nothing compared to sakes of Led Zeppelin in America.

In America, Led Zeppelin sold eight million copies. This resulted in Led Zeppelin being certified platinum eight times over. Despite the success of Led Zeppelin, it wouldn’t be Led Zeppelin’s biggest selling album in America. That was still to come.

Between the release of Led Zeppelin II in October 1970, and Physical Graffiti in February 1975, Led Zeppelin were the biggest selling band in America. Their first six albums sold seventy-six million albums in America alone. This included sixteen million copies of Physical Graffiti, which became Led Zeppelin’s second most successful album. Elsewhere, Led Zeppelin continued to outsell most bands. So when Led Zeppelin announced a tour later in 1975, tickets sold out quickly.

Tickets to Led Zeppelin’s 1975 were like gold dust. It was the show everyone wanted to see. No wonder. Led Zeppelin were one of the best live bands of the seventies. They were the hardest rocking band of the seventies. The only bands that had come close, were the other the other two members of the unholy trinity of rock, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. 

However, by 1975, Led Zeppelin stood head and shoulders above the rest in more ways than one.

Ever since the early days, Led Zeppelin were one of the hardest living bands in rock music. They embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Especially on tour. Led Zeppelin lived the rock ’n’ roll dream. Drink, drugs and debauchery was commonplace. So was destruction. The four members of Led Zeppelin weren’t averse to wrecking hotel rooms. Having trashed a room in the Tokyo Hilton, Led Zeppelin were banned from the chain for life. Hotel rooms weren’t just trashed. Television sets out of hotel windows. Another time, John Bonham rode a motorcycle the Continental Hyatt House, which Led Zeppelin nicknamed Riot House. However, it wasn’t just on tour Led Zeppelin embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

When neither touring nor recording, Led Zeppelin lived the life becoming a rock star. Members of Led Zeppelin lived in mansions, drove fast cars and in Robert Plant’s case, flamboyant clothing and expensive jewellery. Robert Plant was every inch the rock star. He enjoyed the finer things in life, including holidays to the most glamorous of destinations. 

On the 5th of August 1975, Robert Plant and his family were relaxing in Rhodes. He was about to join the rest of Led Zeppelin on the 23rd of August 1975, when they embarked upon their world tour. Just like previous Led Zeppelin tours, it would prove gruelling. Especially, they way Led Zeppelin relaxed after concerts. So, Robert was enjoying himself on the beautiful Greek island. Then disaster struck.

Robert had hired a car to use during his holiday. Everything had been going well until the 5th of August 1975. That day, Robert was driving along the road when all of a sudden, the car spun off the road and crashed. He was taken to hospital where doctors discovered that Robert had broken his ankle and elbow. Once Robert had been treated, he was taken to a ward. Straight away, Robert was immediately recognised. The man in the next bed was a fan, and took to serenading Robert with a selection of Led Zeppelin songs. For the next few days, Robert Plant spent time in hospital, before being discharged in a  wheelchair. Considering Led Zeppelin were meant to be heading off on tour in less than two weeks, this presented a problem.

Manager Peter Grant and the rest of Led Zeppelin realised that with Robert Plant in a wheelchair, there was no way the tour could go ahead. Led Zeppelin’s world tour was cancelled. For Led Zeppelin this was a disaster, although they never realised how much. It would take two years before Robert Plant fully recovered. By then, they would’ve released their seventh album Presence, which will be reissued by Warner Music as a Deluxe Edition. This Deluxe Edition is a two CD set.Disc one features a newly remastered version of Presence, while disc two features reference mixes of Two Ones Are Won, For Your Life, 10 Ribs and All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod), Royal Orleans and Hots On For Nowhere. These songs were written and recorded as Robert Plant recuperated.

Following his return from Greece, Robert Plant began the lengthy period of recuperation. His convalescence began in Jersey, where Robert began writing some of the lyrics for Presence. When Robert moved Malibu, he continued to write the lyrics for Presence. By then, he was joined by Jimmy Page. The pair began to knock the lyrics into shape. Soon, the Page and Plant songwriting partnership had enough material for an album. Now they could begin rehearsing what became Presence.

Bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham joined guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant at Hollywood’s SIR Studio. That’s where they spent the next month, recording the songs that became presence. After a month, Led Zeppelin flew to Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios, in Munich, Germany, which was perceived as the studio to record an album. Led Zeppelin were just the latest to make their way Musicland Studios.

Led Zeppelin arrived at Musicland Studios, in November 1975. Page and Plant had penned seven of Presence’s eight tracks. The other track, Royal Orleans, was credited to the four members of Led Zeppelin. These eight tracks would feature a different Led Zeppelin.

As Led Zeppelin setup, onlookers something was missing. John Bonham’s drums and percussion were present. So were John Paul Jones four and eight string basses. Jimmy Pages’ array of guitars were setup in his corner of the studio. All Robert Plant brought was his trusty harmonica. Then it became clear what was missing, keyboards. It looked like Led Zeppelin were going to record an album without keyboards.

That’s what Led Zeppelin proceeded to do. Presence Plant and Page decided, should mark a change in Led Zeppelin’s sound. This should make Led Zeppelin’s return to hard rock. The riffs were much simpler, as Led Zeppelin moved towards guitar based jams. This was very different to some of the complex arrangements on Physical Graffiti. Another change was the lack of keyboards. Originally, they were meant to be absent. However, it was a case of needs must. Keyboards had to be used for the chorus on Candy Store Rock. Mostly, though, Presence was a much more stripped back, simpler  and spontaneous album than previous Led Zeppelin albums. There was a reason for this.

Led Zeppelin had to work quickly. The Rolling Stones were scheduled to record Black and Blue. So, Led Zeppelin had to work quickly. They laid the tracks down quickly. There was an element of spontaneity in the sessions. Once the tracks were laid down, three nights were spent adding overdubs. By the 25th November 1975, Led Zeppelin’s yet unnamed album was recorded and mixed. It hadn’t been the ideal sessions for Led Zeppelin.

Usually, Led Zeppelin would spend much longer than eighteen days recording an album. However, they were against the clock. 

If the album wasn’t recorded in time, Led Zeppelin would have to find another studio. They were determined not to have to do this, so they spent eighteen to twenty hours a day recording. Sometimes, members of Led Zeppelin fell asleep while mixing the album. Whoever was left awake, was left to mix the track. Somehow, Presence was recorded the album in eighteen days. Later, Robert Plant felt this showed.

With Robert Plant confined to a wheelchair, this made delivering his trademark vocals difficult. He couldn’t unleash the same power. As a result, Robert later though his vocal was  “pretty poor”…and “sounds tired and strained.” Robert also felt “claustrophobic” as Led Zeppelin recorded in Musicland’s basement studios. He was also still suffering from the accident that happened three months earlier. Despite this, Robert soldiered on and the Presence sessions were finished on time.

Somehow, Led Zeppelin had managed what many thought was impossible, and recorded and mixed an album in eighteen days. All they needed now was a title and a cover. 

Originally, Led Zeppelin wanted to call the album Thanksgiving. The idea was quickly forgotten, in favour of Presence. Led Zeppelin felt that this explained the powerful force and presence that surrounded the group. Now that the album had a title, Led Zeppelin asked the designers Hipgnosis to come up with an album cover.

Hipgnosis came up with an image of two people interacting within a black obelisk shaped object. This they named “The Object,” which was meant to represent the “force and presence” of Led Zeppelin. Now that the cover was complete, Led Zeppelin could release their seventh album Presence.

Before Presence was released on 31st March 1976, critics had their say about Led Zeppelin’s latest album. Previously, many critics hadn’t been fans of Led Zeppelin. It didn’t matter that they were one of the most successful bands in the world, certain critics enjoyed panning new Led Zeppelin albums. So, it was no surprise that Led Zeppelin tended to avoid the press. No wonder. Just like previous albums, Presence wasn’t well received by critics. Some critics remarked that the songs were all similar. Gone was the diversity of previous albums. Other critics called Presence inaccessible, and a difficult album to like. While Led Zeppelin had had bad reviews before, this didn’t bode well for the release of Presence.

Presence wasn’t released until 31st March 1976. The album had been delayed while the sleeve was completed. By the time Presence was released, it had racked up the highest ever advance orders in Britain. This resulted in Presence reaching number one and being certified gold upon its release, and later, was certified platinum. Across the Atlantic, Presence eventually reached number one in the US Billboard 200. It was the slowest selling of Led Zeppelin’s seven album career. Eventually, Presence sold just three million copies, and was certified triple-platinum. Considering Physical Graffiti had sold sixteen million copies, Presence was seen as a failure in America. Elsewhere, sales of Presence were slow.

In Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Sweden, Presence entered the top ten. Presence didn’t sell as well in Canada, where Led Zeppelin had always been popular. Gold and platinum discs were in short supply. Apart from Britain and America, Presence didn’t sell enough copies elsewhere. Nor did the single released from Presence.

Candy Store Rock was chosen as Presence’s lead single. It was perceived as one of Presence’s highlights. However, it failed to chart in any of the countries it was released in. For Led Zeppelin, Presence was a disappointing album commercially. Especially given Led Zeppelin were at the peak of their powers. Was Presence the wrong album at the wrong time? After all, music’s bastard child, punk had just been born. Did that play a part in Presence’s commercial failure? Or was it that the album had been rushed? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about Presence.

Led Zeppelin open Presence with Achilles Last Stand, a ten and a half minute epic that was inspired by Robert’s visit to, and experiences in, Morocco. It’s the longest song in the Led Zeppelin back-catalogue, and a song of two parts. From an understated introduction, the arrangement literally gallops along. Crucial to this galloping sound, is John Paul Jones’ eight-string bass and John Bonham’s drums. They become one, and drive the arrangement along. They’re joined by bursts of blistering guitar riffs. Sometimes, they’re multi-tracked, with twelve layers of guitars adding an orchestral twist. The other component part to Achilles Last Stand is Robert’s vocal. Sadly, it lacks the strength of earlier albums. That can be forgiven, as he manfully delivered the lyrics from his wheelchair. Bursts of vintage Robert Plant shine through, as Led Zeppelin always the innovators, showcase their new sound, which would result in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Slowly and dramatically, the rhythm section and searing guitars combine on For Your Life. Robert vamps, and unleashes a venomous vocal. Anger, frustration and fury fill his vocal, as he sings of “the city of the dammed.” That’s Los Angeles, after a blizzard of cocaine resulted in numerous casualties among its musical community. As Robert delivers one of his best, and most emotive vocals, the rest Led Zeppelin jam. The rhythm section provide the foundation for Jimmy’s guitar masterclass. It might not be the most complicated song he’s played, but his contribution makes the song. His playing is no frills. There’s no showboating, as he unleashes machine gun licks. It’s as if he’s happy to let Robert’s vocal takes centre-stage, as he fires off a warning shot about the dangers of cocaine within L.A.’s music scene.

Royal Orleans is allegedly, about an unwitting encounter John Paul Jones had with a transvestite in the Royal Orleans Hotel, in New Orleans. Not knowing she was a he, John invited them upstairs. They smoked a joint, and fell asleep. The only problem was that the transvestite had a join in their hand, and the room burnt down. The song tells the story. Blistering, machine gun licks join with the rhythm section and Robert’s vocal. He struts his way through the song, recovering some of his usual power. Crystalline guitar licks, hissing hi-hats and pounding drums join with percussion. They provide the backdrop for Robert as he fires of the warning shot; “be careful how you choose it,” and later; ”poor whiskers set the room alight.” 

From their early days, Led Zeppelin found inspiration in the blues music. That’s the case with Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Its roots can be traced back to Robert Johnson’s Hellhound On My Trail. However, Led Zeppelin eschew the blues, and kick loose, delivering one of the hardest, rockiest songs of their seven album career. Straight away, waves of scorching, searing guitars assail the listener. Robert vamps and wails, before the rhythm section make their presence felt. Soon, Robert seems to have regained some of his power. He delivers a tormented vocal, admitting: “it’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Robert then blows a mean blues harp. Behind him, Led Zeppelin are in the rockiest of grooves. For six minutes, Led Zeppelin are at their heaviest and rockiest, delivering a blistering performance,

Candy Store Rock was chosen as the lead single from Presence. Led Zeppelin play the song as if it’s a rock ’n’ roll number. In doing so, John Bonham and Jimmy Page eschew power. Instead, their performances are controlled. Robert is transformed into an old rock ’n’ roller. His lyrics seem to have been inspired by old Elvis Presley songs. Although quite different from previous tracks, it shows another side to Led Zeppelin.

Hots On For Nowhere finds a frustrated Robert Plant make his feelings known about Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. After a stop start introduction, the rhythm section and searing guitars accompany Robert’s vocal. Straight away, Robert’s vocal lacks the power of previous albums. It’s weak, but still the track takes on a melodic sound. Later, la-la-la harmonies are added. Then Jimmy Page steps up and steals the show with some of crystalline licks. They literally cut through the arrangement. This seems to inspire Robert. Along with the harmonies, the track takes on a singalong, anthemic sound.

Bookending Presence is Tea For One, a nine minute track. It seems fitting that epics bookend Presence. Straight away, Led Zeppelin throw a curveball. It looks as if they’re about to unleash a vintage slice of rocky music. However, they then slow the arrangement down, and it takes on a hypnotic, spacious and bluesy sound. The rhythm section leave space for Jimmy’s searing, soaring, crystalline licks. Deliberately, he plays each note with care. After nearly two minutes, Robert’s vocal enters. It’s full of pain and hurt, and can almost be described as pained. He sounds as if he’s been homesick and lonely while on tour. Occasionally, the arrangement has taken on a harder and rockier sound. Mostly, though, Tea For One is a dramatic epic where blues and rock unite seamlessly, as Led Zeppelin keep the best until last.

While Presence failed to match the commercial success of Led Zeppelin’s six previous albums, there are several explanations for this. The first is that Led Zeppelin returned to the studio too soon. With the tour having been cancelled, this gave Led Zeppelin the opportunity to record their seventh album. However, it wasn’t well planned.

Robert Plant was still recovering from a broken ankle and elbow. He was unable to walk. This resulted in Robert Plant delivering his vocals from a wheelchair. For such an expressive and powerful vocalist, this was never going to work. Robert later admitted this, saying his vocals were “pretty poor”…and “sounds tired and strained.” This shows on Presence, with Robert never quite unleashing his trademark powerhouse vocal. However, this wasn’t the only problem with the recording of Presence.

Having rehearsed Presence in Hollywood’s SIR Studio, Led Zeppelin flew to Munich. Like many bands and artists, they decided to record at Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios. This was the fashionable place for bands to record. Everyone from Donna Summer to David Bowie and Deep Purple had recorded their. However, Led Zeppelin knew they had only eighteen days to record and mix Presence. Still, they decided that was the studio for them. In the end it backfired.

With only eighteen days of studio time, the recording of Presence was rushed. Whereas Led Zeppelin usually spent time honing an album, they quickly laid down the seven tracks. They then pulled several all-nighters, mixing Presence. Members of Led Zeppelin fell asleep at the mixing desk. The last man standing was left to mix the track. For Led Zeppelin, and especially Jimmy Page who produced Presence, this can’t have been satisfactory. Sometimes, it shows that Presence was recorded quickly. Mostly, Led Zeppelin get away with it. However, not everyone liked Led Zeppelin’s new sound.

Led Zeppelin had decided to adopt a heavier, stripped back sound. Presence saw Led Zeppelin return to hard rock. The riffs were much simpler, as Led Zeppelin moved towards guitar based jams. This was very different to some of the complex arrangements on Physical Graffiti. Another change was the lack of keyboards. For many critics and record buyers, they didn’t like what they heard. 

As a result, Presence only sold three million copies in America. This was thirteen million less than Physical Graffiti. Presence was the least successful album of Led Zeppelin’s seven album career. For Led Zeppelin, this was a shock to their system. Surely, they weren’t yesterday’s men?

According to a new breed of “musicians,” that was the case. Punk had just been born, and the pantomime villain of music was trash talking. The punks called groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Yes and King Crimson yesterday’s men. Their music represented the past. It had had its day. Now punk was the future. That obviously wasn’t the case. Talk is cheap, and the importance of punk has always been overstated. It certainly wasn’t going to stop people buying albums like Presence. The problem with the failure of Presence lay elsewhere.

Mostly, the failure of Presence was down to trying to record an album in eighteen days, while the lead singer was confined to a wheelchair. Then there was the sudden change of style. Led Zeppelin regressed to the hard rock of their early days. Gone was the diversity of previous albums. Acoustic tracks and anthems were nowhere to be seen. Instead, Presence featured Led Zeppelin at their hardest and rockiest. This alienated many record buyers. However, there’s another factor to consider.

What didn’t help, was that Led Zeppelin’s previous album, Physical Graffiti was a stonewall classic. It sold sixteen million copies. Following up Physical Graffiti was almost impossible. For six albums, Led Zeppelin could do no wrong.These six albums sold seventy-six million copies in America alone. Obviously, this success might not last forever. One day, Led Zeppelin would release an album that wouldn’t sell as well their previous albums. That just happened to be Presence. This could’ve been avoided if Led Zeppelin had taken more time to write and record their seventh album. Maybe then, Led Zeppelin might have had the third diamond certified album of their career? That wasn’t to be, and Led Zeppelin’s seventh album Presence, which sold three million copies in America, was perceived as a commercial failure. Despite that, Presence is one of the most underrated albums of Led Zeppelin’s career, which played a part in launching the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.



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