I’ve been interested in doing this album for a few weeks, so I decided to just skip the poll (this time!) and simply go for it. A tarot reading for Led Zeppelin IV is very appropriate, given the tarot imagery associated with the album. The album cover features a painting that the band picked up in a second hand shop. It looks a bit like the Waite-Smith Ten of Wands, with a man bent down under the weight of a bunch of sticks. But more importantly, the inner gatefold featured a painting that was just a version of The Hermit from the tarot.
This album is sort of a big deal. It’s the one with “Stairway to Heaven” on it, so it has that going for it. But, and I just learned this myself, the band went out of their way to make the album anonymous. Their name appears nowhere on the album cover. It’s technically untitled, and is often called Zoso after Page’s personal mystic symbol. I’m actually not personally familiar with Zeppelin albums that much. I learned Zeppelin from the later collections Page curated. As far as “greatest hits” albums go, the Zeppelin versions are all very good, as Page took a lot of care with them.
So the album may or may not have an overall theme. Apparently the band later said there was a bit of a “city/country” dialog happening. It started on the previous album. That’s about all I know, going in here.
Zeppelin albums always do seem to have a mixture of songs. Some are, at least, trying for the kind of rock philosophy and imagery the band is famous for. Others are about boning down. This song is absolutely about boning down. Possibly the most interesting thing happening, lyrically, is the stanza that talks about the speaker’s dreams and “flaming heart.”
Three of Hearts
This is certainly appropriate. The song is a bluesy lament for a woman that’s left the speaker behind. I guess what the card indicates for me, in this instance, is that the song uses a very sensual sound to counterpoint the lyrics, which are basically about dreaming about something the speaker can’t have (or, at least, doesn’t have right now). He’s thinking too much, though it seems like he knows that and wants to stop.
Rock and Roll
I think this song might be about loneliness. I could be going out on a limb here. That’s a joke. This song us more frenetic and energetic, maybe reflecting that manic desperation the speaker’s feeling. The song is definitely using “rock and roll” to mean boning down, not music. So I suppose that crosses the wires between song and sensuality? Which sounds pretty good, at least.
King of Cups
An emotional powerhouse, but maybe a little stagnant. In this context, we can look at the king isolated on his throne, out in the water, and see a guy who’s got himself under control but has cut himself off at the same time. The speaker of this song is a little obsessed with how lonely he is. That might actually be increasing the feeling. At any rate, he certainly is cut off. I feel like I never noticed before that the king’s feet are covered in mail, so he looks scaly. He definitely has a fish necklace, too. Cool, cool. The speaker needs to let go a little, stop worrying about being alone and just don’t be alone. Go out somewhere, dammit.
The Battle of Evermore
Here’s my first love. Even before I fell in love with “Stairway,” the way you do, I fell in love with this song. And I didn’t even notice, at first that it’s about Tolkien! The song is a bit about the battle at Gondor. It definitely name drops the “dark lord” (who doesn’t necessarily have to be Sauron, I guess) and “ring wraiths” (who, you know, are probably the ring wraiths). Funny story — my partner loves Led Zeppelin as well, but in exactly the opposite way from me. She thinks songs like this one and “Stairway” are boring. She likes stuff like “Black Dog” better and, well, yeah. It’s sure a song. Anyway. Before flipping over the card, this song depicts a fraught magical and military conflict, with gleams and glimmers (lots of light imagery) of hope emerging until, at the end, everything is good again as the sun comes up. Except the dragon isn’t dead, just temporary blinded.
Five of Pentacles
A bit of an odd choice, but this actually makes a lot of sense. There are two basic ways to read this card. Either the suffering people outside are miserable and out alone in the cold while inside people are warm and in the light… or all that is true but the suffering people are about to go inside. It’s kind of like a personality test, in a more traditional meaning. Does the onlooker see this card as really awful or an attempt to mitigate the awfulness of life? Either way, the very Victorian image of suffering people on the street seems to argue against the pentacles’ meaning as earthly life. Except, you know, life is suffering. This song goes back and forth between the light and the dark. Seriously, go and listen for the imagery. Now is dark, the future may be light, and we are in the liminal space in between, hearing thunder and waiting for angels and sunrise. If “war is the common cry” then we’ve all experienced it, we’ve all experienced whatever this fantastical psychodrama is depicting. Given that it follows two sensual bluesy songs about boning down, it might be tempting to see this as a “dark night of the soul.” The speaker is alone at night, suffering those thoughts and evil dreams we all feel over our shoulders late at night. I’m writing this at two in the morning, I am intimately familiar with this feeling. It’s actually pretty nice to just stay up until sunrise, though I haven’t done that intentionally for a long time.
Yes, we’re ending here. “But isn’t ‘Stairway’ next,” you cry. Yes. Yes it is. But this album does not have that many tracks. I could split it right down the middle, but “Stairway to Heaven” will probably spark an entire essay on its own. I’m just thinking of you, struggling to work this in on your lunch break. Go on.