In those days, it was considered a lifetime for any major music artist. But for arguably the biggest rock band in the world, a three-year gap between records could have been the kiss of death. Fervent fans had been frothing for a new studio slab since Presence in 1976. And 40 years ago next week (August 15, 1979), Led Zeppelin finally dropped their long-awaited eighth record. Simply put, expectations were extremely high.
Despite being produced by the band’s iconic founding guitarist, Jimmy Page, In Through the Out Door bared little resemblance to neither the band’s brash, blues-based early records or their more organic, latter acoustic-fused efforts. In fact, In Through the Out Door was smeared with the artistic DNA of bassist, keyboardist, songwriter and arranger, John Paul Jones.
Fans and critics alike have remained split for decades regarding the record. Initially, I too found myself scratching my head a bit as the needle glided across the grooves of my LP copy during the maiden spin. But in terms of sales, In Through the Out Door was an enormous success — achieving platinum status and hitting #1 on the Billboard chart in just two weeks. Residing ultimately at the #1 slot for seven weeks, the seven-song set now has sold nearly seven million units. The intriguing multiple album covers designed by Storm Thorgerson added further to the record’s street cred.
Check out Led Zeppelin performing “In The Evening” live at Knebworth:
The first minute of the opening track, “In the Evening,” felt rather haunting, but it soon surrendered to a wall of (then) modern-sounding keyboards. While the seven-minute opener reflected a distinctly different vibe from the gutsy, guitar riffage oozing from such previous Zeppelin record openers as “Good Times Bad Times,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Immigrant Song” and “Black Dog,” In Through the Out Door struck me immediately as a record that was focused fully on moving forward.
Driven by Jones’ infectious boogie-woogie-type piano work, “South Bound Saurez” zinged with zesty-flavored appeal. Fueled by John Bonham’s crisp, samba-style drumming, “Fool in the Rain” was an irresistible, made-for-radio earworm. Enhanced by Page’s synthesized guitar solo, it made an impressive impact on Casey’s weekly Top 40 countdown. Arguably presenting the sharpest stylistic left turn, “Hot Dog” puzzled me most at the time. However, the authentic-sounding rockabilly ditty now shines as one of the record’s brightest highlights.
A bona fide epic, the ten-minute “Carouselambra” was smothered with Jones’ fresh-feeling keyboards and kicks off Side Two with heart-stopping urgency. A beautiful tribute to Robert Plant’s son Karac, who died in 1977, the Plant / Jones-penned ballad, “All My Love” remains one of the band’s most solid staples. Although Plant’s heartfelt performance certainly was moving, and Jones’ keyboards and Page’s guitar work both were masterful, it’s Bonham’s contribution that made this track particularly powerful.
A press shot of the four-piece in 1979:
I can heap mounds of personal praise upon In Through the Out Door. However, when I think back to when I was that 17-year-old first experiencing the record on monster-sized headphones, it was the soulful, blues-based, passion-filled, “I’m Gonna Crawl” that spoke to me most profoundly. And it continues to move me today, even as a feeble little old man, now approaching 60. Yes, even after 40 years, listening to In Through the Out Door still feels good — like a warm hug from an old friend.
In Through the Out Door Track Listing:
01. In the Evening – 6:48
02. South Bound Saurez – 4:11
03. Fool in the Rain – 6:08
04. Hot Dog (Page/Plant) – 3:15
01. Carouselambra – 10:28
02. All My Love – 5:51
03. I’m Gonna Crawl – 5:28
Run Time: 42:30
Release Date: August 15, 1979
Record Label: Swan Song