All across the country, Americans are staying home in an effort to slow the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic — and looking for ways to fill those endless inside hours. For Stephen Malkmus, the once-and-future Pavement frontman, one way to get through these scary and unfamiliar times is to turn to an old favorite: Led Zeppelin’s fourth album.
“I revisited Zep 4 last night ( w/headphones in bed ),” Malkmus tweeted on Tuesday morning. What followed was a provocative, unexpected and totally wrong ranking of the songs on that 1971 classic.
Let’s start at the beginning. “Misty Mountain Hop” at Number One is a bold choice. It’s one of the catchiest Zep tunes, with a sweet, chunky groove and some fun lyrics about Lord of the Rings. Is it the best song on this album? Maybe, maybe not, but “Misty Mountain Hop” does, in fact, rule, so we’ll allow it.
Malkmus’ ranking enters murkier waters after that. “Black Dog” is not the second-best song on any album, unless you’re the kind of classic rock fan who thinks “I don’t know, but I’ve been told/A big-legged woman ain’t got no soul” is some sort of profound observation on life. Sick riff, but as a song, it’s just not top three material.
Next, at spots Number Three and Four, Malkmus goes for the one-two punch of “Stairway to Heaven” and “The Battle of Evermore.” Now, if he really wanted to shake things up, he could have put “Evermore” above “Stairway.” That would have been a challenging opinion worth entertaining. It can be hard to truly enjoy “Stairway” after decades of overplaying, and the gently spooky mandolin whispers of “Evermore” are always refreshing by contrast. Still, there’s little to quibble with in this part of the ranking. Let’s move on…
…to the most deeply perplexing choice of all. “Four Sticks” over “When the Levee Breaks”? A trickily-time-signatured bauble over one of the heaviest, dankest songs ever written? Sure, it’s cool that John Bonham played “Four Sticks” with double the normal amount of drumsticks. But as my esteemed colleague Hank Shteamer, himself a deep student of the drummerly arts, noted after seeing this ranking: “Yeah, I dig ‘Four Sticks,’ but let’s not get carried away.”
Ranking “When the Levee Breaks” in the bottom three is sheer madness. So is putting “Going to California” at Number Seven. Malkmus just released an excellent album of psychedelic folk tunes called Traditional Techniques; how could he disrespect the most bittersweet folk trip in the Zep catalog like that?
“Rock and Roll” is fine. Putting it at Number Eight, also fine.
Look, opinions are like onions (there are a lot of them out there and they sometimes make you cry), de gustibus non disputandum est, we get it. Stephen Malkmus has made many a great album himself, and he is entitled to his thoughts on the relative merits of the songs on Led Zeppelin IV. But as long as we’re all stuck indoors, you’re damn right we’re going to be thinking about this for the rest of the day.
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