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The Story of Led Zeppelin’s Recording of ‘In Through the Out Door’

Swan Song
Swan Song

On May 30, 1978, Led Zeppelin – which had been sidelined in recent years by personal issues, including the tragic death of singer Robert Plant’s young son – reconvened in Stockholm to begin working on the band’s eighth album, In Through the Out Door.

But with Zep mastermind Jimmy Page mired in a nasty heroin addiction and other more mysterious afflictions (mostly rumors about his oft-publicized interest in the occult), and drummer John Bonham battling alcoholism, it was left to bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and singer Plant to pilot the battered old airship through the album’s sessions.

As a result, In Through the Out Door is the only Led Zeppelin album to include songwriting credits for Jones on every track but one. Plus, for the first time ever, two songs don’t even boast a Page credit: the swinging honky-tonk track “South Bound Suarez” and the graceful tribute to Plant’s son, “All My Love.”

Jones and Plant composed much of the album’s mesmerizing opener, “In the Evening,” before Page contributed his effects-laden guitar swoops. They worked up the Latin and Caribbean rhythms running through “Fool in the Rain” before Bonham showed up to bring the hammer down with his usual effortless virtuosity. And they assembled one of the most schizophrenic oddities in the entire Zep canon: the 10-minute synth-powered “Carouselambra.”

The familiar Page-Plant partnership rarely surfaced on the album; only the rather pedestrian and vintage rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “Hot Dog” recalls their old work together. Jones stepped up once again (with a little help from Page and Plant) to ensure that In Through the Out Door would end on a majestic but subdued high note with the soulful, yearning “I’m Gonna Crawl.”

But for all of Jones’ admirable effort, he was no match for Page at his peak. So In Through the Out Door remains an intriguing but flawed epitaph for the greatest rock band of the ’70s. With Bonham’s death in September 1980, Led Zeppelin never had the chance to make another album.

In the end, the album, which sat around for almost a year before finally arriving in stores in August 1979, embodied Zeppelin’s late-career swoon. They came in through the out door and out through the back door, as the band’s journey, which began with such prodigious sturm und drang, faded with a sob and a sigh.

See Led Zeppelin and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’70s

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