The Facts and Mystery of Led Zeppelin’s Fourth Album

by Callie Todaro

Many of Led Zeppelin’s classics, including “Going to California,” “Rock and Roll,” and of course, the all-time favorite, “Stairway to Heaven,” came from the band’s fourth album. But did you know there’s more to the album than just the songs? The album itself, and the way the album was produced, bring to light some interesting and mysterious facts that help make this album a continuous success today, 49 years later.

First of all, Zeppelin’s fourth album, which many refer to as Led Zeppelin IV, doesn’t actually have a name, nor is the name of their band on the cover of the album. During the time of this production, Zeppelin was being ridiculed by their music critics as a “hype” band causing a lot of controversy. In response, the band didn’t want to draw more attention and opted not to give the original album an official title. However, many people refer to the album as Led Zeppelin IV, Runes, Untitled, and Four Symbols, to name a few.

In order to have some representation and identification on the album, the band used runes (ancient symbols) to represent them. Robert Plant’s symbol is a feather pen with a circle around it which represents an Egyptian goddess, symbolizing justice and fairness. John Paul Jones’ symbol is the same symbol a religious cult called the Rosicrucians used, representing a secret wisdom possessed by their members. This symbol exemplifies that John Paul Jones is a self-confident person. Jimmy Page’s ZoSo symbol has no specific meaning, but some theorize that it represents a near-death experience to unify the living and the dead. John Bonham’s symbol is three interlocked circles representing the relationship between a man, a woman, and a child.

On the outside cover of the album is a picture of an elderly man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back. This mysterious image lets people use their imagination, but it does serve a purpose. The image is a picture of a painting from the 19th century that Plant purchased from an antique shop. Page placed the painting on an abandoned building and took a picture to show how the modern world is in constant opposition with itself. It represents how the city and country are different from each other, and how society tears things down just to build them back up again.

On the inside cover is a picture known as “The Hermit.” This witchery-type picture was taken from a tarot card used by fortune tellers to predict the future. The tarot card image itself is a representation of prudence. The staff the hermit carries in one hand represents authority, while the lantern he’s holding in the other hand represents guidance. The image portrays someone seeking to become knowledgeable in order to be able to guide others, which is the same way Page characterized himself during that time.  

Not only does the album itself have significant meaning, but the way the album was created adds to its character. The band needed a change of scenery to help them get away from some of the retaliation they received from their previous albums. The entire album was produced in an abandoned house in the woods used by other artists such as Fleetwood Mac, and it’s been referred to as the Headley Grange.

The house was a large three-story Victorian that was originally used as a workhouse for the poor and insane. The home had an eerie effect to it, and was supposedly haunted. Page had reported seeing a gray shape at the top of the building, and the sheets in his room were always sort of wet. Many others that stayed there also reported encounters with the supernatural.

Despite the haunted experiences, the band gave credit to the Headley Grange for producing a successful album. Not only did they produce the song “Black Dog” there, which was named after an actual black dog that roamed around the Headley Grange, but the acoustics on this album are some of their best. The band believes the large stone home offered exceptional acoustic qualities to their songs. According to Bonham, he was most happy with the sound of his own drums in “When the Levee Breaks,” which was recorded at the very top of the Headley Grange staircase.

Both the production of the album and the album itself have meaningful stories behind them. These facts and mystical stories, combined with some of the best songs ever written, helped make Zeppelin’s fourth album one of the best-selling of all time.