Certain Songs #901: Led Zeppelin – “Four Sticks”

Year: 1971

The fourth Led Zeppelin album isn’t quite my favorite Led Zeppelin album, but pound-for-pound it’s probably their best. Which is why it was so hard to figure out which songs to write about: pretty much everything here is as great as Zeppelin — and therefore rock and roll — ever got.

So the only song that I was going to for sure write about was “When The Levee Breaks” (tomorrow!) and the only I was for sure going to skip was “Going To California” (I already live here), but as for the others go, it could have been any combination of the other six songs. So just because I didn’t get to “Black Dog,” “Battle of Evermore” or “Misty Mountain Hop” doesn’t mean that they weren’t under heavy consideration. Because that’s just how ridiculous this record is.

That said, “Four Sticks” is probably the closet thing to a deep cut there is on the fourth Led Zeppelin album, and is quite possibly the most overt example of what became the latest element in the Led Zeppelin stew: art-rock. The first two albums were steeped in the electric blues, the third dabbled in country and folk, but the fourth was steeped in multi-part song constructions, weird time signatures and exotic instrumentations.

Thus, “Four Sticks,” famously named for John Bonham needing that many sticks to nail its off-kilter lighter than air drum part, which becomes the connective tissue for what turns out to be one of their more experimental trancey songs, which is one part circular fuzz riff underneath what I guess are the verses one part acoustic guitar floating on the ocean during what I guess are the choruses, and one part John Paul Jones swooning synth just to add a bit of color.

I don’t even know what the words are. Doesn’t matter: either a song like “Four Sticks” is going to drive you mad because it has no center, or you’re going to listen to it endlessly for exactly the same reason. Or maybe both.

“Four Sticks”

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