Certain Songs #910: Led Zeppelin – “Houses of The Holy”

Album: Physical Graffiti
Year: 1975

While Houses of The Holy would probably been a better album with both “The Rover” and “Houses of The Holy” on it in the place of “The Crunge” and “Dy’er Ma’ker,” those songs ended up making Physical Graffiti as great as it was, so things worked out just fine.

And as a bonus, putting “Houses of The Holy” on Physical Graffiti put Led Zeppelin in that small group of artists that put the song that was supposed to be the title track of their previous album on a future album instead. Which is such a small group, I can’t even think of any others, even though I know that there are.

Oh wait! I just now remembered that Emerson, Lake & Palmer put the song “Brain Salad Surgery” on Works, Volume 2. Oh, and Guided By Voices didn’t release the song “Bee Thousand” until the 2004 Director’s Cut of the album it was recorded for. Though I suspect that GBV had recorded title tracks to nearly all of their albums and just not released them.

In any event, “Houses of The Holy” the song not the album is basically a straight funk workout, featuring a Jimmy Page riff that doubles back upon itself, deceptively straightforward John Bonham drum beat that is actually pretty tricksy, and some surprisingly dark references in a set of lyrics that’s mostly about taking his baby out for a date and some fuckin’.

I mean, if people suffered through 8 minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” backwards in order to parse “my sweet satan,” why even bother when the second verse of “Houses of The Holy” mentions Satan’s daughter and the fourth contains this.

So the world is spinning faster
Are you dizzy when you’re stoned?
Let the music be your master
Will you heed the master’s call
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh Satan and man

Of course, the fact that Plant doesn’t really sing “Satan” very straightforwardly — leaving that stuff to Ozzy, where it belongs, sorry Jimmy — is probably why, especially since there isn’t any kind of lyric sheet to Physical Graffiti. So, I’m relying on the internet for that reference, and we all know how reliable the internet can be.

For all I know, he could be singing “Straighten it, man!”

That said, what I do find somewhat chilling is the vocal overdub on “Let the music be your master,” even if they do undercut it with a cowbell. I’m not even sure why I find it chilling: maybe because a group as powerful as Led Zeppelin doesn’t need to double down on the the stupefying aspects of their music, or maybe there’s no reason to call it out. Or something.

In any event, it’s kind of unnerving, which I’m sure was Jimmy Page’s intention. Not unnerving, the slick guitar licks he starts tossing in halfway through the song, accompanied by Bonham’s slidestep around the beat for just a skosh, and as always with Zeppelin, it’s not necessarily the thing you notice at first, but once you do, is one of the things that sets “Houses of The Holy” apart.

“Houses of The Holy”

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