Presence

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Presence
Presencealbum1976.jpg
Type Studio album
Artist Led Zeppelin
Release Date 31 March 1976
Recorded November 1975 at Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany.
Genre Hard rock, blues rock, rockabilly
Language English
Length 44 minutes 25 seconds
Label Swan Song Records
Catalogue Swan Song SD 7208 (US), Swan Song SSK 59402 (UK)
Producer Jimmy Page
Engineer Keith Harwood

Presence is the seventh studio album by English rock band Led Zeppelin, released by Swan Song Records on 31 March 1976. The album was written and recorded during a tumultuous time in the band's history, as Robert Plant was recuperating from serious injuries he had sustained in a recent car accident. The album received mixed reviews from critics, and is one of the lowest sellers in the band's catalogue.

Background

This album was conceived after singer Robert Plant sustained serious injuries from a car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes on 5 August 1975, which forced the band to cancel a proposed world tour which was due to commence on 23 August 1975.[1] At this point, Led Zeppelin were arguably at the height of their popularity. Plant recalled:

I was lying there in some pain trying to get cockroaches off the bed and the guy next to me, this drunken soldier, started singing 'The Ocean' from Houses of the Holy.[2]

Grant and Page began to worry about the band becoming stagnant. 'The longer we wait,' Page stated, 'the harder it's gonna be to come back.' Finally, in September, Plant said he felt strong enough to begin working on the band's seventh album, which would become Presence. During the convalescent period on the Channel Island of Jersey and a little beach house in Malibu, California, Plant wrote some lyrics, and when guitarist Jimmy Page joined him at Malibu, these compositions were fleshed out. The two prepared enough material for rehearsals to begin at Hollywood's SIR Studio, where drummer John Bonham and bass player John Paul Jones joined them.

After a month of rehearsals, the album was recorded in just eighteen days[3] at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, with Plant in a wheelchair. This was the fastest recording turnaround time achieved by the band since their debut album.[4] The rushed recording sessions were in part a result of Led Zeppelin having booked the studio immediately prior to the Rolling Stones, who were shortly to record songs for their album Black and Blue. Upon their arrival, the Rolling Stones were amazed that Led Zeppelin's album had indeed been completed (both recorded and mixed) in a mere seventeen days. When Mick Jagger asked Page, 'Did you manage to get down a few tracks while you were here?' When Jimmy told him the album was done, Jagger was flabbergasted. 'Wait -- but you've been here only three weeks!' 'Yeah, that's all we needed,' Page replied. Page had simply stayed awake for two days straight to perform all of the guitar overdubs.

In an interview he gave to Guitar World magazine in 1998, Page stated that he worked an average of 18 to 20 hours a day during the mixing period at Musicland Studios:

[A]fter the band finished recording all its parts, me and the engineer, Keith Harwood, just started mixing until we would fall asleep. Then whoever would wake up first would call the other and we'd go back in and continue to work until we passed out again.[5]

The recording sessions for Presence were also particularly challenging for Plant. The studio was in a basement of an old hotel, and the singer felt claustrophobic.[6] He also experienced physical difficulties as a result of his car accident, and missed his family. He explained:

I spent the whole process in a wheelchair, so physically I was really frustrated. I think my vocal performance on it is pretty poor. It sounds tired and strained. The saving grace of the album was 'Candy Store Rock' and 'Achilles Last Stand'. The rhythm section on that it was so inspired ... I was furious with Page and [band manager] Peter Grant. I was just furious that I couldn't get back to the woman and the children that I loved. And I was thinking, is all this rock'n'roll worth anything at all?[7]

The album was completed on 27 November 1975. This was the day before Thanksgiving, and in a telephone call to Swan Song Records, Page suggested the album be named Thanksgiving.[8] This idea was quickly dropped, in favour of a title which it was thought would represent the powerful force and presence that the band members felt surrounded the group.[9]

Composition

Most of the album consists solely of Page and Plant compositions. This can be explained by the fact that the majority of the songs were formulated at Malibu, where Page (but not Bonham and Jones) had initially joined a recuperating Plant.[10] With Plant at less than full fitness, Page took responsibility for the album's completion, and his playing and production dominate the album's tracks.[11]

Both Page and Plant had planned this album's recording session as a return to hard rock, much like their debut album, except at a new level of complexity. It marked a change in the Led Zeppelin sound towards more straightforward, guitar-based jams. Whereas their previous albums contain electric hard rock anthems balanced with acoustic ballads and intricate arrangements, Presence was seen to include more simplified riffs, and is Led Zeppelin's only studio album that features neither acoustic tracks nor keyboards (almost buried in the mix, a lone acoustic guitar can be heard on 'Candy Store Rock').

The changed stylistic emphasis on this album was a direct result of the troubled circumstances experienced by the band around the time of its recording. As Page said at the time:

I think it was just a reflection of the total anxiety and emotion of that period. There's a hell of a lot of spontaneity about that album. We went in with virtually nothing and everything just came pouring out.[12]

Plant expressed similar views, stating:

It was really like a cry of survival. There won't be another album like it, put it like that. It was a cry from the depths, the only thing that we could do.[13]

In contrast to earlier albums which contained several tracks that the band chose to play live at Led Zeppelin concerts, only two tracks from Presence were played in full on stage while the band was active. 'Achilles Last Stand' and 'Nobody's Fault but Mine' were added to the set list for the 1977 tour of the United States and stayed through the band's final concerts in 1980. Some of the guitar solo from 'Tea for One' was also incorporated into 'Since I've Been Loving You' in these shows, but the actual song was never performed live until the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant tour of Japan in 1996, where it received three airings backed by an orchestra. 'For Your Life' was played in full by Led Zeppelin for the first time at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert on 10 December 2007.

The lack of live interpretations of the Presence material is perhaps understandable given that it would be a full year before they would return to the road.[14]

Album sleeve design

The cover and inside sleeve of this album, created by Hipgnosis, features various images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the album sleeve, the item is referred to simply as 'The Object'. It was intended to represent the 'force and presence' of Led Zeppelin.[15] In the liner notes of the Remasters, Jimmy Page explained:

There was no working title for the album. The record-jacket designer said 'When I think of the group, I always think of power and force. There's a definite presence there.' That was it. He wanted to call it 'Obelisk'. To me, it was more important what was behind the obelisk. The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on [the film] 2001. I think it's quite amusing.

The background used in the cover photograph is of an artificial marina that was installed inside London's Earl's Court Arena for the annual Earl's Court Boat Show that was held in the winter of 1974–1975. This was the same venue where the band played a series of concerts a few months after the boat show, in May 1975.

In 1977 the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.

Release and critical reception

The album was released on 31 March 1976, having been delayed by the completion of the album sleeve.[16] Page and Jones were relieved about the album's release. After Plant's accident, there had been superfluous speculation about how strongly the band could come back. Page and Jones felt that this album put the concerns to rest. In Britain it attained one of the highest ever advance orders, shipping gold on the day of release. In America it peaked at number one on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, leaping from number 24 inside two weeks.[17] In 1977 the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.

The album's catalogue numbers were Swan Song SS 8416 in the U.S. and Swan Song SSK 59402 in the UK, before being changed to 92439-2 for when the remastered version was released. However, this album has been the band's slowest selling album. In late 1976 the album was also somewhat overshadowed by the release of the band's motion picture and soundtrack The Song Remains the Same.[18]

According to Dave Lewis, 'the direct-hard hitting nature of the seven recordings failed to connect with a fan base more accustomed to the diversity and experimental edge of their previous work.[19] Indeed, Page later himself acknowledged that, because the album conveys a sense of urgency as a direct result of the troubled circumstances in which it was recorded, 'it's not an easy album for a lot of people to access … [I]t's not an easy album for a lot of people to listen to.'[20]

However, despite its initially subdued reception, Lewis considers that Presence:

Has become a much underrated element of their catalogue. The basic drums-bass-guitars formula may lack the diversity of previous Zeppelin sets, but in terms of sheer energy, 'Presence' packs a considerable punch, and has emerged as one of their most potent performances … This album is also a triumph for Jimmy Page. His production and dominant guitar style has an urgency and passion that reflects the troubled period that the group were going through at the time. 'Presence' is Led Zeppelin with their backs against the wall.[21]

Reviews

Reviewer Country Review Year Score
Scott Floman (Goldmine) United States Rock and Soul Album Reviews 2002 B+

Accolades

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Melody Maker United Kingdom Best Album of the Year[22] 1976 2
Grammy Award United States Grammy Award for Best Recording Package[23] 1977 Nominee
New Book of Rock Lists United States 75 Great Album Cover Designs[24] 1994 48

Track list

Album information

Track listing:

  • Side 1:
  1. 'Achilles Last Stand' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 10:25
  2. 'For Your Life' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 6:20
  3. 'Royal Orleans' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham) – 2:58
  • Side 2:
  1. 'Nobody's Fault but Mine' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 6:27
  2. 'Candy Store Rock' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 4:07
  3. 'Hots On for Nowhere' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 4:43
  4. 'Tea for One' (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 9:27

Chart positions

Album

Chart (1976) Peak Position
Japanese Albums Chart[25] 2
Norwegian Albums Chart[26] 4
UK Albums Chart[27] 1
US Cash Box Top 100 Albums Chart[28] 1
US Record World Top Pop Albums Chart[29] 1
Swedish Albums Chart[30] 8
US Billboard The 200 Albums Chart[31] 1
Canadian RPM Top 100 Albums Chart[32] 16
New Zealand Top 50 Albums Chart[33] 8
German Albums Chart[34] 27
Spanish Albums Chart[35] 7
French Albums Chart[36] 5
Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart 4

Singles

Year Single Chart Position
1976 'Candy Store Rock' Billboard Hot 100 (Pop Singles) 50

Sales certifications

Album

Country Sales Certification
United Kingdom (BPI) 300,000+ Platinum[37]
United States (RIAA) 3,000,000+ 3× Multi-Platinum[38]

Certification history

Organization Level Date
RIAA – USA Gold 1 April 1976
RIAA – USA Platinum 12 April 1976
RIAA – USA 2× Platinum 11 December 1990
RIAA – USA 3× Platinum 25 November 1997

Credits

Personnel
  • Musicians:
    • Jimmy Page – electric guitar, producer, remastering, digital remastering
    • Robert Plant – vocals, harmonica
    • John Paul Jones – bass guitar
    • John Bonham - drums, percussion
  • Production:
    • Peter Grant – executive producer
    • Keith Harwood - engineer, mixing
    • Jeremy Gee – tape engineer
    • George Hardie - sleeve design
    • Hipgnosis - sleeve design
    • Joe Sidore - original CD mastering engineer (mid-1980s)
    • George Marino - remastered CD engineer (1990)

References

  1. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 74. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  2. Light & Shade Cameron Crowe, Led Zeppelin Boxed Set liner notes
  3. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Song Remains the Same, reissued version, 2007.
  4. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 76. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  5. Tolinski, Brad and Di Benedetto, Greg (January 1998). "Light and Shade: A Historic Look at the Entire Led Zeppelin Catalogue Through the Eyes of Guitarist/Producer/Mastermind Jimmy Page". Guitar World 18 (1): 100. ISSN 1045-6295.
  6. Welch, Chris (1996). “Into the Shadows”, Led Zeppelin. London: Carlton Books, 79. ISBN 978-1-85868-271-6. 
  7. Welch, Chris (1996). “Into the Shadows”, Led Zeppelin. London: Carlton Books, 81. ISBN 978-1-85868-271-6. 
  8. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 76. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  9. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 76. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  10. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 75. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  11. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 76. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  12. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 79. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  13. Gilmore, Mikal (10 August 2006). "The Long Shadow of Led Zeppelin". Rolling Stone (1006). ISSN 0035-791X. Retrieved on 16 May 2014.
  14. Lewis, Dave (2003). “The 1977 US Tour: The Beginning of the End”, Led Zeppelin: The 'Tight but Loose' Files: Celebration II. London: Omnibus Press, 45. ISBN 978-1844-49056-1. 
  15. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 77. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  16. Lewis, Dave (2003). “In the Presence of Pure Rock 'n' Roll”, Led Zeppelin: The 'Tight but Loose' Files: Celebration II. London: Omnibus Press, 42. ISBN 978-1844-49056-1. 
  17. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 78. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  18. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 79. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  19. Lewis, Dave (2003). “The 1977 US Tour: The Beginning of the End”, Led Zeppelin: The 'Tight but Loose' Files: Celebration II. London: Omnibus Press, 45. ISBN 978-1844-49056-1. 
  20. Williamson, Nigel (May 2005). "Jimmy Page: 'Forget the Myths'". Uncut: 72. ISSN 1368-0722.
  21. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 79. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  22. Best Album for 1976 - 11 October 1976. Melody Maker. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  23. Grammy Award for Best Album Package (Hipgnosis) - 19 February 1977. Grammy. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  24. 75 Great Album Cover Designs - 1994. rocklistmusic.co.uk. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  25. Top 100 Albums - 17 April 1976. Oricon. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  26. Top 20 Albums - 18 April 1976. norwegiancharts.com. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  27. Top 100 Albums - 24 April 1976. chartstats.com. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  28. Top 100 Albums - 24 April 1976. Cash Box. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  29. Top Pop Albums - 24 April 1976. 'Record World. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  30. Top 60 Albums - 26 April 1976. swedishcharts.com. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  31. The Billboard 200 - 1 May 1976. Billboard. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  32. RPM Albums Chart - 5 June 1976. RPM. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  33. Scapolo, Dean (2007). “Top 50 Albums - June 1976”, The Complete New Zealand Music Charts. Wellington: Transpress. ISBN 978-1-877443-00-8. 
  34. Top 100 Albums - June 1976. charts-surfer.de. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  35. Top 100 Albums - 17 July 1976. PROMUSICAE. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  36. Top 100 Albums - 1976. infodisc.fr. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  37. BPI Presence certification - 19 November 2004. BPI. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  38. RIAA.org Presence - 25 November 1997. RIAA. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.