On this day in 1979, Led Zeppelin’s LP In Through The Out Door hit #1 on the US charts. It would be the band’s eighth and final studio album, as drum god John Bonham died in 1980 and the group disbanded.
The title of the LP reflects the band’s struggles at the time. Bonham was battling alcoholism; frontman Robert Plant was still reeling from the death of his son Karac; and a “taxation exile” in the UK resulted in the band being unable to tour on British soil. The title reflects these dilemmas and the band attempting to get back into their stride through alternate points of entry.
While a commercial success, critics seemed to be divided on the album. Some found Plant’s lyrics lacking; others were wary of the band’s use of synthesizers. After its release, Plant, Page, and Bonham all expressed reservations about the album, with Page saying in the liner notes of the box set: “It wasn’t the most comfortable album. I think it was very transitional … a springboard for what could have been.”
In Through The Out Door is far from their best, but it has survived surprisingly well as an art-rock oddity that sounds remarkably current 40 years later. And Bonham is still, as ever, the hard-rock impresario he always was.
His pocket in “Fool in the Rain” (above) is a marvel, especially when one considers the staggering amount of alcohol coursing through his body at the time. If that’s not mastery, then we don’t know what is.