Flashback: Led Zeppelin Releases ‘Presence’
It was 46 years ago today (March 31st) that Led Zeppelin released it’s seventh album, Presence. The collection, which topped the Billboard 200 album charts for two weeks, included the instant radio classic, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and featured one single released for the U.S. market, “Candy Store Rock,” which failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
Presence, like all of Zeppelin’s works, was produced by Jimmy Page, and featured 10 tracks — nine of which were written by Page and Robert Plant, with the rocker “Royal Orleans,” being a group effort with the addition of John Paul Jones and John Bonham.
Robert Plant, who had sustained serious injuries in August of 1975 during a car crash on the Greek island of Rhodes, was forced to record the majority of his vocals while confined to a wheelchair.
On December 10th, 2007, at their reunion concert featuring Jason Bonham at London’s O2 Arena, the band chose the Presence fan favorite, “For Your Life” to make its world live premiere — marking the only song played that evening that John Bonham had never tackled in front of an audience.
The tracklisting to Presence is: “Achilles Last Stand,” “For Your Life,” “Royal Orleans,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Candy Store Rock,” “Hots On For Nowhere,” and “Tea For One.”
Jimmy Page shed some light as to why Presence has such a timeless and powerful sound even four decades later: “It’s a really intense album, I know that much. But the process, yet again, it was a success, and the process was to have a different engineer, and to have — well actually, Keith Harwood had worked with us on mixing during the process of Physical Graffiti, but he hadn’t recorded too many of the tracks. But this was a concentrated effort, again — like going into Headley Grange was a concentrated effort — going into the Musicland (Studios) in Munich was a concentrated effort of basically three weeks, so it was intense. I was definitely living, sleeping, breathing, eating the music all the way through.”
The performance and production of Presence is the most taught sounding collection in the Zeppelin catalogue — a fact attributed to it being recorded and mixed in only 18 days. Page credited the band’s pre-production for much of its success: “It’s a guitar album, that’s a guitar album of many colors. We’d routined the whole of the structure, or, what was going to be the basic backing track; the backbone of it in L.A. And I’d keep adding all these sections, ‘and I must do this, I must do that,’ but all the time in my mind, I had these ideas of what I was going to do. When we got into Munich, once we recorded it, the guys went off to a club that night, and I thought — ‘I’m just gonna go ahead, I’m gonna get. . . see if I can do it’ — and I did. And out was like I was channeling out all these overdubs and it becomes, like a guitar orchestra, and it’s all done in one night.”
Jimmy Page, who was mainly known for using a Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul during Zeppelin’s mid-’70s sessions, recorded a number of parts for Presence on the Fender Stratocaster. We asked Page if he recalled specifically any of the songs he used the Strat for: “‘For Your Life.’ For example, that’s one that’s a Strat. Between. . . It’s between the Strat and the Les Paul.”
Jimmy Page explained that Presence truly represents the band perfectly at that point in time: “Because of the performance. Because we went in there and the whole thing’s depending on the performance and the delivery of whatever it is. The performance of the group ensemble. But as far as the performance of Robert (Plant’s) vocals, or the guitar overdubs, or John Paul Jones applying this, that, or the other, that’s what it is.”
Designer Aubrey Powell recalled how his commercial art design company Hipgnosis came about constructing the Presence album cover: “Presence — that’s an interesting story, because Led Zeppelin, particularly Jimmy Page, would never give us an inkling about anything. He would. . . I’d say, ‘Okay Jim, what’s the music?’ — Y’can’t hear it.’ ‘Okay, what’s the title?’ — ‘I haven’t got one.’ ‘Well, is there anything I can go on?’ — ‘No. Just come up with some interesting ideas.’ (I thought) Well, what about a symbol of something. Some energizing source. Without that you can’t function. Wherever you are, you have to have it.”
Robert Plant said that performing the band’s 1976 Presence classic “For Your Life” for the first time onstage was a definite highlight of Zeppelin’s 2007 one-off reunion show for him: “Just like Jason, I was amazed I was there playing with Led Zeppelin. And I was just saying, ‘Now, where does the vocal come in?’ And I know I made a couple of errors — ‘just had to shut up instead of doing too much. But. . . I think that was my favorite part of the show, to be honest. Because we were. . . none of us could bring too much back from ever having ever played it before. It was a great experience and that is flying by the seat of the pants. These guys did such a great job on that. It was very exciting. Great light show, too.”
On July 31st, 2015 Presence was reissued with five archival tracks:
“Two Ones Are Won” (“Achilles Last Stand” – Reference Mix)
“For Your Life” (Reference Mix)
“10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod)” (Reference Mix)
“Royal Orleans” (Reference Mix)
“Hots On For Nowhere” (Reference Mix)