“In Through the Out Door” was the first music by Led Zeppelin I ever heard and I first encountered their music in the spring of 1981. As a music fiend, I certainly was aware OF Zeppelin, but had never actually listened to them. I even knew about this album since I followed the Billboard charts and it was a #1 album for 7 weeks during the end of 1979. I was 11-years-old in the spring of 1981 and Zeppelin were a band that I associated with older, cooler people. Various babysitters talked about them in hushed tones. Older teens in my neighborhood, specifically the ones with long hair, dirt-staches, drove muscle cars with primer paint, and reeked of cigarette smoke seemed to REALLY dig Zeppelin. Without hearing a note of their music, they seemed dangerous and something that would be way too heavy for me, despite the fact that I was a huge Alice Cooper and KISS fan.
So it was a major shock to hear “In Through the Out Door,” because despite some “heavy” guitar work here and there, this album wasn’t particularly heavy, let alone scary. The first thing I noticed was that there was a LOT of keyboards and synthesizer on the album. I actually had an “Is that all there is to fire?” moment when I listened to this. But … because cooler people than me held Zeppelin in such reverence, I felt that I couldn’t outwardly condemn this, even though I found it disappointing based on what I was expecting. To put this in terms Gen-Y can understand, I expected Marilyn Manson, but heard Hootie and the Blowfish instead.
But … this album has grown on me considerably over the years. While no Zeppelin fan in their right mind would place ANY of the songs from “In Through the Out Door” in a Top 10 (or Top 20, for that matter) of the greatest Zeppelin songs of all-time, what is here is damn good. The opening track “In the Evening” is arguably the “heaviest” song on the album and while it won’t rattle your molars, it still rocks pretty hard. Forget “Stairway to Heaven” … “All My Love” is THE prom song for the feathered hair and ruffled tux generation. “Carouselambra” is almost all synth, but becomes mesmerizing if you let it wash over you … being on a mind-altering substance while listening to it certainly doesn’t hurt. “South Bound Suarez” is a song where the piano slams harder than the guitars. “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a wonderfully brutal mix of soul and metal.
“In Through the Out Door” is probably on no one’s list of favorite albums of all-time, but like a quirky old girlfriend or an odd movie you watched on an evening when you were in a great mood, its oddly satisfying. There are significantly better Zeppelin albums and songs, but one must give the band props for trying to do something fresh when so many other bands of the era remained mired in the same head-banging formulas that earned them success. It’s too bad drummer John Bonham checked out soon after this was released. It would have been interesting to hear what Zeppelin would have done going into the 1980s and beyond.