A Look At Led Zeppelin’s Covers

The Spinning Wheel cover of Led Zep III

The Spinning Wheel cover of Led Zep III

The forthcoming reissues of Led Zeppelin will probably cost, oh, at least a few pounds. Or something. So before we all trample over London’s tourists like brainwashed consumers in a desperate panic to buy new vinyl in whatever is left of HMV in Oxford St, let’s reflect on whether this is Actually A Good Idea.

What’s best? The original records, or the reissues? And if the answer is “the originals” then can we find them at a sensible price?

First, why buy vinyl at all? For me, that’s the easy bit. It’s not just the sound: it’s also for the fun bits.

Not only do Led Zep have some great albums, they also have some of the greatest packaging. Let’s have a look at the albums in turn:

First, the most fun record sleeve of all time. There’s joy to be had in the spinning wheel on the cover of Led Zep III that will transport you to when you were two feet high and your best record player was made by Fisher Price. It’s like a record and an activity set all in one. Ooh, look – a stripy ball, and wait! there’s a butterfly – and a rhino wearing a nappy. Ooh – and there’s a hairy, drunk mud shark-abuser…

The Gandalf-a-like in the inside cover of Led Zep IV

The Gandalf-a-like in the inside cover of Led Zep IV

Someone should make wrapping paper with the same design – it’ll make millions. Well, I’d buy it anyway…

Led Zep II is dull by comparison, a mere gatefold, whilst Led Zep IV will transport you to your tenth birthday, but only because it has a gatefold sleeve and features a Gandalf look-a-like on the inside cover. Never mind.

Physical Graffiti is much more fun. It has little holes in the windows of the town house on the cover. Depending upon whether you put the lyric sheet outermost or the printed inner sleeves, you can change the record’s appearance. But why stop there? Why not have the house looking like a grotty council estate by drawing your own crack den on the sleeve, or hanging out washing from the windows? Or hang it on the wall and pretend to be James Stewart whilst acting out scenes from “Rear Window”? Or insert pictures of ’70s Radio 1 DJs and pretend it’s a great big prison. But all of this is for another time…

Led Zeppelin seemed to care more about the packaging than most bands do nowadays.

Houses of the Holy’s release was actually delayed not because the band had musical differences, but because they weren’t happy with the way the sleeve looked. And not for a couple of days, or a week or so. Want to know how long? This is what Peter Grant said about the incident in a 1989 interview in Raw Magazine:

How much more orange could it be? None. None more orange...

How much more orange could it be? None. None more orange…

“We were determined to ensure that nothing went out with our name on it until it was absolutely right. We delayed the release of the “Houses of the Holy” LP for five months because the cover artwork wasn’t right. You can imagine that Atlantic (who distributed Swan Song product) were going mad.”

Five months! I can only think it was very important to get the exact shade of orange shining over the naked children’s bottoms (now there’s a Google search term I don’t want…) Presence had a gatefold Hipgnosis cover with mysterious 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisks heavily featured. I think having Goscinny-and-Underzo-inspired-Obelix’s might have been funnier, but you can’t have everything. The inner sleeve also has some pretty odd Hipgnosis images.

There's some weird doo doo going on with this Hipgnosis picture on the reverse of Presence

There’s some weird doo doo going on with this Hipgnosis picture on the reverse of Presence

In Through The Out Door had six different potential covers wrapped in a brown paper bag, so you’d never know which of the six incredibly uninteresting covers you’d get until after you bought the album. Each photo is taken from the perspective of a different person in the photo. 

What’s more, this album contains a colouring book! 

Honestly, it does…

If you paint the inner sleeve with a water filled brush, the ink bleeds (deliberately) and different colours are revealed. Amazing eh?

All this is fine and well. But what do the records actually sound like? Is there any benefit in buying the original UK records with the plum coloured label?

Let’s find out next time.

Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song

Categories: Hard Rock

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57 replies

  1. Zeppelin’s artwork always seemed like a gateway into their unique world when I started listening to them in the late-’70s, and of course each cover is now so identified with the related music that there are specific images that pop into my mind whenever I hear particular songs.

    About 10 years ago a friend of mine from my days working at Atlantic Records offered me a choice of one specially-designed lithograph from a series created for the release of the Zeppelin DVD. Although I had the option of picking any of the individual album covers, I ended up going with the only one that wasn’t an album cover: the image of them from Knebworth ’79 in a field (with the Swan Song image superimposed above it and all of their song titles subtly inserted throughout the image). The framed poster is now proudly displayed on the wall of my man cave. The other day I wondered if I made the wrong choice and should have gone with a particular album cover, but I don’t think I could’ve chosen from all those classics.

    Looking forward to your discussion of their music, especially since they’ve been my favorite band for nearly 35 years and it’s always fun to hear other fans’ opinions.


    • I’m going to talk about the slightly more dry subject of the vinyl. I do know someone ideally placed to do a Led Zeppelin album by album review however….


      • Much as I’d love to do a series on Zeppelin, it would be too easy. All of the series I write are about the lesser-played artists & albums in my collection, so I get to learn about them as I listen to & write about them. Zeppelin’s been my favorite band for nearly 35 years. I could discuss their music without even listening to it. That’s why I prefer when other people write about them and I can get someone else’s perspective (and chime in with my own thoughts).

        As for your discussion being focused on vinyl, there’s nothing dry about that subject. I still have a pretty clean set of Zeppelin LPs along with various remastered CDs. Earlier this week I bought a new turntable after my 30+ year old Onkyo finally crapped out on me, and I decided to christen it with a Mobile Fidelity half-speed mastered version of Zeppelin II. Oh man, it sounded phenomenal…and my stereo system is only average.

        I eagerly await your “dry” discussion on vinyl, Zeppelin or anything else.


  2. I got a great book about Hipgnosis on eBay.
    The Zeppelin bits are awesome, but they also talk about other great bands as well…


  3. I love that Gandalf-dude from IV, he’s mystical and has a great old-world feel that’s always captured my imagination. I’m not a big fan of reissues (see my post on the American Beatles reissues) but if there’s a real improvement in sound then I’m okay with the cash grab. And anything’s better than having Plant and Page put out a new album under the band name, right?


    • I once had a girlfriend who had a brother named Gandalf. And, yes, there was some resemblance to the Tolkien character.


      • That’s insane! Can you imagine having that name as a young person? Kinda cool as an old dude, but growing up Gandalf would be rough.


      • I should add that this was in Germany. Gandalf is actually an old German name, not one invented by Tolkien. There are several really old names which are still in use—Gudrun, Gerlinde, Karl, Ute, Otto etc (and of course old names which have never gone out of style and thus don’t sound old such as Robert). I guess Gandalf is about 70 now, but had a white beard even at 55. I’m not sure when The Lord of the Rings was published, but my guess is that he was born before then; certainly before it had been published in German translation and long before it was well known.

        I’m aware of a couple of people in Germany, in their late 1920s now, named Merlin. In contrast to Gandalf, this is obviously a foreign name, though I would prefer it to, say, Kevin. 🙂


      • With apologies to any of my readers with the name of Kevin…


    • If Them Crooked Vultures was anything to go by I think John Paul Jones still has something left to say about that. I’d be all for it, but it’d need to be good….and that’s a difficult task. On the other hand, anything would be better than Coverdale / Page


  4. I miss the insane album covers! It was what I miss most about the L.P. era- You were a music collector and an art collector at the same time…and love that “none more orange” line.


  5. Wow, didn’t realise that about the Zep covers. Interesting indeed.


  6. I’d buy that wrapping paper!


  7. “We were determined to ensure that nothing went out with our name on it until it was absolutely right. We delayed the release of the “Houses of the Holy” LP for five months because the cover artwork wasn’t right. You can imagine that Atlantic (who distributed Swan Song product) were going mad.”

    I recall Robert Plant saying that the original CD issue was just a piece of paper in a case, because all the colours were wrong on that CD.


  8. Got ’em all! Suspect the Houses of the Holy cover wouldn’t get the go ahead these days.


  9. Great trip down memory lane thank you. Made me pull out some old LPs.


  10. I’ve probably posted this somewhere else where the crowd here has already seen it, but it bears repeating:

    I think that later that night I stood in a tree and declared I was the Golden
    God because Moonie and Roy Harper had driven a car between two palm trees and
    couldn’t open the fucking doors to get out. George Harrison had karate chopped
    Bonzo’s wedding cake or 30th birthday cake or 25th birthday cake at some party
    and Bonzo decided it was time for George Harrison to go into the swimming pool.
    We were children! And there was some vaginal relaxant for cows somewhere being
    inhaled by somebody. You want to know about what it was like? It was
    fantastic! Insanely gorgeous!

    —Robert Plant remembers the 70s

    Liked by 1 person

  11. While Led Zep had some good album covers, I still believe that the best album cover of the 70s was the “Spitfire” album by Jefferson Starship.


  12. Of course, Zeppelin wasn’t the only group to deploy the psychedelic spinning-wheel thingy on an album – have you seen/heard that first-issue LP by The Soft Machine? It’s one of history’s greatest albums (I’ve confident the evidence will bear me out), and it also has a highly enjoyable psychedelic spinning wheel!


  13. Those folding covers like Zeppelin IV were great for hiding contraband if your parents entered your room…so I’m told! Graffiti was my favorite. Zep III we would take the spinning wheel out and put it on our turntable. Had a lot of time on my hands in those days.


  14. ha! Except I still have mine


  15. Great stuff. I am doing a blog on the 100 greatest album covers of all time, and just did my first Led Zeppelin one:


    Liked by 1 person


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