Happy 40th anniversary to Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, the band’s stunning final statement that has only begun to be appreciated in recent years. Unsurprisingly, this magazine slammed it so hard its hinges almost flew off: “If perchance Robert Plant meets someone who doesn’t dump on him, he should avoid calling her ‘the apple of my eye’ or she will probably reject him,” Charles M. Young cracked in Rolling Stone. “Just as I am rejecting ‘I’m Gonna Crawl,’ in which he sings that cliché almost as if it meant something.” Four decades later, the syrupy synths have only gotten sweeter, and the songs keep on crawling.
The album marked the return from a two-year hiatus the band had taken due to turmoil and tragedy. Robert Plant was badly injured in a car accident in 1975; two years later, his five-year-old son Karac died of a stomach virus. Jimmy Page was suffering a severe heroin addiction, while John Bonham was battling alcoholism (eventually leading to his 1980 death). As a result, John Paul Jones, usually the first to arrive at Abba’s Polar Studios in Stockholm during sessions for the LP, took the reins. “I suppose you could say that In Through the Out Door is my album, the way Presence was Jimmy’s album,” he told Ritchie Yorke in 1991.
The album opens with “In the Evening,” a track inspired by Page’s near-involvement in the soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s film Lucifer Rising and featuring guitar effects achieved with help of a mechanical bowing device called a Gizmotron. From the start, it was evident that this would be the most experimental record the band would ever make. With songs like the samba-inspired “Fool in the Rain” and the ambitious “Carouselambra” that clocks in over 10 minutes, the band had officially entered art-rock territory. “All My Love,” Plant’s ode to Karac, oozed with such heart-wrenching melody, it made up for the puzzling rockabilly track “Hot Dog.”
The album was rumored to be originally titled Look, but the title was changed to In Through the Out Door as a nod to the band overcoming their struggles. (“That’s the hardest way to get back in,” Page said). Hipgnosis — the English design company co-owned by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson — designed six different album sleeves, each depicting sepia-toned scenes in a New Orleans–inspired bar. Copies were famously packaged in brown paper bags, concealing which cover was purchased. Even with this odd gimmick, the record sold an astounding 2 million copies in the first 10 days of its release. With record sales at a dangerous low, the album’s success helped revive an ailing industry.
Instead of embarking on a tour, the band decided to return to the stage with two outdoor shows at England’s Knebworth Festival on August 4th and 11th, 1979 — their first time playing on U.K. soil in four years. In the video above, they tear through “In the Evening” with Bonham taking the lead, pounding the drums during an intense strobe-light display. “So don’t you let her get under your skin,” Plant sings. “It’s only bad luck and trouble/From the day that you begin.”
With an enormous crowd and opening acts that included Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the New Barbarians featuring Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Ian McLagan, the band were under immense pressure to get back in the groove. “I wasn’t as relaxed as I could have been,” Plant recalled. “There was so much expectation and the least we could have done was to have been confident enough to kill. We maimed the beast for life, but we didn’t kill it. It was good, but only because everybody made it good.”