Great covers 2. Led Zeppelin: Four

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great covers

2. Led Zeppelin: Four

Suddenly, in the winter of 1971-2, all the long-haired big boys at my school began to livery their slouches in and around the school grounds with a brand new album cover. It was faded lilac in colour and it depicted the exposed wallpaper of a derelict building set against a decaying urban skyline. You didn't get the long perspective at first sight - the skyline began on the reverse of the gatefold, serated down one side by the ragged edge of the derelict wall. But there was a picture within the picture. It hung from the wall on a nail among the curly wallpaper scrapes. It was a tinted photograph of a bearded old man in a trampled hat leaning on a staff, bent double under a bundle of sticks almost twice his own length.

I was 11 years-old and so was troubled by a record sleeve with no writing on it whatsoever. I nudged my neighbour on the bus-stop bench and tried to ask him without sounding uncool what the long-haired big boy sitting in the rubbish bin was carrying. "Oh, that," he said with strenuously repressed excitement. "That's the new Ned Zeppelin album."

I assumed it was Ned on the cover, under the bundle of sticks. I guessed that he was a furze cutter and that he sang harsh songs about dogs, whisky and hard women to his own accompaniment on an old harmonium. I imagined that he'd been recently discovered by knowing long-haired folk, who'd brought him to a recording studio, filled him up with whisky and left the tape running. I was certain it was a frightening record. I took a compass and etched his name into the cheap leather of my satchel, then filled in the gouge with pen ink. "Ned Zeppelin", it said. All term, I felt hard and inviolable.