Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Led Zep Resorts to Gimmickry

How could have I have lived through the Led Zeppelin era and not have known that their final studio release featured an inner sleeve that (like Donovan‘s Cosmic Wheels) began life as a monochromatic image but (unlike any album before or since) would magically burst with color when washed with water?!   My eternal gratitude to Ed Goldstein of Big Car Jack for bringing this serious issue to my attention.  But that’s not the whole story – has the info:

[In Through the Out Door] featured an unusual gimmick:  the album had an outer sleeve which was made to look like a plain brown paper bag (reminiscent of similarly packaged bootleg album sleeves with the title rubber stamped on it), and the inner sleeve featured black and white line artwork which, if washed with water, would become permanently fully coloured.  There were also six different sleeves featuring a different pair of photos (one on each side), and the external brown paper sleeve meant that it was impossible for record buyers to tell which sleeve they were getting.  (There is actually a code on the spine of the album jacket which indicated which sleeve it was—this could sometimes be seen while the record was still sealed.)

The pictures all depicted the same scene in a bar (in which a man burns a Dear John letter), and each photo was taken from the separate point of view of someone who appeared in the other photos.  The bar is the Absinthe Bar [i.e., Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House], located at [240] Bourbon Street in New Orleans, LA.  The walls are covered with thousands of yellowed business cards and dollar bills.  It was re-created in a London studio for the album sleeve design.

Magic Dot” inner sleeve –

Inspired by Jimmy Page’s daughter’s special coloring books

Led Zep 'magic' sleeve

You can view all six sleeve designs by clicking here — additional related images can also be found at music blog, Stitches and Grooves.  According to blogger, Codex99, In Through the Out Door, sadly, “marked not only the end of Led Zeppelin but of [legendary graphic design firm] Hipgnosis, as well.”

Led Zeppelin would record three songs for In Through the Out Door that would not make the final cut but instead be included on their “odds & sods” compilation, Coda, released two years after John Bonham’s tragic passing in 1980.  My favorite of the three “rejected” tracks is “Wearing & Tearing” — recorded at Stockholm’s Polar Studios in November, 1978:

Wearing and Tearing

Led Zeppelin (1978)

Interesting to learn that “Wearing and Tearing” (along with fellow reject, “Darlene“) would be released in the UK as a 45 — the only question, though, is whether this single was a legitimate release.  Says 45Cat contributor sixtiesbeat, “It’s well known that [matrix] #19421 was set aside for ‘Wearing And Tearing’ to be released at Knebworth in 1979.  But as far as I know, the plan was scrapped and no 45s were actually pressed.  I suspect that an enterprising bootlegger is trying to re-write history here.”  Other 45Cat contributors, however, are not convinced.  Yet another musical controversy.

(Possible bootleg) single release

Led Zep 45

As iTunes points out, In Through the Out Door is “one of the few pre-SoundScan era releases to debut atop the Billboard chart.”  But wait, there’s a recent twist to the story:  Rolling Stone reported this past August that, 36 years later, the album is back in the Top Ten!

I admit shamefacedly that, under the flimsiest of pretexts, I am classifying this piece (along with the Donovan album) as Color-Your-Own Album Covers — is this a jailable offense?

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2 Responses

  1. Fascinating stuff! Serious question: Has there ever been an album cover or insert done with invisible lemon juice which one must hold up to a lightbulb in order to reveal the secret image???

  2. Well, we don’t think it’s a huge transgression but if you create the classification you have to bear the consequences, thus:
    This little beauty crowds your other classification – connect the dots – with a few numbers as well as places to colour. It’s a good thing they don’t let us have anything sharp.
    P.S. – the Canadian in us is gratified that you encountered the Gordon Sinclair item but appalled that your comment utility keeps nagging us about how to spell colour.

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