HOUSES OF THE HOLY – LED ZEPPELIN

Posted: August 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Atlantic Records 7255            March 28th 1973             CD 7567-82639-2             Playing time 40m 56s

Arthur C Clarke’s novel Childhoods End was the inspiration for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s, ”Houses of the Holy” album.  At the end of the novel all the children gather waiting to be taken into space.

The photography for the sleeve was done by Aubrey Powell who was a member of the Hipgnosis design team. The original photo-shoot, taken at the Devils Causeway in Northern Ireland was a frustrating affair which took ten days. Shooting was done first thing in the morning and at sunset in order to capture the light, but the desired effect was lost due to cloud and constant heavy rain.   Another factor preventing the Hipgnosis team from working smoothly was the presence of the Irish Border Guards who due to the high incidence of unrest in Northern Ireland at the time, were in abundance.  Several run-ins occurred with the camera crew and border guards occurred as they didn’t like the crew moving around.

As a means to an end Powell decided to take black and white photos of the two children, these photographs were then multi-printed to create the effect of there being eleven children in the photograph .Originally there were three adults and two children working as models, one of the adults wasnt used.  The two remaining adult models can be seen in the gatefold  of the album. The conditions of the shoot were far from satisfactory, but some accidental tinting effects in the post-production phase created an unexpectedly striking album cover.

The children, brother and sister Samantha and Stefan Gates, had to be ready to work at 4am. They were painted gold and silver to give the photographs a sci-fi feel.


The inner sleeve photograph was taken at Dunluce Castle which is close to The Giants Causeway.

Like Led Zeppelin’s previous album, neither the bands name or album title was on the cover.  Atlantic records were allowed by manager Peter Grant to add a wrap-around paper band bearing the bands name and album title to US and UK copies which would have to be broken or slid off to get inside album.  This served also as a device to cover the buttocks of the children, otherwise the artwork would have been banned, and still was in some of the bible belt areas of the USA.

In 1974, the album was nominated for a Grammy award  in the best album cover category . The cover was rated #6 on VH1‘s 50 Greatest Album Covers in 2003.

When he was four, food writer Stefan Gates appeared on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s classic album Houses of the Holy.  It is a famously unsettling image.  Stefan and his sister Samantha appear naked on the cover climbing up the eerie landscape against a bright apocalyptic orange sky.

It’s a photo that’s dogged Stefan all his life. Ever since he was a child, the picture has disturbed him, even frightened him.  He is ambivalent about it
should he be proud of it or is there something to be ashamed of ?   He’s purposely never found out the story behind it. He has never ever listened to the record.

                                                  Stefan Gates at the Giants Causeway holding the artwork which has troubled him for many years.

Samantha and Stefan Gates have made other appearances on album covers. Samantha was to appear on another Led Zeppelin album ”Presence while her brother appeared on Pink Floyd’s” Division Bell” both covers were designed by Hipgnosis.
 Stefan Gates recently recorded a BBC Radio 4 programme where he discussed his and his sisters role in the creation of the album sleeve .  Questions were put to his mother regarding her reasons for allowing himself and his sister to be photographed naked as children for the album.  He also meets Aubrey Powell, the photographer, from the famous graphic design team Hipgnosis. Finally, he makes an emotional journey back to the Giants Causeway to listen to the album for the first time.
A very controversial album sleeve indeed , Maybe not one of Led Zeppelin’s finest musical achievements, but a superb, if somewhat otherworldly piece of artwork by the Hipgnosis team.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      John 27-08-2011
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