Houses of the Holy is the fifth studio album by Led Zeppelin, released by Atlantic Records on 28 March 1973. The album title is a dedication by the band to their fans who appeared at venues they dubbed ‘Houses of the Holy’. It was the second Led Zeppelin album to not officially be titled after the band. It was also the first of the band’s albums to be composed of completely original material
The cover art for Houses of the Holy was inspired by the ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End (which involves several hundred million naked children, only slightly and physically resembling the human race in basic forms). It is a collage of several photographs which were taken at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. This location was chosen ahead of an alternative one in Peru (ploughing the plains of Nazca with the Zoso symbol) which considered but rejected on the grounds that actually scarring such a mystical place (this was before the days of Photoshop!) wouldn’t go down too well with the Peruvian government in particular and archaeologists worldwide in general!
The two children who modelled for the cover were siblings Stefan and Samantha Gates. The photo shoot was a frustrating affair over the course of ten days. Shooting was done first thing in the morning and at sunset in order to capture the light at dawn and dusk, but the desired effect was never achieved due to constant rain and clouds. The photos of the two children were taken in black and white and were multi-printed to create the effect of 11 individuals that can be seen on the album cover. The results of the shoot were less than satisfactory, but some accidental tinting effects in post-production created an unexpectedly striking album cover. The inner sleeve photograph was taken at Dunluce Castle near to the Causeway
Like Led Zeppelin’ fourth album, neither the band’s name nor the album title was printed on the sleeve. However, manager Peter Grantdid allow Atlantic Records to add a wrap-around paper title band to US and UK copies of the sleeve that had to be broken or slid off to access the record.This hid the children’s bums from general display, but still the album was either banned or unavailable in some parts of the southern USAfor several years
In February 2010 Stefan Gates presented a half-hour BBC Radio 4 documentary entitled Stefan Gates’s Cover Story, about his part in the making of the album cover. Gates claimed in the documentary to have felt there was something sinister about the image, although his sister disagreed. He also admitted never actually having heard the album. The programme ended with Gates returning to Giant’s Causeway and listening to the album on a portable player, after which he claimed that a great weight had been lifted from him
Jimmy Page has since stated that the album cover was actually the second version submitted by Hipgnosis. The first, by artist Storm Thorgeson, featured an electric green tennis court with a tennis racket on it. Furious that Thorgerson was implying their music sounded like a “racket”, the band fired him and hired Powell in his place. Thorgerson did, however, go on to produce the album artwork for Led Zeppelin’s subsequent albums Presence and In Through The Out Door