Presence is the seventh studio album by English rock band Led Zeppelin, released by Swan Song Records on 31 March 1976. It was written and recorded during a tumultuous time in the band's history, as singer Robert Plant was recuperating from serious injuries he had sustained in a recent car accident. The album received mixed reviews from critics and is also the slowest-selling studio album by the band (other than the outtake album Coda), only managing to achieve triple-platinum certification in the United States. Nonetheless, guitarist Jimmy Page describes Presence as the band's "most important" album, proving they would continue despite their turmoil.
This album was conceived after Robert Plant sustained serious injuries from a car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes on 5 August 1975, which forced the band to cancel a proposed world tour that was due to commence on 23 August 1975. At this point, Led Zeppelin were arguably at the height of their popularity. When he was taken to a Greek hospital after the accident, Plant recalled:
I was lying there in some pain trying to get cockroaches off the bed and the guy next to me, this drunken soldier, started singing "The Ocean" from Houses of the Holy.
During a convalescent period on the Channel Island of Jersey and in Malibu, California, Plant wrote some lyrics, and when Page joined him at Malibu, these compositions were fleshed out. The two prepared enough material for rehearsals to begin at Hollywood's SIR Studio, where drummer John Bonham and bass player John Paul Jones joined them.
After a month of rehearsals, the album was recorded in just eighteen days at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, with Plant in a wheelchair. This was the fastest recording turnaround time achieved by the band since their debut album. The rushed recording sessions were in part a result of Led Zeppelin having booked the studio immediately prior to The Rolling Stones, who were shortly to record songs for their album Black and Blue. Upon their arrival, the Stones were amazed that Zeppelin's album had indeed been completed (both recorded and mixed) in a mere eighteen days. Page had simply stayed awake for two days straight to perform all of the guitar overdubs. As he later explained:
I just had to lay it down, more or less: first track... second track – you know, really fast working on that. And all the guitar overdubs on Presence were done in one night. But I didn't think I would be able to do it in one night, I thought I'd have to do it across maybe three different nights to get the individual sections. Everything sort of crystallised and you'll notice everything was just pouring out. I was very happy with the guitar playing on that whole album, you know as far as the maturity of playing goes.
In an interview he gave to Guitar World magazine in 1998, Page stated that he worked an average of 18 to 20 hours per day during the mixing period at Musicland Studios:
[A]fter the band finished recording all its parts, me and the engineer, Keith Harwood, just started mixing until we would fall asleep. Then whoever would wake up first would call the other and we'd go back in and continue to work until we passed out again.
The recording sessions for Presence were also particularly challenging for Plant. The studio was in a basement of an old hotel, and the singer felt claustrophobic. He also experienced physical difficulties as a result of his car accident, and missed his family. He later explained:
I spent the whole process in a wheelchair, so physically I was really frustrated. I think my vocal performance on it is pretty poor. It sounds tired and strained. The saving grace of the album was "Candy Store Rock" and "Achilles Last Stand". The rhythm section on that it was so inspired ... I was furious with Page and [band manager] Peter Grant. I was just furious that I couldn't get back to the woman and the children that I loved. And I was thinking, is all this rock'n'roll worth anything at all?
The album was completed on 26 November 1975. This was the day before Thanksgiving, and in a telephone call to Swan Song Records, Page suggested the album be named Thanksgiving. This idea was quickly dropped, in favour of a title that was thought would represent the powerful force and presence that the band members felt surrounded the group.
The cover and inside sleeve of this album, created by Hipgnosis, features various images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the album sleeve, the item is referred to simply as "The Object." It was intended to represent the "force and presence" of Led Zeppelin. In the liner notes of the first Led Zeppelin boxed set, Page explained:
There was no working title for the album. The record-jacket designer said 'When I think of the group, I always think of power and force. There's a definite presence there.' That was it. He wanted to call it 'Obelisk.' To me, it was more important what was behind the obelisk. The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on [the film] 2001. I think it's quite amusing.
The background used in the cover photograph is of an artificial marina that was installed inside London's Earl's Court Arena for the annual Earl's Court Boat Show that was held in the winter of 1974–75. This was the same venue where the band played a series of concerts a few months after the boat show, in May 1975.
In 1977 Hipgnosis and George Hardie were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.