What Led Zeppelin Had in Mind for the ‘In Through the Out Door’ Album Cover

After the highs of the early and mid-’70s, the members of Led Zeppelin dealt with tragedy and unspeakable loss in the latter half of the decade. It began when Robert Plant and his family got into an ugly car wreck while vacationing in Rhodes in the summer of ’75.

Though Plant tried to fight through it (he wrote some Presence tracks in a wheelchair), his family faced its greatest loss when his son Karac Plant died at the age of 5 in 1977. At that point, the future of Led Zeppelin was in doubt.

But Plant eventually returned to his bandmates, and the quartet began recording In Through the Out Door in late ’78. By the time the album hit stores (August ’79), Zeppelin had been off the road for two years and hadn’t released new material in over three years.

In short, you could call it a comeback, and the album’s title held a reference to that return. And, following the baffling cover for Presence (1976), Zeppelin again threw fans a curveball with the cover of In Through the Out Door. The LP came in six versions covered by brown paper wrapping.

Led Zeppelin released 6 different ‘In Through the Out Door’ cover designs — all wrapped in a paper bag

Members of Led Zeppelin pose with awards
November 1979: Three members of rock group Led Zeppelin with their seven Melody Maker awards | Keystone/Getty Images

RELATED: Robert Plant Thought People Were Right to Criticize Led Zeppelin in the late ’70s

Though Presence might have been the most extreme, Led Zeppelin had been playing with LP cover concepts since III (1970). And the band’s smash-hit fourth album pushed the envelope further. On IV (1971), Zep fans found neither band name nor any band members listed in the credits.

Zep had the same no-name, no-title policy on both Houses of the Holy (1973) and Presence. So in some ways, In Through the Out Door represented a gift to Zep’s often stumped marketers. At least the record had the band’s name and LP title on the packaging.

The thing was, In Through the Out Door came in a brown paper bag wrapping. Once buyers unwrapped it, they could see which of the six cover designs they’d purchased. That had been the plan of Zeppelin manager Peter Grant.

Fans wouldn’t know which one they’d bought until after the fact. After that moment, they could refer to the top of the album’s spine to see whether they’d gotten version A, B, C, D, E, or F.

Zeppelin wanted the ‘In Through the Out Door’ cover to match the ‘fresh’ and ‘direct’ music

Led Zeppelin on stage in 1980
LED ZEPPELIN performing live in 1980 | Rob Verhorst/Redferns

In every cover of In Through the Out Door, you got a different view of the same lowdown New Orleans bar scene. At the bar, a man in a white suit and hat burns a “Dear John” letter while the bartender, patrons, piano player, ladies of the night, and a others look on.

But no matter which view you got, the message wasn’t highly complicated. In Led Zeppelin: A Celebration (1991), Dave Lewis said Zeppelin asked design firm Hipgnosis (which had done Presence and Houses) to deliver something to go with music that was “fresh, new, and direct.”

Then, in a move reminiscent of the take-it-leave-it design of IV, the band had In Through the Out Door thrown in a brown paper bag. Would it still sell that way? Of course it did: Zep’s final LP quickly went platinum and held No. 1 on the Billboard charts for seven weeks.