Containing some of the band's most famous songs, including "The Song Remains the Same", "The Rain Song", and "No Quarter", Houses of the Holy became a commercial success, and was later certified 11x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1999. In 2012, the album was ranked at #148 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The title track was originally recorded for the album, but was delayed until the release of band's next album Physical Graffiti in 1975.
Much of the album was recorded in Spring 1972 using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio at Stargroves, a manor house and country estate in Hampshire county, England. Some songs from the album had initially been tried out earlier than this, such as "No Quarter", which was first attempted during a session at Headley Grange Estate, in East Hampshire.
Several of the songs were produced as demos at the personal studios of guitarist Jimmy Page and bass player/keyboardist John Paul Jones. Having recently installed these studios in their homes, it enabled them to finish the arrangements which had been laid down earlier. In particular, Page was able to present complete arrangements of "The Rain Song" and "Over the Hills and Far Away", while Jones had developed "No Quarter".
Another bout of recording took place at Olympic Studios in May 1972, and during the band's 1972 North American tour additional recording sessions were conducted at Electric Lady Studios in New York.
Some songs which were recorded from these various sessions did not make it onto Houses of the Holy, namely "Black Country Woman", "Walter's Walk", "The Rover", and also the would-be title-track, "Houses of the Holy". All of these songs were retained and later released on subsequent Led Zeppelin albums.
This is the last album recorded by the band to feature Robert Plant singing in his trademark high vocal range due to subsequent damage to his vocal chords.
This album was a stylistic turning point in the lifespan of Led Zeppelin. Guitar riffs became more layered within Page's production techniques and departed from the blues influences of earlier records. In the album's opening opus, "The Song Remains the Same", and its intricate companion suite, "The Rain Song", Robert Plant's lyrics matured toward a less overt form of the mysticism and fantasy of previous efforts. Houses of the Holy also featured styles not heard on the first four Led Zeppelin albums. For example, "D'yer Mak'er" is a reggae-based tune (the name of the song being derived from the phonetic spelling of a British pronunciation of "Jamaica"); "No Quarter" features atmospheric keyboard sounds and an acoustic piano solo from Jones; "The Crunge" is a funk tribute; and "The Rain Song" is embellished by Jones on his newly acquired Mellotron. The album's closing song "The Ocean", which features an a cappella section and a doo-wop influenced coda, is dedicated to "the ocean" of fans who were massing to Led Zeppelin concerts at this point of the band's career. Subsequently, one view is that the title "Houses of the Holy" refers to the massive venues they played full of their adoring fans. However, when Page was asked about the significance of the title in a Sirius XM interview in New York City 7 Nov. 2014, he responded, Its about all of us being houses of the Holy Spirit, in a sense.
According to Led Zeppelin archivist Dave Lewis:
In retrospect, 'Houses of the Holy' holds its ground with the middle period releases quite admirably. The barnstorming effect of the early era was now levelling off and though devoid of the electricity of 'Led Zeppelin I' and 'II', or the sheer diversity of the third album, and lacking the classic status of the fourth, 'Houses' took stock of their situation. In doing so, it laid several foundations on which they would expand their future collective musical aspirations.