I’m here to kick off the music portion of this blog, FM109. I’ll leave you to figure out the title. I’m going to christen FM109 with a series I’ve wanted to do for some time – a 360 degree analysis of every available recording of Led Zeppelin’s blues epic “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. Set in C minor, the song is a generous 7+ minute non-radio friendly canvas on which Page and Plant unleash a fiery brand of blues unheard of before the 1970s- a blues that is uniquely Led Zeppelin. While Led Zeppelin I and II both featured many great blues tracks (“You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “The Lemon Song”, “Whole Lotta Love”), they were clearly just beefed up, “Zeppelin-ized” versions- dare I say even ripoffs- of Chicago Blues greats, the likes of which include Willie Dixon, Albert King, and Howlin’ Wolf. It wasn’t until Led Zeppelin III (Atlantic, 1970) that the band truly came into their own, commercially and artistically. Despite Led Zeppelin III being largely an acoustic folk record (it was brutally criticized for trying to capitalize off the recent success of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young), the band ironically spawned what is perhaps their greatest electric blues standard.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” became a live staple for the band in the early 70’s. I find this song so fascinating because it is easily one of the most dynamic, expressive, and interpretative of all of Zeppelin’s live songs. I want to emphasize just how brilliantly Jones and Bonham provide an organic, sentient universe in which Page and Plant are free to expand the boundaries of their Chicago blues roots. No two versions are ever alike.
It was December of 2009. I was living alone in south Texas where I spent my days essentially doing three things: learning to fly planes for the Navy, playing video games, and learning to play rock ‘n roll on my guitar. I had primarily been studying the guitarwork of a very select few players- Jonny Greenwood, Hendrix, Prince, John Frusciante, and David Gilmour. I had grown up with only cursory exposure to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, but I’d never really fallen in love with their music. I was familiar with all their hits, but I’d always dismissed Zeppelin as being too popular, too flashy, and too gritty. Growing up, you were either a Zeppelin guy or a Pink Floyd guy. I was always the latter, preferring the soaring, majestic tear-jerking Stratocaster soul of the mighty David Gilmour. My life changed forever when “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from The Song Remains the Same (Live at Madison Square Garden ’73) started playing on the Palladia music channel on my TV.
It was a side of Jimmy Page, let alone Led Zeppelin, I had never heard before. It was dark, mysterious, flashy, and very heavy- yet strangely soft, calculated, sensual, and I never thought I’d say this of Page, but beneath those lightning fast chops he actually had soul. Having primarily been a disciple of the David Gilmour school of rock, my mind was getting blown by how much I loved what Jimmy Page was doing on that sunburst ’59 Les Paul Custom (given to him as a gift from Joe Walsh). I couldn’t quite make sense of it, but his explosive blues riffs (2:00) were so perfectly parsed between little moments of tranquility (0:28, 3:14). The interplay between Plant’s crooning and Page’s sassy little blues stutters wrenched at my heart (1:33). And then the chorus kicks in with an almost heavy metal level of explosion (2:10). Page’s monstrous guitar solo begins with a tidal wave of pentatonic hammer-ons, followed brilliantly by these calculated little bluesy statements (4:20). Watch at 3:55 when he’s nearly blown off balance by the sheer force of his own riff! Page then ends the solo with one of the sassiest, most arrogant guitar riffs ever played in the history of rock (4:56). My reaction was basically identical to that of the jaw-dropped cop (5:10). Jimmy is wild and sloppy, his tone trashy, yet the solo so perfectly conveys the tortured desperation of Plant’s star-crossed protagonist. The song reaches its darkest, most hopeless point exactly at 6:26 when it changes to the D minor. This blue-collar lament tells a bleak story of romance strained by hard times. Maybe it’s because I had gone through a few strained relationships? Or maybe it was the stress of flight school? Maybe it was simply because I was older and more world weary, but this song made perfect sense to me. It was mine. My exploration of Led Zeppelin had finally begun.
Rick Rubin once described Led Zeppelin as being one of the heaviest bands of all time. The Song Remains the Same version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” definitely makes me believe him. Until my research proves otherwise, this version is the heaviest, loudest raunchiest, most explosive of them all- my longtime personal favorite.