I present to you the original studio version from Led Zeppelin III (Atlantic, 1970). The song sounds almost out of place on what is largely an acoustic oriented record. How Page and Plant could conceive a greasy 7 minute working-class blues jam whilst peacefully tucked away in Bron-Yr-Aur cottage still remains a great mystery to me. Despite the serenity of the English countryside, Zeppelin still somehow found the requisite angst to record a fairly pissed off blues rocker.
A little backstory: My first exposure to the studio version was on a pair of small laptop speakers in a hotel room in Roswell, New Mexico. It was early 2010 and my Navy flight training required me to detach to Roswell for a few weeks. My good friends Justin Tiemeyer, Adam Friedli, and Tom Mitsos came to visit me and we made a spring break out of it. It had been only two or three months since my initial discovery of Led Zeppelin, and it was Justin who introduced me to the studio version on his mixtape Bottomless. Where better a place to explore Led Zeppelin than the deserts of the American Southwest? I really liked this version, but I didn’t fully understand it. Having been wildly addicted to the incendiary Song Remains the Same live version, I was a little confused by how quiet and subdued the studio version sounded- but like a fine wines, cigars or Radiohead albums, the greatness took time to grasp.
The song kicks off with that unmistakable 4 note blues riff (which Page actually borrowed from Jeff Beck on The Yardbirds “New York City Blues”). Page continues to play a very mellow and cautious intro (likely on the neck tone pickup) up until about 0:48 when he unleashes that signature hammer-on fireball riff just to let you know he means business.
The dominant cracks of Bonham’s drums provide a necessary weight to an otherwise quiet track. Plant’s airy vocals begin unassumingly, and provide the track with an almost meditative calmness. The chorus bursts in, driven by John Paul Jones’ honky organ playing- which is actually wilder and more pronounced here than on The Song Remains the Same. By the second verse, Plant lights the fire in his voice which presents a welcome contrast to the timidity of the first verse.
Page’s solo begins with a ferocious torrent of hammer-ons down the pentatonic scale (a phrase occasionally used by David Gilmour, but at a fraction of the tempo). Page’s solo is a constant battle between sloppy shreds and cleanly executed blues riffs. The sloppy/clean thing Page does on the solo sounds carefully rehearsed, however I was impressed to discover that Page actually recorded the entire solo in one take! The solo ends with a very staccato rendition of that timeless Chuck Berry riff and then a moment of silence to let the flames die out.
Plant cuts in and takes the song to its darkest and most desperate moment when he sings “make-a-life a draaag!” at 6:06. How a rock singer can both growl and sing at the same time is anyone’s guess. Page cooly arpeggiates over alternating Cm and Fm shapes while being guided by Bonham and Jones’ rhythm machine. The song ends after Plant pleads for “just one mo!” before he loses his worried mind for the first of many, many more times.
The Song Remains the Same version is heavy and sloppy, whereas the studio version is cool, precise, and has a brilliant sense of space. This one breathes, whereas the former is one long exhalation of fire and venom.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Since I’ve Been Loving You 360 when I explore a lesser known live version from How The West Was Won (Atlantic, 1972).