Space Interpreting
respect the architect

I'm gone leave you

For the rest of the week, I'll be posting songs that helped define the Led Zeppelin sound. It might make a great mix tape, though there is a song by Joan Baez and Joan Baez is the mix-tape equivalent of an aneurysm. It's no secret that Led Zep borrowed heavily from old blues guys, (and by borrow I mean cover without credit.) This never bothered me so much, because Zeppelin brought so many new energies to the blues; tubthumping drums, crackling riffs, hell-for-leather vocals, and those dynamic tempo warps that gear down and gum up like old tapes. They also brought Hobbits and ginger pubic hair, which I don't forgive them for. (They are definitely a band best heard unseen, and I was very fortunate to first discover them without the benefit of live shows or concert footage and the pants and the anglo-perms and the clammy sweat unique to British arena rock and terminal cancer patients. If Robert Plant was a wild dog, the pack would set-upon and kill him instantly.)

Another reason it never bothered me is because, after all, they were stealing from bluesmen. And what bluesman worth his whiskey sits around in Belair, thumbing through brochures for the new S-Class, pocketing fat royalties, going crazy in the pampering spaces of time they afford?

What struck me though, in gathering this collection of songs, was how much they cribbed from their close peers at the time, fellow folkies and other popular white rock acts who were themselves in the business of re-interpreting the blues.

Take the Led Zeppelin Song 'Whole Lotta Love'. The lyrics and basic arrangement are a clear lift from 'You Need Love', popularized by Muddy Waters in 1962 but written earlier by Willie Dixon. Dixon brought a lawsuit against the band in '85, which was settled (in Dixon's favor) out of court. But the similarities to The Small Faces version, recorded about 3 years before the debut of Led Zeppelin II, are far more striking. Especially Robert Plant's vocals, which are a flagrant simulation of Steve Marriott's, right down to the signature "Wooommaaan..."

Similarly, 'Black Mountain Side' (from Led Zeppelin I), was based on an arrangement written by Anne Briggs (itself based on a riff by Stan Ellison), but Jimmy Page plays it, almost note for note (in - the geeks I believe say - "D-modal tuning"), as it was recorded by Bert Jansch a couple of years earlier. Page couldn't even be bothered fully changing the songs name. Jansch goes uncredited on the album, but never sued. Folkie's Code.

Jansch talks about it in the 1970 interview.

'I'm Gonna Leave You' was originally a folk song attributed by most people to Anne Bredon. Zeppelin admits they were inspired by Joan Baez's version. The original album credit read: "traditional, arranged by Jimmy Page" until it was changed to "Bredon/Page/Plant" in 1990.

From the Led Zeppelin In-Frequently Murmered Trivia List:

On all the box set releases, and re- releases since 1990, a credit has been added for Anne Bredon, an obscure folk musician who wrote and recorded the original song

the 1950s. Back in the 1980s her son was intrigued to hear his mother playing what he and the rest of the world thought was a Led Zeppelin song. After asking her why she was doing this, a quick trip to a solicitor saw her name added and her contribution recognised.

As For 'Bali Ha'I', the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from South Pacific, some adventurous people reckon Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" borrows its lead melody. Its a bit of a lark, but I reckon its there. Certainly no lawsuits from R & H on this one. Perhaps they feared Page and Plant would unleash the Viking Kittens!

Finally, Zeppelin's "Lemon Song" borrows from a bunch of blues sources. The most obvious, is Howlin' Wolf's 'Killing Floor'. Wolf sued the band and settled. Moistworks East Coburg Bureau Chief Al MacInnes writes:

Jimi Hendrix's Killing Floor is one of the finest things in the world. There's this great live version, but I don't know which concert. I did find this one though on iTunes, recorded live at BBC's Radio 1 just after he'd arrived in London and the Experience had got together. I love the way way his guitar's just going off nuts by itself, and contrast that with the self-consciousness of his singing (like after the first 'I should have followed, yeah', his 'oh', after he must have thought that was the 'yeah' of a shandy-boy) happening exactly at the same time. That's great isn't it, the fact that your brain can be split like that.

The "Squeeze my lemon, til the juice runs down my leg" lyric is actually taken from Robert Johnson's 'Travelling Riverside Blues'. God forbid I should ever be put in this position, but if it came down to it, I'd prefer to squeeze Robert's johnson that Plants lemon.