Home posts The Led Zeppelin song Jimmy Page used to defy studio expectations
Why are Led Zeppelin considered such rock icons? Is it because they are a supergroup made up of some of the greatest musical minds ever to walk the earth? Sure, that might have something to do with it, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. There are a lot of great musicians out there, but there is only one Led Zeppelin, so what was their secret?
The truth is, Led Zeppelin could have enjoyed a decent career if they continued to parade around with the slowed-down twisted blues approach that they used on their first album, but that just wasn’t their style. That sound stayed with them, but the band members loved to travel to hear music from different cultures and draw influence from it. Equally, they liked to experiment in the studio, unafraid to embrace technological advances to get the best out of songs.
This is best seen on ‘You Shook Me’, which Jimmy Page used to defy expectations in the studio and show what kind of crazy and exciting sounds could be made if people were willing to throw caution into the wind. He was keen to use the “backwards echo” technique, something he had already done on The Yardbirds track ‘Ten Little Indians’, but the engineer Glyn Johns was hesitant to entertain the idea.
“I told the engineer, Glyn Johns, that I wanted to use backwards echo on the end,” said Jimmy, recalling that day in the studio. “He said, ‘Jimmy, it can’t be done.’ I said, ‘Yes, it can. I’ve already done it.’ Then he began arguing, so I said, ‘Look, I’m the producer. I’m going to tell you what to do and just do it.’ So he grudgingly did everything I told him to, and when we were finished, he started refusing to push the fader up so I could hear the result. Finally, I had to scream, ‘Push the bloody fader up!’ And lo and behold, the effect worked perfectly.”
The effect kicks in towards the end of the track and elevates the song to another level. Hearing Page’s guitar gradually fades in over Robert Plant’s screaming vocals isn’t something that had been done before and certainly wasn’t something a mainstream audience had heard. This willingness to push the bounds of creativity and deliver something totally new made Led Zeppelin culturally relevant.
This wasn’t the only instance of innovation that the band showed throughout their time together. They were always keen to take listeners on a journey rather than just playing music. For example, with the song ‘Whole Lotta Love’, even though it would work fine as a stand-alone rock song, the elongated pre-solo that sounds like a rock-infused tornado bouncing around the listener’s eardrums creates a unique style that nobody else can replicate.
These decisions made Led Zeppelin the rock icons they were and meant that they played to sold-out crowds throughout their career and continuously broke records. It is also why they are still their own beast today, decades later, untouchable.