Led Zeppelin was my first long term musical love. I had every album by the time I was 9 years old and I distinctly remember listening to Physical Graffiti (my first record) and Led Zeppelin I non-stop on a family car trip from Chicago to and through the Colorado Rockies when I was 8. I know these records by heart!
A lot of music I loved in my childhood loses it’s magic a bit now for me as a recording engineer because I can see the man behind the curtain- but not Led Zeppelin- my appreciation only grows deeper.
The main acoustic guitar which carries the track has a very unique space. It’s completely dry in the left channel and completely wet in the right. What is cool here is the sound of the reverb is a natural reverbant space and not a machine. Certain notes ring out with with an almost bell-like quality while the rest of it is nestled in a luscious reverb bed. The reason I say this space is so unique is because when you listen it sounds like the whole thing has reverb, buy information pills but in truth it’s dry on the left. I love the pairing of this guitar with this space. And of course Jimmy Page’s performance is top notch.
The vocal comes in wet down the middle. Obviously there are two reverbs in use (or more likely echo chambers). One thing that is kind of cool about this vocal is that it sounds like it was recorded on a handheld dynamic mic (rather than the usual large cardioids used in a studio setting). I can’t verify this but it makes sense to me because of how the vocal performance evolves through the track as only someone could who was holding the mic while dancing around. Also the way the p-pops later in this track I’m pretty certain it was a handheld.
I love the sustained bass that comes in partway through here, treatment it adds authority to the track without being like HERE IS THE BASS PART- instead subtly underlining the chords as whole notes. A very natural decay on the bass lets you hear the interplay of the bass note with the guitar frequencies. Quite tasty!
The loud part with the drums brings in our second acoustic guitar only on the right channel, with our original acoustic channel and reverb setting playing basically the same part. A cool thing I noticed on the drums is that there is a floor tom overdub on the left side. It really makes the thing sound intense like the floor tom was played with mallets instead of sticks- kind of like a timpani.
I love how it falls back to the quiet part with the bass still sustaining those notes. The 2nd acoustic on the right does a cool repeating accent part toward the end of this verse- sounds like it’s going through a long delay but really it’s just how he’s playing the part. Right after this- at 1:41 to be precise- there is a low volume but screamed vocal part which is actually like a pre-background vocal to the part at 1:52. I remember being interested in this as a kid thinking that maybe my cassette tape was screwing up and that he screamed so hard on that later part that it got mushed onto the earlier part of the tape! It’s interesting because the part isn’t in time or anything.
For the little quiet section that comes after this loud part there is a super reverbed slide guitar part that kind of escalates gradually as it pans from right to left. He must have been really smoothly working that volume pot because you don’t even really hear him jump back to the low part of the neck- it just sounds like it’s forever ascending!
Now in this Bridge or (whatever you want to call it) we finally have a rhythm electric guitar in the left channel replace our original acoustic part. It comes across so heavy and raw- but if you listen to ONLY it you realize by modern standards it’s almost wimpy sounding. Like if you were a heavy metal guitar player and you said to the engineer “dial me into to the heaviest rawest sound you can” and the engineer gave you this you’d be like “what the hell?” — really there is a lesson to learn here, the guitar isn’t even fully distorted, it sounds like it’s off the amp itself and not coming out of a speaker which gives it a bit of rawness— but laid into the whole mix it’s heavy as hell because of everything else that’s going on. The guitar itself is wavering in volume not even playing fully each note, but the arrangement plants the seed of rock in your ear so firmly you have no choice but to shake your body and pump your fist!
As it drops out low you’ve got these tasty raw acoustic licks in your right ear as the vocal breaks down and then builds back up before the whole rest of the band again, bam!
Next quiet part gives us some electric noodling which gives the song a feel to me like it’s advancing. When it builds up and breaks down throughout, but the hi-hat pulses throughout here letting you know that we’re not done with the rock…
In these heavy parts on the drums there are some great double bass kicks, wow what a rock band! Heading into the last minute and a half we get some sustained vocal “aaah” which pulls the chord in in a cool way. Also of note on this last heavy part we get (which for me for whatever reason is one of the most memorable parts of the song) we get an electric guitar accent on the 4 of each bar which sounds like his arm falls off the neck each time. So raw! This is right down the middle and quite low in the mix.
In the last guitar outtro I noticed there is a VERY low volume electric guitar sliding around which goes silent and it all builds to the very final note of the song which is like an ominous chime.
Pure love, so much passion in this track! Some of my take-aways are this- not every note needs to be fully heard, that natural decay leaves a very tasty flavor. Also heavy doesn’t necessarily mean distorted. And vocals don’t need to be fully compressed full range in your face- there is so much impact with this. Also, there is no substitute for real musicianship and vision. I think with Jimmy Page’s extensive experience as a session guitar player he brought a lot production-wise which was very inventive, but damn he is one hell of a guitar player and really knows how to compose parts that expand into a great vision for the entire song.
That’s all for tonight, keep listening!