The Story of Led Zeppelin, ‘Immigrant Song’


Artwork for Led Zeppelin III

“Led Zeppelin III” artwork – Story by Charles Ken, album cover via Atlantic Catalog Group

Let’s delve into the story behind the enduring and “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is a classic rock anthem that showcases the band’s signature sound. From the band’s 1970 album, “Led Zeppelin III,” the track has surpassed its original context and now serves as a powerful and evocative anthem for the enduring struggles of mythical conflict. The song’s driving riff and powerful lyrics draw inspiration from Norse mythology, with references to Valhalla and war-making. Today, the song has been covered by numerous artists over the years. It remains a beloved track among fans of the band and rock music in general.

So, what’s the story of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song?” Let’s start at the very beginning and look at the origins of heavy metal. Many critics and writers tend to credit Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album, released in February 1970, as the moment when rock music fully embraced distorted guitar riffs and dark imagery. Nevertheless, there are numerous others who could also stake a claim to the genre’s creation.

Heavy Metal’s Beginnings

Led Zeppelin often express their dissatisfaction with being labeled as heavy metal, and it’s understandable why. The band’s early music was heavily influenced by blues. Plus, many of their most acclaimed songs are more closely related to folk, progressive rock and funk. So, why would they be heavy metal? Well, they did play rock music at incredibly high volumes, with instrumentalists who favored powerful styles and massive riffs. So, in a way, it’s accurate to give Led Zeppelin some credit for the heavy metal movement, but they were more than just a metal band. Either way, they happened to be in the perfect position when heavy metal truly soared in popularity.

Let’s go back to 1970. This was a huge year for hard rock and the blossoming heavy metal movement, thanks to iconic albums like “Black Sabbath,” “Live at Leeds,” “Deep Purple in Rock” and “Led Zeppelin III.” For the latter, Led Zeppelin retreated to the peaceful Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales to write new music. Surrounded by nature, the band found inspiration and embraced a more prominent acoustic sound. They then headed to Headley Grange in Hampshire to record their new tracks. Even with that initial acoustic inspiration, this recording session also produced the extremely heavy “Immigrant Song.”

The Inspiration for Led Zeppelin, ‘Immigrant Song’

Led Zeppelin performed in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the Laugardalshöll sports hall before recording the LP. The snowy landscapes and massively positive response from the crowd inspired Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to write a totally novel song. Plant, an avid enthusiast of Norse mythology, discovered striking similarities between the band’s successful ventures into foreign territories and the legendary Viking expeditions during the Middle Ages. So, the lyrics of this new gem were adorned with Nordic references by Plant, incorporating elements such as the mighty “hammer of the gods” and the esteemed hall of the deceased, Valhalla.

Rhythmically, Led Zeppelin wanted to switch it up to fit this heavy song. So, John Bonham created the galloping drum pattern that propels the song and helped cement Bonham’s status as a legendary drummer. His right foot, known for its ferocious bass drum stomp, is particularly noteworthy on “Immigrant Song.”

Page discovered the ideal complement by playing octaves on F# to produce the colossal riff that permeates the tune. John Paul Jones stays with Page during the verses but delivers frantic ascending runs during the chorus that remain prominent in the mix. Jones’ bass is arguably the most dynamic element of the song, which also features Plant’s signature howl, some of Bonham’s finest drumming and a Page riff that went down in history.

Led Zeppelin’s First ‘Single’

During their career, Led Zeppelin was hesitant to release singles. However, the undeniable appeal of “Immigrant Song” forced them to reconsider. Their record label, Atlantic, constantly pressured them to release singles, but most of the time, the band was able to resist these demands. Wanting to take advantage of their unexpected success as a singles band, Zeppelin reluctantly released “Immigrant Song.” Despite its unmatched heaviness, the song managed to break into the top 20 in America. So, yes, it was massively popular, even with the mainstream.

Led Zeppelin always stayed true to their heavy music roots, even though they were hesitant to be labeled as “heavy metal.” One of their most iconic heavy metal songs is “Immigrant Song,” which solidifies their place in the genre, even if they don’t actively seek recognition for it.

The Beatles were another huge part of rock in the genre’s early days. Find the story of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” here.

Charles Ken
Posted by Charles Ken | Features, Interviews, Metal, Music, Rock

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