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ThreeSticks

What were the hardest Led Zeppelin songs to compose

30 posts in this topic

There are a number of Led Zeppelin songs that are enormously complex in their arrangements. Tracks like "Ten Year's Gone," "Achilles Last Stand," "The Song Remains The Same," and "No Quarter" come to mind. Contrary to popular belief, I have heard several times that "Stairway" was actually written quite quickly.

 

Over the years in various interviews, have the members of LZ ever referred to certain songs in the catalog that were very difficult to write and arrange?

 

On a semi-related note, what songs were the most difficult to record? I know of one group who says that there is at least one song per album that just doesn't seem to want to get recorded....that the group has to do a million and one takes to get the song done, while another song might get finished with one take. I wonder if there some LZ songs that the band just had to work on again and again and again. "No Quarter" has always struck me as being one of those tunes, but I could be wrong.

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I can't remember where I read it - possibly here - or from a link originating here, that Dancing Days took a great effort and there were celebrations when they finally put it to bed (got the track down and were happy with it).

One of the much more knowledgable here will be able to provide details.

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Black Dog was another tough track to nail. It sounds pretty simple, however the problem is in the off-timing and is a real bear for the three players to stay in sync.

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Yeah, Black Dog has all sorts of weird time signatures. According to the Uncle Joe's Record Guide on Hard Rock Bands, the entire band danced about during the playback of the basic tracks of Dancing Days. Also, the book claims that during the final mixing sessions for "Houses Of the Holy," "Dancing Days" replaced the song "Houses Of The Holy" in the album's final sequencing. So "Houses" actually darn near made the Houses album.

 

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Celebration Day. It has so much going on within that song, all the different guitar parts, and the bass line. Maybe that's why they played such a simpler version live. Then again when someone writes a song they don't have too much trouble, or they wouldn't / couldn't have written it. 

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Since I've Been Loving You has always been known to have been a hassle for Jimmy to be satisfied with the solo.. And to be convinced Bonzo's squeaking pedal wasn't too distracting from the song...

Bonzo had some trouble with the timing on Stairway To Heaven, directly before the solo.. Clearly heard on the fantastic rough mixes of the song, that were somehow dismissed while releasing some silly Sunset Sound Mix..

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SIBLY, yes, surely Jimmy has wanted to get a great solo. But where was this written, etc.,?? A lot of Zep songs, little is 

known about both the difficulty of composing and then recording. 

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I would've though In My Time of Dying & Achilles Last Stand would have been as tough as anything they ever composed.

How Many More Times is a long piece with many different parts too, although I suspect a lot of that was written during their first gigs together & came together quite naturally,

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I always heard it was Four Sticks. Odd time signatures and such.

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Four Sticks, the count in to start was very tricky. Another words Jimmy could just start the riff, but 

Bonzo's start was not on the first beat, One way I heard he could do it was 1234123, but there are many ways actually. Many Zep songs , in fact even Rock 'n 'Roll, Page's proper entrance to

Bonzo's entry is much trickier than anything in Four Sticks. Page himself live sometimes screwed

up the entry, unless he deliberately did that. May well have been tricky studiowise.

Edited by Mithril46
Double entry

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Even though Pagey is known for doing solos that are totally improvised, I have a strong suspicion that the solo for the studio version of "in My Time Of Dying" was composed and rehearsed. The reason is that the studio version is extremely well organized and melodic, whereas the live versions, although exciting, were just all over the place with Jimmy moving his slide all over the fret board without a care of where his slide landed.

Edited by ThreeSticks

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Totally true. Never said, but the solo for the Rover sounds entirely composed. Jimmy is totally following the chord changes.

Same for the solo in Hot Dog( studio, of course). Live Jimmy never really got the changes right; most country solos  you

can't approach like blues solos, you really must change some notes with each chord change. Again, there is not much

info on how exactly these songs were composed or recorded.

ALS was certainly tricky for the rhythm section, and Jimmy's endless overdubs, recording absolutely. Composing sounds

difficult, but again not much info, but prove me wrong. Despite the song's many parts, guitarwise the song is not actually

that technically difficult(live) but studio or live Bonzo may have been challenged, heavy stamina  and complex parts.

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Mithril46 said:

Totally true. Never said, but the solo for the Rover sounds entirely composed. Jimmy is totally following the chord changes.

Same for the solo in Hot Dog( studio, of course). Live Jimmy never really got the changes right; most country solos  you

can't approach like blues solos, you really must change some notes with each chord change. Again, there is not much

info on how exactly these songs were composed or recorded.

ALS was certainly tricky for the rhythm section, and Jimmy's endless overdubs, recording absolutely. Composing sounds

difficult, but again not much info, but prove me wrong. Despite the song's many parts, guitarwise the song is not actually

that technically difficult(live) but studio or live Bonzo may have been challenged, heavy stamina  and complex parts.

 

 

 

Yes. Jimmy mentioned IMTOD was tricky in the sense that it's a long song so once they had the structure down it's still a very long take,  i mean if you get 3 minutes in and someone makes a mistake then you have to start over. Or as long as Bonhams' track is fine then you could keep that and overdub or punch in the corrections. But if there's lots of bleed then the mistake still might be heard. I would assume the same ALS and others.

I don't find ALS complicated in terms of the number of guitars and parts, I think it's pretty straightforward and quite clean in terms of composition, as in you can hear each part clearly and it's well spaced in the stereo spectrum. There's a lot of open space as far as depth/height/left/right goes. In most verses it drops to only 1 rhythm guitar, then a 2nd for enhancements, but it's not up front and in your face.

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There are also parts of the IMTOD solo that sound punched in. And anyone that criticizes guitar players for punching in solos is a fool. A studio album lasts forever, and most fans don't give a crap how it was made. They care how it sounds.

Edited by ThreeSticks

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Right, back then(70's) the whole drum track pretty much had to be perfect. Even today it can be tricky to computerwise

tamper with live drums, unless the drummer is a total metronome. In that case , no drummer is needed, use a drum

machine. Certain parts and fills can certainly be fixed, still, much harder than other instruments. IMTOD really wasn't

bad at all live in 75', listen to 2/12 , 2/13, Earl's Court, etc...In fact IMO some of the live solo's were amazing. But just like 

many 77' TSRTS solos and IMTOD solos, some were boring and not too cohesive.

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This is hard to say because the songwriting credits often don't tell the tale. If you didn't know the descending riff in Kashmir was by Jones, you could think that was hard/brilliant composing by Page. Either way it's brilliant but a lot easier for the credited songwriters when an uncredited songwriter comes up with a key part.

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I felt that most of Jimmy's live solos during IMTOD were interesting to great, but more in an avant garde sense. They were truly improvised. Both solos on the album just make melodic sense from beginning to end. I don't know, it's hard to explain. The album solos were clearly punched in at certain parts.

 

I bet Ten Year's Gone was hell to compose. I know Jimmy worked on it for quite some time. So many guitar tracks, and the rhythm guitar track underneath the solo seems to feature some jazzy like chords.

Edited by ThreeSticks

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The Rain Song had to be quite a monster to compose. It's a lot to remember even when you've got the music sheet in front of you. Quite the masterpiece. Also, while The Song Remains the Same seems easy enough once you've got the basics, the amount of ground Jimmy covers is remarkable. It's easy to get lost because it all has this natural, flowing drive to it, and it's just a motherload of guitar work w/ three layers - getting it down on the record could not have been easy.  Originally it was just going to be an instrumental, a rolling fanfare that would lead into the Rain Song, but Robert came up with a great vocal line and the perfect lyrics.

Together TSRTS and Rain song go 13:09, and we know Page brought those into the sessions and presented them to the others. They are companion pieces that open the album and were played together as one longer piece up through 1973. Altogether a High high hella achievement of composition by Page.

Achilles is another masterwork which took a couple of years for Page to fully develop. It originates as that spooky minor thing he picks out during the "San Francisco"/"Woodstock" section of Dazed and Confused. He pulled that progression out of Dazed after the '75 tour and went from there, adding the rest brick by brick. He laid down all of the guitar overdubs in one marathon session. Page's playing is inspired, and I think he really outdid himself (and the rock world) on Achilles -- you can almost feel the energy draining out of him and into the wax. There is nothing easy about any of it - I'd give it a 10 on the difficult composition scale.

 

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As far as recording songs, this is usually more difficult than writing the songs.

A band does not just walk into a studio, set up, hit record and play the song through once or twice. A band may play from five up to forty takes of a song. The usual run down is to record the drums, and maybe bass at the same time, while the guitar and vocals just play as a place keeper so everybody knows where they are in the song. Sometimes the guitars are kept, sometimes not.

I have a bootleg of the studio recordings of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. There are at least 15 takes. I think about take 12 was used for the final version. Bonham's playing was pretty appalling on some of the takes, all over the place, speeding up and slowing down. Maybe he was having a bad day but it took him 10 run through's to settle into the song. And after all that playing, Page would then do his own overdubs. So you can imagine the amount of playing Page did on each recording.

Some bands like to record mostly live, others like to do bit by bit. I would think Zeppelin liked to get the whole song down as complete as possible. From these multiple takes, recorded on physical tape, the best parts are literally cut out of the tape then stuck/spliced together using adhesive tape to form a final continuous take. This final continuous take could have anywhere from three to twenty different pieces of tape stuck together (the tighter the band/drummer, the less pieces of tape.) This would then be duplicated onto a new reel of tape, and all the guitars, vocals etc would be overdubbed onto. Of course, this was the 1970's when a good performance was necessary. Modern recordings on computer are completely different, where a good performance is an afterthought: you could record a spicy dinner violently leaving your body and make it sound good.

It is almost unheard of for a band to record the entire song with all instruments at the same time, in one take without mistakes, and keep all those parts for the final mix. Then again, some days everyone is just on, and it happens very quickly.

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Posted (edited)

Didn't Kashmir take them 3 odd years. No comparison IMO Kashmir must of been the toughest nut to crack.

Their greatest opus too no doubt.

I'd put Achilles up there but the genius got it all done in one night didn't he.

Edited by TheStairwayRemainsTheSame

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Kashmir, absolutely. I wouldn't say much of the song is technically hard, however Zep did kind of invent this rock

"substyle". JPJ was familiar with mid-eastern music, even playing wise, whereas the others could play something but

were more fans of that style. So all around(composing and recording) this song was likely a monster project.

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2 hours ago, Mithril46 said:

Kashmir, absolutely. I wouldn't say much of the song is technically hard, however Zep did kind of invent this rock

"substyle". JPJ was familiar with mid-eastern music, even playing wise, whereas the others could play something but

were more fans of that style. So all around(composing and recording) this song was likely a monster project.

Listen to Fly on a Windshield by Genesis, which was recorded before Kashmir, Led Zeppelin didn't invent this kind of rock.

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1 minute ago, Mook said:

Listen to Fly on a Windshield by Genesis, which was recorded before Kashmir, Led Zeppelin didn't invent this kind of rock.

You're a dippy man if you'd describe Kashmir as a "kind of rock" it transcends genres like no other song. It is above classification.

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1 minute ago, TheStairwayRemainsTheSame said:

You're a dippy man if you'd describe Kashmir as a "kind of rock" it transcends genres like no other song. It is above classification.

I agree with that although what I meant was 'Middle Eastern-influenced' rock music, if there is such a thing.

Having checked the timings, it appears that Genesis were at Headley Grange around the same time as Led Zeppelin in 1974 so it's quite possible that one song influenced the other, there are definite similarities.

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2 hours ago, TheStairwayRemainsTheSame said:

You're a dippy man if you'd describe Kashmir as a "kind of rock" it transcends genres like no other song. It is above classification.

"transcends genres like no other song. It is above classification"  

Ironically ''dippy'' comment....

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