Jeff Lybarger's Song OF The Day

Song Of The Day LXXIII

During their reign as rocks premier band, Led Zeppelin was in the enviable position of being untouchable. No other band at the time could stand with them, no other band could sell as many concert tickets as they did, nor as quickly as they did. When a new album was announced it would instantly sell over one million copies on advanced orders alone. Think about that; before even hearing a single note of music, over one million copies would be spoken for. Utterly amazing.

Yet Zeppelin was also haunted during this time. The dark shadow that followed them from the very first album was the knowledge that the group were known to borrow, quite liberally, from a multitude of musical influences, and yet, call it their own. Be it Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, You Shook Me, Whole Lotta Love, Black Mountain Side, When The Levee Breaks, Dazed & Confused, or even the intro to Stairway To Heaven, there was a fairly consistent pattern within the group, mainly from Robert Plant, but to a lesser degree Jimmy Page as well, taking the ideas of other artists and claiming it as an original idea.

The funny thing, or perhaps, ironic thing, is the fact that when Zeppelin did use another musicians lyric or music, they did, in their own way, place their own stamp on it, and a lot of times theirs was better than the original. Today we take a look back at one such moment, from the ever popular Led Zeppelin II album, track three, clocking in at 6:20, The Lemon Song.

Where does one begin when listing the influences on this song? I guess you would start with Howlin’ Wolf, whose song Killing Floor was the original seed for this Zeppelin track. There are also shades of Lightning Slim and Albert King as well as the now famous tip of the hat to blues legend Robert Johnson. And while this track was never remotely close to being an original idea, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Just listen to the tone of Jimmy’s growling Les Paul during the intro; it’s at once dirty and supercharged, haunting yet uplifting, seductive and sexy, and magnetic as it pulls you, the listener, in for an up close assault.

John Bonham enters with a simple beat, sort of lazy and laid back, and then Plant enters the arena:

 I should have quit you baby
 A long time ago 
 Oooh oh ah yeah yeaaahhh
 Long time ago…
 I wouldn’t be here, my children…
 Down on this killin’ floor
 I should have listened baby
 To my second mind
 Oh! I should have listened baby
 To my second mind
 Every time I go away and leave you darling
 You send me the blues way down the line…

It’s right here, at the 1:28 mark, that everything changes. Bonham, Jones and Page just explode into a roaring train of blues barreling down a distant Delta-drenched railway. Jimmy’s lead guitar work is really beautiful and fluid. Recording with a Gibson Les Paul beginning with this album, he shows off all the abilities of the guitar in the hands of a master.

Then, just as quickly, they settle back into the lazy groove that began things, with Plant moaning and pleading to his girl. It never ceases to amaze me how easily Plant garbles his way through this next section. Perhaps garble is too harsh of an explanation for what Plant does here; but his at times fast use of the word baby almost defies logic; b-ba-baby, and yet, as quickly as this flies by, we understand him perfectly and he sings it with soul! Quite the accomplishment.

 Now take it down a bit…
People tell me baby, can’t be satisfied
Try to worry me b-ba-baby bit I’d never end up
Guilt-chewing myself
People worry baby, I can’t keep you satisfied
Uh let me tell you baby, ah you ain’t nothing’ but a
Two-bit, no good jive…

The story of Led Zeppelin was the simple fact that they had four, equally talented musicians in the group. Page’s legacy in the annals of rock history has been secured for his writing, his riffs, his creative ideas and production techniques as well as his mysterious stage presence. Plant has been called by just about everybody the ultimate rock vocalist, as well as one of the most sexual lead singers ever. John Bonham has been rightly placed among the elite of drummers for his dynamic ability and his keen sense of timing. Sadly, the most talented member of this powerful foursome is often the most overlooked; John Paul Jones. The many talents of Jonesy include; bass, keyboard/piano, mandolin, acoustic guitar, songwriter, producer, arranger, session musician, programmer, vocalist and one mean chess player!

During this quiet section of the Lemon Song it is Jonesy that shines. Page adds some sonic textures and blues licks here and there, but the flowing bass work of John Paul keeps the train on the tracks. I can just picture Jonesy and Bonham during the recording of this track during this section; Bonham keeping the beat with a softer touch and Jonesy probably having a conversation with him while doing all this! That scene from The Song Remains The Same where you see the rhythm section of Led Zeppelin acting as if they are waiting at the corner for the bus while holding down the bottom end as Page/Plant do their thing always hits me right in the chest! They were so good at what they did that they could do these things on auto pilot. Just complete and total second nature. Yet, while doing this they are also laying down one groovy piece of music!

 I went to sleep last night
I work as hard as I can
I bring home my money
You take my money give it to another man
 I should have quit you baby
Oh such a long time ago-oh
I wouldn’t be here with all my troubles
Down on this killin’ floor
 Squeeze me babe, till the juice runs down my leg
Ooh squeeze; squeeze me baby, until the juice runs down my leg
The way you squeeze my lemon ah
I’m gonna fall right of bed, bed, bed, bed yeah

Jimmy digs into some very soulful lead playing here while Jonesy and Bonzo pace the action with their deft touch. This leads into a blues trademark; the call and response section. Robert yells out Hey! And Jimmy answers with a lick on the guitar that mimics Robert. This is right out of the classic blues bible and early on in Zeppelin, quite a staple of their repertoire.

At 5:36 the rumbling train picks up speed again and the race is on. A fast and furious finish which concludes with Plant yelling out, down on this killin’ floor, floor, floor… A clever studio touch of echo adds to the dramatic conclusion.

This is a song that Zeppelin had from the beginning days of the band. The initial version was the popularly known Howlin’ Wolf track, Killing Floor, though it would eventually evolve into The Lemon Song. And what of the lemon? This is taken from the Robert Johnson song Travelin’ Riverside Blues. (Hmmm…anybody notice a pattern here?) In Robert (’s) (Johnson) song, the lyrics are as such:

 Now you can squeeze my lemon till the juice run down my…
(spoken) till the juice runs down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talking about

Killing Floor was also performed by the legendary Jimi Hendrix, though his version was a much faster take. To say that Zeppelin borrowed from the blues masters would be an understatement. To say that they took these seeds and created their own magic with them would be a gross understatement as well. Zeppelin may have begged, borrowed and stole, but by God, they did so with flair and panache. One could also say they were simply turning American audiences on to the origins of rock music, and that would be accurate too.

The infamous lemon would also become somewhat of a staple in Plant’s career. Though Zeppelin stopped performing the song sometime in late 1969, the squeeze my lemon lyric would find its way into many live versions of Whole Lotta Love for years to come, as well as other bits and pieces.

Proving that he had a wonderful sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, Plant was also seen in the video for In The Mood from his 1983 release, The Principle Of Moments, holding a lemon with a sly, mischievous smile on his face as the camera panned by.

During their career, and even long after the demise of Led Zeppelin, the group took a lot of heat from fellow musicians about their penchant for calling another’s ideas their own. While some would undoubtedly frown upon anyone for doing this, I personally never had a problem with it. I look at it this way; if Zeppelin had never borrowed, look at all the great music we would have missed. As well as the songs mentioned above there are quite a few others I didn’t mention. The Zeppelin catalog would be rather lacking if we took away all these songs that originated elsewhere. Combine that with the fact that they did have plenty of great original music to offer and I for one am quick to forgive.

If you consider yourself a blues aficionado then you are already familiar with the legends and masters of that genre of musical style. If, however, your musical knowledge only extends back to 1968, then allowing Led Zeppelin to be your guide through a blues history lesson is not a bad place to start at all.

Squeeze me babe…


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