Why Jimmy Page Knew He Had to Re-Record ‘When the Levee Breaks’
Jimmy Page says he quickly realized Led Zeppelin had to abandon an early pass on “When the Levee Breaks.”
They'd tracked a version in a studio in London while working on what became their fourth album, before moving on to Headley Grange about 50 miles outside the city.
“I think most bands would have gone, ‘Hey, well that’s really cool, we’ll put it on the next album.’” Page told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show. “But when we got to Headley Grange, which was a few good months after that, and I heard the drum sound in the hallway, that iconic drum sound … the minute I heard that sound on these reflective surfaces, I said, ‘We’re gonna revisit that number.’”
As work commenced on the first of two versions to be recorded in the 18th century building, Page said he was inspired to find a “whole different approach” to the production. “I got some ideas about how to record the harmonica with backwards echo, and the whole thing starts to become this whole sort of sonic journey,” Page said. “But the inspiration for me was hearing the drums in the hall, and I go, ‘I know what we’re doing with this.’”
The third version of “When the Levee Breaks” was the one that appeared on Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, complete with the drum sound that remains a stand-out element. The LP went on to become Led Zeppelin’s best-selling release, with nearly 40 million copies sold worldwide.
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