How John Paul Jones sparked Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tricky’ ‘Black Dog’

“It was tough to play,” Jimmy Page said of “Black Dog,” foreshadowing the frustration of so many classic rock bar bands.

The song opens Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth LP with a hard-rock boost, built around a gnarly and deceptively complex riff written by bassist John Paul Jones. It remains one of the band’s iconic cups, a true showcase for every member, but it took a Herculean effort to piece this puzzle together.

“I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple, ”Jones later reminded journalist and filmmaker Cameron Crowe. “I wanted him to turn in on himself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. But the shifting time signatures were hard to pin down – especially, as Page told SiriusXM in 2014, “the track where it consists of a sort of triplet in one part and overlaps.” Drummer John Bonham had the hardest job figuring out how to create a solid groove in the midst of such musical trickery. “We struggled with the turnaround,” Jones added, “until Bonham understood that you only do four times like there’s no turnaround. That was the secret.

Robert Plant still had to make his way through the maze. And one came by Page, who devised a call-and-response approach inspired by the a cappella / full-band dynamic of Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 single “Oh Well (Pt. 1)”. The singer kept the simple things, screaming vintage-style blues lines to make a lover ‘sweat’, ‘groove’, ‘burn’ and ‘sting’. “Really, if you ask me what my part was,” Page told SiriusXM, “it was actually taking it from a riff and making it into a piece of music – more constructed, more like a piece of music. work so we can all sort of play it.

And as the group’s producer, working alongside engineer Andy Johns, he was also instrumental in shaping the track’s distinctive sound – from the opening tonal whirlwind of the helicopter propeller to a sound. of a crisp guitar which, according to the years 2018 Led Zeppelin All Songs: The Story Behind Each Song, nodded at Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Cinnamon Girl”.

To give his solo a left-field flavor, Page ran his instrument through a Leslie speaker – the end result has a silvery sparkle that shoots out of the backdrop, like a UFO plunging into a clear blue sky.

Much of the guitar work on “Black Dog” is visibly sloppy – even for Page, a player who has always prioritized feel and emotion over rhythmic perfection and pitch. A lot of his solo bends are a bit high-pitched or flat, and he lands manner before the beat several times during the main riff (eg, around 2:43), giving this section an odd tension.

The Led Zeppelin IV Sessions lasted from December 1970 to February 1971, largely at the historic Headley Grange country house in Hampshire, England – and that idyllic, laid-back setting even crept into the track list: notably, ” Black Dog ”was named after a stray dog ​​who kept entering and leaving the studio.

Despite being such an oddly arranged track, “Black Dog” was released as an American single, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. And by then, it was already a staple of the season. set-list, having made his live debut (alongside “Rock and Roll”, “Going to California” and “Stairway to Heaven”) on March 5, 1971 – eight months before the album’s release. in the mix for most of the band’s run, and a deliciously nasty take marked their 2007 reunion at the O2 Arena in London.

Each of these performances was fascinating, but Led Zeppelin never really mastered “Black Dog” – each version was a roller coaster ride, and the twists weren’t always smooth. But it’s hard to imagine this enthralling melody without this sense of musical free fall.

Led Zeppelin albums ranked

Countdown of every canonical Led Zeppelin album, from worst (relatively speaking, of course) to best.

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