Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hammer of the Gods

“…it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different”.
                                                                    ~ Robert Plant,  in Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, p 55

Mage Music 14 

Immigrant Song is pretty interesting. Musically, it’s not one of my personal favorites, although it is compelling – it’s one of those “almost” songs for me, not quite carrying the Magick it seems to promise - and I have to wonder about that.  I find the studio version to be flat, leaving me unsatisfied, although the live versions – particularly the 1971 Paris Theatre performance that appears on BBC Sessions or the 1972 LA Forum performance that appears on How The West Was Won - are much more compelling.

Magick or no, the constant pounding pulse that drives this song very well supports the lyrics. You can’t help but feel the energy and want to shove a horned helmet on your head, pick up a hammer and go off with your friends for some good old raping and pillaging. When prefaced by the drone the anticipation builds to almost intolerable levels until the opening onslaught of guitar, drums and bass - and then we’re hit with Robert Plant’s cosmic war cry. We grab our weapons and our torches and off we go. Take no prisoners!

Subtle humor

Some sources claim that Immigrant Song was intended to be a bit humorous. I can sort of see the tongue in cheek aspect of it – after all, the soft acoustical side of Led Zeppelin is introduced in this album and yet the first song is about war and conquest and is anything but soft. Hindsight speculation is risky, but if this was intentional humor it seems that it might also be a joke at the band’s own expense, perhaps even a parody of their musical conquest of the US and their legendary on-the-road excesses.

Subtle humor, indeed, that offers a mighty war anthem album-opener that begs comparison of the mighty Led Zeppelin to the thunderbolt-throwing, mead drinking gods of old – and that then moves on to songs that, in the tradition of the bards of old, tell us stories - tales that were conceived at the primitive 18th century cottage, Bron-Yr-Aur. In an October 1977 interview in Trouser Press Magazine by Dave Schulps, Jimmy Page commented, "It was the tranquility of the place that set the tone of the album." This, about an album that opens with a paean to war, conquest and death.

Led Zeppelin III is a forging into new territory for the band. Perhaps what was being captured with Immigrant Song was the violence of breaking with the past and pushing into an unfamiliar future, with the song’s title an outright reference to a people moving into in new places. It takes strength of will, belief in self and considerable skill to conquer the unknown. We know that Jimmy Page has never had any fear of doing what it takes to push the envelope.  It could be that the Magick really is there after all, just delivered with an unaccustomed blunt force that serves all the better to bring out the contrast with all that follows.  A hammer blow of the gods, if you will, saying PAY ATTENTION.

Imitation (and cover), the sincerest form of flattery

In spite of, or maybe more because of the dynamic, aggressive tone of Immigrant Song, it seems to be highly desirable for use elsewhere, either in the original or covered by other musicians. We hope that Led Zeppelin receives plenty of royalties for this use.

Notable appearances of Immigrant Song (I’m sure there are many more examples):

  • 1973 Opening credits of the martial arts film, Young Tiger, starring Fei Meng and a young Jackie Chan
  • Professional wrestler Bruiser Brody (1946-1988), as entrance music to the ring
  • 1993 Jack Black filmed himself in front of a screaming audience begging Led Zeppelin for the use of Immigrant Song in his movie, School of Rock.
  • 1993 Denis Leary, MTV Unplugged special 
  • 1999 documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre, One Day in September
  • 1999 Vanilla Ice, the basis for "Power", a rap metal song
  • 2003 That ‘70s Show Season 5, Episode 24
  • Nirvana With The Lights Out box set (CD + DVD)
  • 2006-07 Trailers for the BBC1 drama series Life on Mars
  • 2007 Minnesota Vikings, during team introductions and before kickoffs. 
  • 2007 Shrek the Third: A schizophrenic Snow White begins her attack on the city gates with Robert Plant’s famous opening cry
  • 2010 Christmas episode of Doctor Who Confidential
  • 2011 Karen O, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • 2011 Loud Music by Michelle Branch (a reference to “Zeppelin” and a very tame version of Robert Plant’s opening cry)
  • Late Night With Conan O'Brien, along with Kashmir
  • Winnipeg Jets opening song before play
  • Viking Kittens (see link below for the horrible video)
  • During credits for the French TV show 50 Minutes Inside.

Trivia: On the first vinyl pressing of the album 'Led Zeppelin III' in 1970, Jimmy Page paid homage to Alastair Crowley by placing a quote in the dead wax (where the groove runs out in the middle of the disc).  On side A you can read, "Do What Thou Wilt..." and on side B, "So Mote Be It"

Further note:  Not much about Magick in this post, but I'll be getting back on topic next time.

Immigrant Song

YouTube Playlist (Led  Zeppelin + Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page only)

Individual song links:

Bonus links:

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