Leaps n Bands #9: Led Zeppelin IV – side two, track four: When the levee breaks (1971)


For this first part of the new Jemtunes series for 2010 – Leaps n Bands – I’m taking you through a track by track expose of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV. Today concludes that with side 2, track 4 – When the levee breaks.

Thus was originally a country blues song written and first recorded by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. The lyrics reflect experiences during the upheaval caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The flooding affected 26,000 square miles of the Mississippi Delta – hundreds were killed and hundreds of thousands of residents were forced to evacuate.

Ethel Douglas, Minnie’s sister-in-law, recalled that Minnie was living with her family near Walls, Mississippi, when the levee broke in 1927. The song’s lyrics recount the personal toll on a man who lost his home and family.

McCoy and Minnie recorded “When the Levee Breaks” during their first session for Columbia Records in New York City on June 18, 1929. The song features McCoy on vocals and rhythm guitar. Minnie, the more accomplished guitarist of the two, provided the embellishments using a finger picked-style in a Spanish or open G tuning.

Columbia issued the song on the then-standard 78 rpm phonograph record, with “That Will Be Alright”, another vocal performance by McCoy, on the flip-side in August or June 1929.

When considering material for the group to record for their untitled 4th album, Robert Plant had suggested the Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie song and the band decided to place it as the albums’ final track. Jimmy Page developed a new guitar riff that set it apart but John Bonham’s drumming defines the characteristic of the song.

Page and John Paul Jones based their guitar and bass lines on the original. However, they did not follow its twelve-bar blues I–IV–V–I structure, but instead used a one-chord approach to give it a droning sound. Plant used many of the lyrics, but took a different melodic approach. He also added a harmonica part which as a result of the backward echo effect during the mix, the echo is heard ahead of the source.

John Bonham’s drumming, played on a Ludwig kit, was recorded in the lobby of Headley Grange using two Beyerdynamic M 160 microphones which were hung up a flight of stairs; output from these were passed to a pair of Helios F760 compressor/limiters. A Binson Echorec, a delay effects unit, was also used.

Portions of the song were recorded at a different tempo, then slowed down, explaining the “sludgy” sound, particularly on the harmonica and guitar solos. It was the only song on the album that was mixed at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California (the rest being remixed in London).

A new “Leaps n Bands” album review starts on Jemtunes on 19 January.

Dave Fields – Black Dog (Starters for ten #346) 6.10.35

Starters for Ten 2019 – #346: Top Ten Last 20 years (part II): 191212

Dave Fields – Black Dog (2014)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Continuing the 35th – part II of my top ten last 20 years numbers – here’s Black Dog taken from the 4th album by Dave Fields – “All In”, released in 2014.

Slim Harpo – Got love if you want it (Starters for Ten #340) 10.10.34

Starters for Ten 2019 – #340: Top Ten Blues numbers: 191206

Slim Harpo – Got love if you want it (1957)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Concluding my 34th – my top ten blues numbers – here’s Slim Harpo’s Got love if you want it, released as the b-side to ‘King Bee’ in 1957.

The 2019 ‘Starters for Ten’ series features:
[1] Jan 1-10: Top Ten Blues Rock Stonkers
[2] Jan 10-20: Top Ten Led Zeppelin Tracks
[3] Jan 21-30: Top Ten Spinetinglers
[4] Jan 31-Feb 9: Top Ten Underworld Tracks
[5] Feb 10-19: Top Ten Acoustic Tracks
[6] Feb 20-Mar 1: Top Ten Queen Tracks
[7] Mar 2-11: Top Ten Live Tracks
[8] Mar 12-21: Top Ten Classical pieces
[9] Mar 22-31: Top Ten Soul tracks
[10] April 1-10: Top Ten Classic Rock tracks
[11] April 11-20: Top Ten ‘Ten Years After’ numbers
[12] April 12-30: Top Ten ‘Talking Heads’ tracks
[13] May 1-10: Top Ten Punk Anthems
[14] May 11-20: Top Ten Rock numbers
[15] May 21-30: Top Ten Boogie tracks
[16] May 31-June 9: Top Ten Lurve songs
[17] June 10-19: Top Ten Driving Tracks
[18] June 20-29: Top Ten Britpop/invasion tracks
[19] June 30-July 9: Top Ten Jimi Hendrix numbers
[20] July 10-19: Top Ten 2018 tunes
[21] July 20-29: Top Ten Sunday Morning tracks
[22] July 30-August 8: Top Ten Fleetwood Mac tracks
[23] August 9-18: Top Ten 2017 tunes
[24] August 19-28: Top Ten Saturday night numbers
[25] August 29-September 7: Top Ten ZZ Top tracks
[26] September 8-17: Top Ten 2016 tunes
[27] September 18-27: Top Ten 1960’s numbers
[28] September 28-October 7: Top Ten 1970’s numbers
[29] October 8-17: Top Ten drumming tracks
[30] October 18-27: Top Ten 1980’s numbers
[31] October 28-November 6: Top Ten 2015 tunes
[32] November 7-16: Top Ten last 20 years (part I)
[33] November 17-26: Top Ten David Bowie numbers
[34] November 27-December 6: Top Ten Blues numbers
[35] December 7-16: Top Ten last 20 years (part II)

Dave Hole – Short Fuse blues (Starters for Ten #339) 9.10.34

Starters for Ten 2019 – #339: Top Ten Blues numbers: 191205

Dave Hole – Short Fuse Blues (1990)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Continuing my 34th – my top ten blues numbers – here’s Short Fuse Blues, the title track from Australian blues guitarist Dave Hole’s debut album, released in 1990.

Johnny Winter – Help Me (Starters for Ten #338) 8.10.34

Starters for Ten 2019 – #338: Top Ten Blues numbers: 191204

Johnny Winter – Help Me (1968)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Continuing my 34th – my top ten blues numbers – here’s Johnny Winter’s cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me. Taken from his 1968 debut – ‘The Progressive Blues Experiment’ – this combines original numbers together with other covers including BB King’s ‘It’s my own fault’ and Slim Harpo’s ‘Got love if you want it’. (The original of the latter is featured in “Starters for Ten #340” due from Jemtunes on 6th December).

Mose Allison – Young Man Blues (Starters for Ten #337) 7.10.34

Starters for Ten 2019 – #337: Top Ten Blues numbers: 191203

Mose Allison – Young Man Blues (1957)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Continuing my 34th – my top ten blues numbers – here’s Young Man Blues recorded by Mose Allison in 1957.

Led Zeppelin – Tea for One (Starters for Ten #336) 6.10.34

Starters for Ten 2019 – #336: Top Ten Blues numbers: 191202

Led Zeppelin – Tea for One (1976)

Throughout 2019 Jem of Jemtunes is taking you through 36 top tens and one top five. Tunes for a whole gamut of reasons including genre, mood, time of year or simply time itself. Sometimes there’s be words but mostly it’ll simply be the music. Because music always speaks for itself.

Continuing my 34th – my top ten blues numbers – here’s Led Zeppelin’s Tea for One from their 1976 album ‘Presence’.

I bought this album from a mate in early 1977 as he didn’t like blues. His loss, my gain!