Hot DAMN, but this is one hot song. A half-stifled laugh leads into one of the most immortal riffs in all of rock and roll, buttressed by one of the thickest basses of all time. Then Robert Plant unleashes his incomparably lusty yowl, Bonzo slams into his drums, and thus begins a six-minute classic come-on that’s more of an ode to the sheer power of testosterone than to the woman Plant is itchin’ to score.
As the first single for Led Zeppelin II, this song was significantly shortened to make way for the AM radio waves, and as such, packed a punk-like punch. But seldom has the recording studio been so successfully used to make incidental sound effects absolutely essential to a song. I’m talking, of course, about the bridge. Put on headphones – preferably sound-reducing ones. This is the only way to listen to this part. Psychedelic bees swarm and thunder roars all around you. Jimmy Page swipes the theremin from its original home in space-themed lounge music and rips out some unholy sounds. Bonzo keeps a deceptively simple, metronome-like tempo in the background. And here, Plant screams at a hyperorgasmic level, as if his normal yowl was just a whisper.
You could argue that this was the best song Zep ever did. Whether you’d be successful is another story altogether, but only because there’s so much to choose from. Critics seem to praise the lumbering, bluesy “When the Levee Breaks” off of their fourth album. Many will always remain loyal to “Stairway to Heaven”; I’m not one of ‘em. But it says something that this fiery romp led off their original (and best) 4-CD box set released in the early ‘90s. Downloading this song ain’t a bad place to start, but seriously, if this song hits you, head out and immediately get any or all of their first five albums (personal faves: Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin IV, and Houses of the Holy).