Led Zeppelin’s live performances garnered a reputation for being unpredictable, and when on stage, Robert Plant had a tendency to get lost in the moment. On occasion, his antics would make him cringe beyond belief, and after one remark, the singer wanted to bury his head deep into the sand.
For a while, no band could compete in the live arena with the magnificence of Led Zeppelin. Usually, they’d have the crowd resting in the palm of their hands for the duration of the show. It rarely improved upon what Plant threw into the mix in New York at Madison Square Garden during the band’s debut appearance at the historic venue in 1973, which will live long in the history books.
It came in the middle of their performance of ‘Stairway To Heaven’, a track which is one of the band’s most revered moments and epitomises what has made millions fall in love with the band. The song, lyrically abstract and musically complete, allows Robert Plant’s tender vocals to make it even sweeter.
When they played live, it was usually a highlight, and the crowd would be lost in utter pandemonium, which was only enhanced by an ad-lib that made everybody lose their minds. “I think this is a song of hope,” Plant told the audience before proceedings descended into madness. After the line, “The forests will echo with laughter,” Plant decides to sing to the crowd off to the cuff, “Does anybody remember laughter?”
Throughout their career, Plant would often drop this line into the song when they performed it live, but he’d become embarrassed by his comment years later. The singer would even demand it be deleted from their 2007 compilation album, Mothership.
The band’s biographer Mick Wall revealed in When Giants Walked the Earth: “Planning was meticulous, with all the remixing of the new DVD and CD of ‘The Song Remains the Same’ and track sequencing and artwork for Mothership completed by May . Unlike the DVD and How the West Was Won package of 2003, where Page was in charge of every aspect of production, this time Plant took the helm.
“Kevin Shirley, the talented young South African producer who had worked with Jimmy on DVD and How the West Was Won and now found himself working with Robert on the re-jigged ‘The Song Remains the Same’, recalls how ‘Jimmy wasn’t that bothered this time around it seemed but Robert was really insistent on being there with me.”
He added, “When we came to that bit on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ when he ad-libs, ‘Does anyone remember laughter?’ he winced and asked if we could delete it. I said, ‘No, you can’t erase that, it’s what people remember, part of history!’ So he very reluctantly allowed me to keep it in.
“There were a couple of other smaller ad-libs that I did take out for him here and there — a few of the baby, baby, baby’s—just to keep him happy.”
In truth, the line wasn’t anything remarkable, and if it weren’t Robert Plant screaming it to the audience, they’d have cringed just like he did all those decades later. However, no matter where Led Zeppelin played, it would send the crowd into hysterics said everything about the power that they held at that moment in time. Honestly, Plant could have said anything, and it would have caused a state of frenzy.