‘Rock and Roll’ is Led Zeppelin at their most nostalgic. A clear homage to the music that inspired the band in their youth, the second track from Led Zeppelin IV is a high energy callback to the 1950s, complete with a traditional three-chord, twelve-bar blues chord progression. Zeppelin might have been propelling hard rock music forward throughout the late 1960s and early ‘70s, but their love of classic blues and rock music was always at the forefront of their sound.
When it comes to ‘Rock and Roll’, every element of the track has some kind of thread that traces back to some of the members’ favourite old-school rock and roll artists. First and foremost is John Bonham’s opening drum salvo, which kicks off the song’s galloping drive in ways that only Bonzo could. But surprisingly, that signature drum pattern isn’t Bonham’s.
Instead, Bonham more or less completely lifted the beat from Little Richards’ ‘Keep A-Knockin’. Although the specific hits are in slightly different places, the rhythm from Richards’ drummer Charles Collins is unmistakable, complete with open hi-hat and ferocious bass drum. Bonham was frustrated trying to record ‘Four Sticks’ and needed something to reset his system. The bastardised beat of ‘Keep A-Knockin’ wound up being the flashpoint for a completely new tune.
In an interview with The Trouser Press, Jimmy Page erroneously cites a different Little Richard song for providing the inspiration for ‘Rock and Roll’. “‘Rock And Roll’ was a spontaneous combustion,” Page claims. “We were doing something else at the time, but Bonzo played the beginning of Little Richard’s ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ with the tape still running and I just started doing that part of the riff. It actually ground to a halt after about 12 bars, but it was enough to know that there was enough of a number there to keep working on it.” Robert even came in singing on it straight away.
But Bonham wasn’t the only one who was lifting styles from rock and roll’s past. Page decided to make his own obvious homage by lifting Chuck Berry’s signature riffing style for the song’s lead guitar line. With his bandmates all going for obvious references to the past, Robert Plant joined in on the fun, citing a few classic hits from the recent past that made up the song’s lyrics.
These included the doo-wop classic ‘The Stroll’ by The Diamonds, which inspired a late-1950s dance craze, and ‘(Who Wrote) The Book of Love’ by The Monotones. Both tracks were major foundational points for rock music’s evolution, but they had largely been forgotten by the early ‘70s. Plant helped bring their impact on the genre back into the spotlight, and ‘Rock and Roll’ wound up being an amalgam of numerous different essential songs from the history of rock music.