Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan are undoubtedly two of the most significant artists to have ever graced the planet but that’s not too far from where the comparisons between them end Sonically, they come from completely different worlds and to say that Dylan was a huge influence on Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham is maybe a stretch too far. But there’s one Led Zep classic that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him.
Admittedly, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan do share somewhat of a chequered history, with Dylan never showing a whole lotta love for his British contemporaries. Their relationship was very much a one-way street at the beginning of their association, with the Zeppelin bandmates’ shared love for the icon not being reciprocated in the slightest. According to legend, when the group’s manager, Peter Grant tried to introduce himself to Dylan when their stars aligned in LA in 1974 with the fateful line, “Hello Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin,” he was met with this brutal response from Dylan, “Do I come to you with my problems?”.
Following this daunting meeting between Grant and Dylan, Led Zeppelin evidently weren’t scarred by Dylan’s vicious words, perhaps, even potentially wearing them as a badge of honour as they decided to pay homage to him on their next record. Their track ‘In My Time Of Dying’ which features on 1975’s Physical Graffiti is a homage to the singer. It’s not only the longest ever Led Zeppelin song but, without Bob Dylan, then chances are that we would never have heard this rock masterclass.
The track borrows from an old Blues tune which was originally called ‘Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed’ and the origin can be dated all the way back to 1928. But the song would spend decades in obscurity and would remain somewhat of a hidden gem. It wasn’t until Bob Dylan recorded an adaptation of the song on his self-titled debut album that the song would gain prominence, the singer changed the name of the track to ‘In My Time Of Dyin” — it would give Led Zeppelin the basis for their track.
According to the album liner notes, Dylan had never sung ‘In My Time of Dyin” prior to the recording session and he doesn’t even remember where he first heard it, with it just coming to him out of nowhere. Led Zeppelin’s take on the track is 11 delicious minutes of non-stop ferocity that is, arguably, the sound of the band in their full-pomp.
Dylan has never commented on his thoughts about their reimagining of the song that he brought back into the mainstream but Robert Plant’s love for Dylan has never waned and is as strong as ever. “Something happened when Dylan arrived,” Plant told the Guardian in 2007. “I had to grapple with what he was talking about. His music referenced Woody Guthrie, Richard and Mimi Farina, Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and all these great American artists I knew nothing about.
“He was absorbing the details of America and bringing it out without any reservation at all, and ignited a social conscience that is spectacular.” For those living in Britain and watching Dylan from afar, he seemed like a messiah of sorts. “In these Anglo-Saxon lands we could only gawp because we didn’t know about the conditions he was singing about. Dylan was the first one to say, ‘Hello, reality.’ I knew that I had to get rid of the winkle-pickers and get the sandals on quick.”
Dylan’s influence on music in unparalleled, there’s not one person who has infected so many different genres for the better as he has. The iconic artist’s approach to songwriting was contagious in 1962 and it’s still just as contagious now, almost 60 years later. Even if he’s indifferent to the work of Led Zeppelin, they couldn’t have been more infatuated with him.