Led Zeppelin are a group that perhaps define the words “rock band”. Not only did they become one of the archetypal visions of such an outfit, complete with long hair, bare chests and a penchant for parties, all while delivering stadium-sized performances and the kind of albums that one could only dream of—but, as a unit, they were unbeatable. Taking the mic, they had the wailing talent of Robert Plant; on guitar, Jimmy Page can rarely be beaten, their drummer John Bonham is often considered the finest rock drummer of all time, and their bassist was arguably the finest around.
John Paul Jones is perhaps one of the most underrated musicians of the era, but he really showed up for one of the band’s best tracks. ‘Black Dog’ is a song that will live long in the minds of Zeppelin fans. For us, this is Led Zeppelin at the magical best. While Robert Plant delivers vocal licks that would make a Nun shudder, Bonham pounds out his kit like a furious butcher; John Paul Jones brings the groove and Jimmy Page weaves a delicate tapestry of steel intertwining them all. And that’s just the first 30 seconds of 1971’s ‘Black Dog’.
The sounds at the beginning of the song are Page warming up his guitar, something he called: “Waking up the army of guitars.” The fact that Page waits until the end of the song to deliver his crescendoing guitar solo shows what an expert eye he had for song construction. The solo didn’t come directly from the mind of Jimmy Page and was instead constructed by John Paul Jones. Jones sees the riff change time signatures on a few occasions and confirms the track as one of their most complicated. But it wasn’t until Led Zeppelin took inspiration from another group that the song finally came together.
Fleetwood Mac had long been inspiring Jimmy Page before he turned to the Peter Green-led outfit for inspiration. Fleetwood Mac are now well known for their soft rock sounds but, before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the group, they were a hard and fast blues band. Like much of London’s swinging scene, the band were focused on making their sound as grimy as possible, and they were highly regarded by all who witnessed their explosion.
Page was at the epicentre of the British blues movement, first as a session musician but then as part of The Yardbirds. During these years, he became infatuated with Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood’s group, but it stretched on and into his time with Led Zeppelin. Page would turn to their song ‘Oh Well’ as a source of inspiration to help complete ‘Black Dog’, “I suggested that we build a song similar in structure to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well,’” noted Page in Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.
Page was a big fan of the group’s early work: “The original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green performed the music of people like Elmore James really well,” Page said in Light and Shade. “Peter had such a beautiful touch on things like ‘Stop Messing Around.’ Just fabulous in the vein of B.B. King.”
“I don’t think you’re going to find a better example of British blues than the original Fleetwood Mac, with Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green,” confirmed Page of his love for the group. It’s easy to see how the unique structure of ‘Oh Well’ provided a solid footing for the leap of faith that ‘Black Dog’ was. It just goes to show that, no matter if you’re regarded as one of the greatest bands of all time, you can still find inspiration in the music around you.
Listen to both Led Zeppelin song ‘Black Dog’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ below.