There exists a solid line of distinction between the things that are considered to be musical and things that are not. But the innovative use of unconventional and non-musical sounds such as glass breaking, revving motorbikes and cars, door slamming, traffic noises, screams, chaos and the mechanical sounds of typewriters, cash registers, computers and many more have confused listeners and critics time and again about the existing dichotomy. A conscious input on the musician’s part, these effects have almost always enhanced the songs making the confusion a pleasant experience. But today, we are going to talk about the sounds that crept into recordings like unwanted guests and made people super uncomfortable with their presence.
The particular track we are looking at today is ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ from the 1970 album Led Zeppelin III. Zeppelin fans can surely guess which sound I’m referring to, but for those who can’t, it’s the squeak you’ll hear on the right channel that starts during the introductory part and persists longer than we would have liked. Once you’ve heard the noise, you can’t unhear it, which makes the “loving” part really difficult.
The noise comes from the pedal of John Bonham’s bass drum. Bonham owned a model of Ludwig Speed King 201 since it was the only pedal that kept up with his high-speed bass drumming. But the spring was excessively noisy, leading to its name “Squeak King”. Apparently, oiling it wasn’t a solution, and the only way to get rid of the squeaks was proper editing.
“The only real problem I can remember encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together,” said Jimmy Page to Guitar World magazine in 2003. “There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.” Although many listeners have confessed to initially failing to spot the constant noise, it’s a bit odd for musicians and sound engineers to miss out on it. The varying sound quality of the record might elude the audience, but it definitely must have been more prominent within the closed studio space, equipped with high-quality sound system.
However, while going through the internet, I found an alternative take on this matter from some of the band’s biggest supporters. It reads, “I LOVE THAT SQUEAK! That squeak is one of my most favourite things about Led Zeppelin, period. I hope that squeak never gets edited out of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’, and I’ll tell you why. I never got to see John Bonham live, but if I close my eyes while I’m listening to that song, and I hear that squeak, it’s like I’m in the studio with them while he’s playing that song. It makes me feel like I am standing right next to him, even though I’m not. That squeak is very precious to me. Jimmy, please never edit that squeak out!”
While many agreed to it, another fan added: “The squeak is one of those things that adds flavour. Just like the telephone that rings during the Ocean. It is a blemish that adds to, rather than subtracts from the music. I am glad that no attempt has been made so far to remove these, and many other ‘faults’ from the studio work. To remove ‘imperfections’ is like a sad attempt at revisionism. If in the future, everybody decided to wear a mohawk, should we put one on the Statue of Liberty?”
This is what actually separates “sound” from “noise”—perspective. And if a little slip up succeeds in making someone feel good and closer to their heroes, then it’s worth it. It doesn’t mean invalidating one’s own opinion. It means accommodating and acknowledging different opinions so that we don’t rule out the alternative take through cynicism.