George Harrison once beautifully declared in song that all things must pass, and that mantra even applied to the marauding cultural empire that The Beatles had amassed throughout the sixties. When the Fab Four drew to a close, Led Zeppelin were the quartet who picked up the mantle and spun it out in a different direction.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Led Zeppelin were deeply influenced by their forebearers. In a musicological sense Led Zep’s oeuvre might be somewhat disparate from The Beatles’, but their seismic impact on music no doubt left its mark on the blues rockers in other ways. However, in the case of one of their most celebrated songs the sway of the quiet Beatle was rather more direct.
“The problem with you guys is you never do ballads,” Harrison once told John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham. This conversation filtered through to Jimmy Page, who regaled the tale to biographer Brad Tolinski. “I’ll give him a ballad,” Page vowed and set about crafting one of the most epic I’ll-show-you’s in music.
“I wrote ‘Rain Song’, which appears on Houses of the Holy,” Page continued, “In fact, you’ll notice I even quote ‘Something’ in the song’s first two chords.” This nod to Harrison was less of a homage and more of a friendly sarcastic jibe as Page also penned the song under the working title of ‘Slush’.
The song’s meandering wistful vibe offers a ying to the heavy yang of Led Zeppelin’s back catalogue. It is a world away from the underworld blues-esque mythology that dominates much of the band’s content and wanders into a more Byronic realm of spring meadows and cold winter nights. And according to Robert Plant, this change resulted in his greatest ever vocal take. The singer told Rolling Stone Magazine in 2005, “I’d say that on ‘Rain Song’ I sounded best. I’d reached a point where I knew that to get good, I couldn’t repeat myself. The high falsetto screams had become quite a kind of calling card.”
However, at 7:39, it is proof that the band didn’t heed all of their biggest fans advice. “Fuck Me!” Harrison – who is somewhat of a Led Zep mega fan – exclaimed as the band departed the stage following a raucous three-hour set, “With The Beatles, we were on for 25 minutes and could get off in 15!”
Slashing their epic live sets down in size may have proved a step too far for the eponymous blues rockers, but heeding Harrison’s advice and showing a tender side certainly proved fruitful as legendary producer Rick Rubin once told Rolling Stone Magazine, “It defies classification,” he told announced regarding ‘Rain Song’.
“There’s such tasteful, beautiful detail in the guitar and a triumphant feel when the drums come in – it’s sad and moody and strong, all at the same time. I could listen to this song all day.”