Despite following on from one of the greatest Led Zeppelin tracks ever recorded, there’s one song from Led Zeppelin II that Jimmy Page can’t stand. Why? Well, that remains a tricky question to answer.
Page’s tastes sometimes stood in stark contrast to those of his band-mate Robert Plant, whose lyrics often utilised poetic language and romantic imagery perhaps more traditionally associated with Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson than with a stadium rock band. Other times, he went too far the other way, writing lyrics that smacked of 1960s machismo to a near-intolerable degree. But, as anybody who has played in a band will tell you, music-making is all about compromise, and with his particle song, Page had to swallow his pride.
The song is featured on Led Zeppelin’s incredibly rich sophomore album, nestled amongst a near-perfect sequence of tracks. As the velvet swathes of ‘Heratbreaker’ reach their abrupt conclusion, Zeppelin land on an offbeat, which propels them into ‘Livin’ Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)’. The two-song segment is so revered that, for a time, radio DJs made a point of playing the songs together without interruption.
But while Robert Plant has performed ‘Livin’ Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)’ numerous times as a solo artist, Jimmy Page refused (and continues to refuse) to perform it. His embarrassment is, in some ways, pretty surprising. There’s nothing particularly outlandish nor obviously dismal about the song. Indeed, Page’s guitar work is pretty phenomenal, showing him at his string-crunching best. The same, I’m sad to say, cannot be said of the lyrical content. Even for the late ’60s, it’s a bit hard to swallow, dripping with so many sexual innuendos that it is practically swimming in misogyny. In the second verse, Plant sings: “Alimony, alimony paying your bills/ Living, loving, she’s just a woman/ When your conscience hits, you knock it back with pills/ Living, loving, she’s just a woman”.
Obviously, these lyrics are up for interpretation, and I’m not refusing you that. Still, it’s hard to deny the cruelty at the heart of ‘Livin’ Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),’ Page has never really opened up about his distaste for the song, but it might have something to do with the fact that it was written about a female groupie who stalked the band early in their career.
Certainly, the track is a cruel portrait of somebody the band knew well, well enough to include details of her personal life in the lyrics. Is it possible Page was slightly sickened by the song’s unashamed ridicule of this woman? Perhaps, but it’s impossible to say for sure.