For the early incendiary moments of Led Zeppelin’s career, Robert Plant’s lyrical contribution was a little offbeat. He didn’t really have a set songwriting style like many of his contemporaries, so, as the clamour for leads to be lyricists grew impossible to ignore, Plant did what any good rocker would do and looked to the past. In fact, Plant borrowed words from an entire genre as he dove into the murky waters of the blues for his inspiration.
While some singers and lyricists may choose to hide their influences through an array of changed words or suggested meanings, Plant borrowed directly from the great and the good of old. Using lines from Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and, of course, Robert Johnson, the singer made Led Zeppelin a force to be reckoned with. However, one line used by Plant is perhaps more valued than the rest, however, as the rocker confirmed in an interview back in 1971.
As Cheat Sheet reports, Zeppelin had long been using lines derived from the delta blues, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before Johnson was included in that assortment. That moment would come during Zeppelin’s fourth record Led Zeppelin IV and ‘The Lemon Song’, which would contain the lyrics: “Squeeze me, baby, till the juice runs down my leg,” Plant wails. “When you squeeze my lemon, I’m gonna fall right out of bed.”
The lines are taking from Robert Johnson, the man who famously made a deal with the devil to become such an impressive player, and his song ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’. The original track is a marauding moment in Johnson’s back catalogue but adds a sense of humourous frivolity to the Led Zeppelin track. Plant opened up about pilfering the lines when speaking with Rock magazine back in 1971.
“It’s borrowed, admittedly, but why not?” Plant told the publication with a smirk of defiance. “I really would like to think that someone who heard that and then saw some clever critic writing about Plant living off the far superior Robert Johnson — or whatever they have to say to keep their jobs — would go and listen to Robert Johnson as a result. But I wish I’d written that. I really do.”
“But ‘squeeze my lemon’ — I wish I could think of something like that myself,” the singer confessed. “But it’s not cool to do that these days; you realise that, don’t you?” It wouldn’t take long for the band to pick up the original Robert Johnson track and make it their own, as they deliver a truly rip-roaring performance of ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ later on in their career.
Led Zeppelin were able to effortlessly weave the words of blues heroes throughout their music without being found out because the group were simply an extension of that sound. Through the years, Plant’s lyrical game would improve, and the need for borrowing diminish. However, there will always be one line that he wishes he wrote.