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Music

When Neil Young and Jimmy Page gave a spellbinding duel on Led Zeppelin's 'When the Levee Breaks'

The musical world is full of convergences. These can range from the downright terrible such as the Linkin Park, Jay-Z and Paul McCartney’s mashup of ‘Numb/Encore’ with ‘Yesterday’ at the 2006 Grammy Awards to brilliant instances such as David Crosby’s recent collaboration with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.

Arguably one of the best, however, came back in 1995 when two of the most influential musical artists came together for some magic. As part of the celebrations for Neil Young’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on January 13th, the world got a collaboration it didn’t know it needed. The sight and sound of Jimmy Page and Neil Young duelling is wonderful.

Led Zeppelin and Neil Young performed a heavy, swaggering redux of ‘When the Levee Breaks’ from Led Zeppelin IV. Metallic and swollen, Young’s guitar supersedes that of Page, who sits in Jason Bonham’s pocket and enjoys handling the rhythmic elements of proceedings. Ten minutes of genius, the dovetailing work between Page and Young will leave you wanting more. 

There’s ample pouting from Page, Young is his normal possessed self, and even frontman Robert Plant picks up a black Gibson Les Paul to add some glacial, high pitched noise as the song reaches its crescendo.

Just after the six-minute mark, Plant helps the one-time supergroup seamlessly move into a brief rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’. Not only is it miraculous to see Page and Young duelling, but to witness Plant picking up a guitar and adding some power is quite something. 

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At the end, Page drops his hands from the guitar, as if to say “I’m shattered”. We have to remember that by this point Page was 51, and none of the band were spring chickens, apart from drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late Zeppelin maestro John, who was 29. At the end of the performance, both Page and Plant hug Young before exiting the stage. Before departing, Page pats Young’s amp and looks at him with wonder.

It is claimed that later that year, Young wrote a part of ‘Downtown’ from 1995’s Mirror Ball about that classic performance in New York. A segment of the lyrics read: “Jimi’s playin’ in the backroom / Led Zeppelin on stage / There’s a mirror ball twirlin’ / And a note from Page”.

In Jimmy McDonough’s 2002 biography of Neil YoungShakey, the Canadian troubadour compared himself to Jimmy Page. He said: “I’m a hack compared to him. He can really play”. It’s simply not true though. Young steals the show, and his delay drenched soloing at the end is brilliant.

A rare thing of beauty here’s to hoping that Neil Young and Led Zeppelin will collaborate again in the future. It seems highly unlikely though. We can always dream.

Watch the dazzling performance below.