As the old jokes goes:
“I’ve just taken my wife on holiday to the Caribbean.”
“No, she was happy to come.”
It’s a set up to a song a world away from the usual occult overtones that influence the lyricism of Led Zeppelin. And it is a joke that even permeates into the song structure and stylings itself, with reggae and dub derivative sounds representing a departure from the norm for the rockers.
The title, frequently mispronounced as ‘Dear Maker’ or even ‘Dire Maker’, is actually meant to be pronounced “Jamaica” in a double-edged reference to the old joke that Robert Plant regaled in a Rolling Stone interview and also the way in which locals pronounce the name of their Caribbean island.
In the Dave Lewis novel that explores the back catalogue of Led Zeppelin, bassist John Paul expresses his distaste for the song, dismissing it as a joke that should never have left the studio. However, others welcome the track as a refreshing change – a sort of cocktail that breaks up the onslaught of ale – from the rest of the 1973 record Houses of the Holy. As Jimmy Page explained regarding the mixed review that the single received, “I didn’t expect people not to get it. I thought it was pretty obvious.”
The sound of the song itself came from the difficulty that the Godfather of heavy metal drumming, John Bonham, had in recreating the reggae drum style. Bonham had started off with a beat derivative of 1950s doo-wop and twisted it into Zeppelin style with a typical off-beat tempo that proves so difficult to imitate. As Jimmy Page illuminated in an interview back in 1977, The song itself was a cross between reggae and a ’50s number, Poor Little Fool,’ Ben E. King’s things, stuff like that.”
This odd cocktail of drum sound spawned a dub-like beat, that the band transposed the classic dad gag onto and ran with it. In the end, in order to capture some sort of reggae-beat authenticity, three mics were placed a good distance from the thunder creators drumkit, resulting in the iconic sound.
Naturally, such a dramatic sound change for the band, heavily reliant on studio techniques, proved impossible to recreate on stage and the band never played it live.
The song now stands out as a sort of love/hate oddity amidst their back catalogue, some champion it as a shining example of both the humour of the band and the depth they were capable of. Whereas other critics, such Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone, describe it as, “a pathetic stab at reggae that would probably get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered playing it in Jamaica.”
Like it or loath it is a joke that not everyone got and it stands out of their back catalogue as one of their most divisive songs. It is also a song that sets itself aside from the rest as one of the few where all the members received a composition credit, and you can check it out below.