Despite his lack of consistent representation on record, John Bonham was actually a pretty good singer. Not at the level of Robert Plant, of course, but throughout Led Zeppelin‘s discography there are plenty of examples of Bonham’s voice adding harmonies and spirited backup to Plant’s signature howl.
The best illustrations of Bonham’s vocal prowess comes from live Zeppelin performances. Check, for instance, the band’s take on ‘The Ocean’ which appears on The Song Remains the Same, a track where Bonham gets lowered a mic and perfectly harmonises with Plant on the song’s breakdown. Or you could look at the band’s 1975 performance of ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ at Earl’s Court, where Bonham turns the song into a lively duet.
However, Bonham’s singing wasn’t always the most tuneful, especially after a few drinks. One night, while Jimmy Page was working on a riff during the Led Zeppelin III sessions, Bonham came back from a rollicking romp out at the bars singing a song of his own invention.
“John used to do a lot of, sort of, rap stuff,” Page explained to Guitar World in 1993. “He would just get drunk and start singing things like what you hear in the beginning of ‘The Ocean.’ He originally had some lyrics about drinking pints of bitter, you know: ‘Now I’m feeling better because I’m out on the tiles.’”
“Out on the tiles”, a term for hitting the bars, turned to be a major inspiration point for the band. Page began to play along to Bonham’s impromptu tune and, within no time, ‘Out on the Tiles’ was born.
For his intoxicated inspiration, Bonham landed his one and only songwriting credit for Led Zeppelin III. ‘Out on the Tiles’ never really caught on in concert, but Page did frequently use the riff as an intro to ‘Black Dog’ on stage. Check out one of the few times Led Zeppelin played the song live down below.