After being a giant of the music scene for decades, one would presume Neil Young wouldn’t have the capacity to still get awestruck by his peers. From Bob Dylan to The Beatles and back again, Young has played with most of the great songwriters of the world. But then again, Led Zeppelin are no ordinary band.
Young was simply blown away by the band when he came across Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and the rest of Led Zeppelin. After a life-affirming experience at the hands of the group, Shakey had no choice but to channel his intense feelings through song.
For one night only in 1995, Young had the opportunity that every guitarist worth their salt would swim the Atlantic Ocean for — he became an honorary member of Led Zeppelin. While there was hostile tension between the three surviving members of the rock behemoth, Young was in his element.
Their memory of the evening is a stark contrast from Young, who was reportedly so exhilarated after the concert that he wanted to reunite Led Zeppelin permanently with him in the fold. In his head, Young dreamt up a grand plan to bring one of his favourite bands back to life and even wanted to make a full album with the dynamic group.
It’s safe to say that the feeling after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony was different in the Led Zeppelin camp. The previous year, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had reunited without John Paul Jones, with the bassist happy to make sure everyone in the arena was aware of his displeasure. During their acceptance speech, Jones brutally said to his bandmates, “Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number”.
Thankfully, once they picked up their instruments, the anger held by Jones disappeared, and the addition of Neil Young for ‘When The Levee Breaks’ made spines tingle all across the arena. Towards the end of the song, Plant even paid tribute to Young by throwing in a section of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’.
Zeppelin guitarist, Page is one of the few players to make Young feel like an amateur, the ‘Harvest’ singer once saying, “I’m a hack compared to him. He can really play.” While his scheme to reform Led Zeppelin and become a bandmate of the guitarist was to no avail, that night would still inspire his song, ‘Downtown’.
The track was the lead single from his twenty-third studio album, Mirror Ball, which is the record that Shakey made with Pearl Jam, and the single was even nominated for a Grammy Award the following year.
‘Downtown’ is set in the utopian ’60s, with a concert by Led Zeppelin taking centre stage in Young’s fantastical world. On the track, Young sings, “Jimi’s playin’ in the back room, Led Zeppelin on stage, There’s a mirror ball twirlin’, And a note from Page, Like a water-washed diamond”.
Playing live with Led Zeppelin profoundly affected him and made Young fall back in love with them. Young was enjoying working with other artists at this time, having just collaborated with Pearl Jam. However, what we lose in the idea of a possible new Led Zeppelin album, we retain in their impressive, and untarnished, legacy.