Led Zeppelin

Listen to a rare soundboard recording of Led Zeppelin playing ‘When the Levee Breaks’ live

Despite being one of the most earth-shattering offerings from Led Zeppelin IV, the 1971 effort ‘When The Levee Breaks’ was only ever played live a handful of times. However, last year, the original soundboard recording from one of those rare performances resurfaced and was made available for all.

The arrival of this astonishing recording comes after former Led Zeppelin bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones shared a reworking of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ for a jaw-dropping Playing For Change video. When that video was released last week, Jones explained the origins and enduring resonance of the Zeppelin classic, revealing that the song is actually “a rework of the 1929 original release by Kansas Joe Mccoy and Memphis Minnie about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927,” he said. “It seems that little has changed since 1927, or even 2005 with Katrina. It’s still a really powerful track, both musically and lyrically.” Jones concluded.

Led Zeppelin recorded ‘When The Levee Breaks’ at Headley Grange, where Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones had their own studio. The recording was heavily produced, with Plant’s vocals processed differently from verse to verse, meaning that it was very difficult to replicate live. In this recording, you can hear how Zeppelin are forced to play in a far more metrical and regimented style just to see the song through to its thunderous conclusion.

Bonham’s legendary drum track was recorded in Headley Grange’s grand stairwell. “It was this huge expanse,” Page recalled. “We were getting the drums reflecting off of the walls, giving this wonderful ambience to the drums. You can hear the reflective surfaces, it’s really live and ambient.” Page asked the studio engineers to set up mics around the entrance hall to capture the room’s natural acoustics. The Cavernous drum sound they recorded that day would go on to form the backbone of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ and have been sampled by countless DJs over the years.

The recording below was released via Empress Valley. It features Led Zeppelin hammering out a face-melting version of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ at a concert in Bloomington, Minnesota on January 18th, 1975. The recording combines the soundboard recording with a recently-surfaced audience tape from the same concert to create an immersive listening experience. Make sure you check it out.

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