A Song for Friday: “When the Levee Breaks”

A friend whose opinion I trust said he listens to Led Zeppelin. I am shamefully ignorant of their work apart from Robert Plant’s duets with Alison Krauss, so I have been digging around their catalog lately, looking for gems.

I found this:

I’ve still got a lot of their music to absorb, but so far this song really stands out to me. It typifies something I hadn’t really known before about Led Zeppelin: how much they owe to American roots and blues music. And the gritty image of a flooding levee is a deep well that Bob Dylan has drawn from as well for one of his best songs from Modern Times:

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Everybody saying this is a day only the Lord could make

Well I worked on the levee Mama, both night and day
Well I worked on the levee Mama, both night and day
I got to the river and I threw my clothes away

[…]

Put on your cat clothes, Mama, put on your evening dress
Put on your cat clothes, Mama, put on your evening dress
A few more years of hard work then there’ll be a thousand years of happiness

[…]

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Some people still sleepin’, some people are wide awake

Bonus song: Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin also both covered a spiritual called “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” Dylan on his 1962 debut album, Led Zeppelin on their 1975 album Physical Graffiti. Led Zeppelin’s version stands out to me, but both Led Zeppelin and Dylan are outdone, in my opinion, by Blind Willie Johnson who recorded a version in 1927.

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