Posted by: Cate Kustanczy
Amidst the murky, symphonic majesty of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 masterpiece, “When the Levee Breaks” is a tiny ray of sunshine: a short major-key switch, like a ray of sun beaming through the swampy Southern spirits Robert Plant et al conjure.
There’s something supernaturally spooky about this entire tune, and the major key bridge (well… sort-of bridge) is the song’s sole plank to major key-ness until its end, nearly seven minutes later. The switch, with the full-on sonic heaviness of Jimmy Page’s grinding guitars, John Paul Jones’ pounding bass and John Bonham’s thundering drum kit, all complimented by Robert Plant’s delta-blues wail, punctuated by droning harmonica playing, is, even now, thirty-plus years later, entirely thrilling, and sublimely gorgeous.
The soft drum-brush leading into the section reminds me of the brief, eyelash-skimming let-up of a rainshower. Bonham’s crashing cymbals return at 2.33; Plant’s high-pitched roars are like thrusting blasts of horny, wet, vicious, sexy aggro-noise. It’s birth, death, life, celebration, and dirge –the sort of stuff artists deal with, y’know, everyday. I think of it as the best kind of modern Beethoven.
This isn’t just balls-out rock and roll, but art, mofos, art, clean and simple and LOUD.
When the Levee Breaks
from Led Zeppelin IV, released through Atlantic Records, 1971.