Posts Tagged ‘“The Killing Floor”’

Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” is Like a Tribute to Howlin’ Wolf

July 20, 2020

My wife told me she would play “The Lemon Song” at my funeral, if she outlived me, but when I reminded her of this statement the other day she had a different memory. She claimed told her to play that song at my funeral.  I think my memory is correct because I’m pretty sure I won’t care what song anyone plays at my funeral.  Our memories differ over other (and more) important  events as well.  The first time we ever made love I remember we employed the reverse cowgirl posture, but she refutes my memory and says it didn’t happen that way.  How could our memories about such an important event be so different?  No matter which one of us chose “The Lemon Song” to accompany my burial, it is my favorite Led Zeppelin Song.

“The Lemon Song” is Led Zeppelin’s version of an old Howlin’ Wolf song known as “The Killing Floor” first released in 1964.  Howlin’ Wolf whose real name was Chester Burnett released at least 2 different versions of “The Killing Floor.”  In 1 version a brass section plays a prominent part and in the other there is no brass section.  The brass copies Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar playing in the former.  The version without a brass section is almost 1 minute longer.  “The Lemon Song” is the 3rd song on Led Zeppelin II released in 1969.  Led Zeppelin II was the best selling rock album of that year.

Howlin' Wolf. "Where the soul of man never dies," no less a figure ...

Chester Burnett aka Howlin’Wolf  influenced rhythm and blues rockers of the 1960s and 1970s.

Led Zeppelin - Official Website | News

Led Zeppelin is one of the most popular and successful rock acts of all time.  John Paul Jones (top) and from left to right the late John Bonham, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant.

In “The Lemon Song” the rhythm guitar and bass open at a slower tempo than in “The Killing Floor,” but John Bonham’s drum beats are heavier and louder.  To be honest I don’t even notice the percussion in “The Killing Floor.”  Then 1:30 into the song, Jimmy Page plays a fast guitar riff that imitates the brass section from “The Killing Floor” for exactly 1 minute.  This is my single favorite guitar riff of all time, and it sounds superior to the original.  After the riff the song slows down again and there is an interplay between Robert Plant’s jazzy blues singing and Jimmy Page’s guitar playing.  Plant interpolates the lyrics “The way you squeeze my lemon, I’m gonna fall right out of bed.”  These lyrics were sung in an earlier song by another blues artist, Robert Johnson, who likely in turn stole them from some unknown blues singer.  The name of the song is a metaphor for a man’s penis, but I suppose they couldn’t name this song “The Dick Song.”  The song is basically raw sexuality.  In the final 30 seconds of the song Jimmy Page repeats his fast guitar riff.  “The Lemon Song” is twice as long as “The Killing Floor,” and Led Zeppelin almost gave it the same name.

This is the version of “The Killing Floor” that has the brass section imitated by Jimmy Page using his electric guitar.  Another version is 30 seconds longer and does not have a brass section.

In this version of “The Killing Floor” Howlin’ Wolf uses his guitar to play what the brass plays in his other version.  His guitar playing is more subtle than Jimmy Page’s interpretation.

My favorite Led Zeppelin song.

While I was researching this article I came across this version of “The Killing Floor” that predates “The Lemon Song” from a group I had never heard of–Electric Flag.  It sounds pretty good.

Jimmy Page says he was paying tribute to the old blues artists when he transformed their work into Led Zeppelin songs.  However, on some occasions Led Zeppelin has been rightly accused of plagiarism, and other artists have successfully sued them for credit and money.  On behalf of Chester Burnett, Arc Records sued Led Zeppelin for their tribute to “The Killing Floor.”  Chester Burnett received a settlement of $45,123 in 1972, and Led Zeppelin added his name to the songwriting credits.  In my opinion I don’t think Jimmy Page stole these songs from malice or greed.  I believe he honestly thought he was paying tribute to these artists by making their songs sound even better.  Page was a drug-addled hippie without a clear understanding of copyright law.  He may have mistakenly believed these songs were part of the public domain (like many old folk songs are) or simply didn’t care.  He was a musician…not a lawyer.  Moreover, when he recorded these songs, he had no idea how popular and financially successful Led Zeppelin was going to be.  He didn’t know they were going to make so much money.

Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven” from a group called Spirit.  A recent lawsuit claims “Stairway to Heaven” is a rip-off of Spirit’s “Taurus.”  There is a vague similarity at the beginning of the 2 songs, but Rick Beato, a music professor, says they both use the same line cliche` found in at least 25 songs dating back to at least 1938.  “Stairway to Heaven” has a melody over this line cliche`, while “Taurus” does not.

Rick Beato, a music professor, explains how “Stairway to Heaven” is not ripped off from the Spirit song “Taurus.”