Friday Song: "Misty Mountain Hop" by Led Zeppelin
Marijuana legalization, J.R.R. Tolkien, and electric piano make for a memorable rocker
Editor’s Note: This is a summertime feature on Fridays, to ease readers into the weekend with a song in their hearts and a bounce in their steps. Enjoy!
On July 8, 1968, there was a “Legalise Pot Rally” in London’s Hyde Park. Arrests were made for marijuana possession, which made the attendees akin to fish in a barrel — very easy for the police to catch. Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, thought the arrests were a sign of a society gone awry, with hang-ups suppressing individual liberties. Plant was also fascinated during this period with Wales and J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, both of which feature a range of peaks called the Misty Mountains. Out of this brew of ideas and influences was born one of Led Zeppelin’s signature songs, “Misty Mountain Hop,” with lyrics about escaping the oppressive city for the freedom of the Welsh countryside (or maybe Middle-Earth).
John Paul Jones, the bassist and keyboard player for the band, was a musical genius among musical geniuses. Born John Richard Baldwin, he started on the piano and assumed the role of organist at boarding school before adding bass guitar to his repertoire at age 14. He came up with the signature groove of the song.
Written in the key of A, with a tempo of 132 bpm, the distinctive riff on the electric piano has a brilliant insistent energy. The song is long by commercial standards, clocking in at well over four minutes, but it never sags because the groove of the riff is so infectious. Plant’s vocals are excellent, and more melismatic than usual. The chording in the verses is a bit odd, creating an interesting stew of sound that serves to make the clean main riff stand out even more when it returns. Straight D and G chords appear every so often to give listeners a breather from the swirling soundscape.
“Misty Mountain Hop” was never released as a single. It was released instead as the B-side to the song, “Black Dog,” another winner from Led Zeppelin’s fourth and untitled studio album, which also includes the classics, “Stairway to Heaven,” “Rock and Roll,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
Enjoy listening, and have a great weekend.