Led Zeppelin and Myths

I really love Led Zeppelin, but my phase of pure obsession with them has come and past. Now I return to my 5 disc set of their music every one in a while, and every time, I’m struck by some new aspect of their music that gives it power and beauty.

This time what struck me is that Zeppelin is a mythical band, and I mean this in two senses. First, the band itself has been draped with a kind of mythos. When they were together they rarely granted interviews (not very weird for a band honestly) and to this day, they have not sold the rights to their music or licensed (you can’t find it on sites such napster for example).

But also, and this is what I noticed this time around, is that their songs are very epic in their subject matter and lyrics. Take the following fairly substantial subset of Zeppelin songs:

“No Quarter”

“Ramble On”

“Stairway to Heaven”


“Achilles’ Last Stand”


“Battle of Evermore”

All of these songs are straightforwardly mythical. Ramble On and the Battle for Evermore both make reference to characters from Lord of the Rings (Gollum, Ring Wraiths) and their lyrics involve the clash of good and evil, princesses, and a picture of human spirit in its largest and most dangerously energetic guise.

Kashmir, Carouselambra, and Stairway to Heaven are less about warfare and more about magical journeys that are thematically related to stories like the Odyssey, and Achilles Last Stand explicitly concerns classic Greek epics. Still though, what is Stairway to Heaven if not a lyrical reflection on the tragic flaws of human nature; the flaws that drive us to greatness and great failure.

What I also think is interesting and worth pointing out is that Kashmir and No Quarter, though mythical in scale, draw on traditions other than the classical western canon. No Quarter is about a group of Norwegian messengers, and it fits nicely with the nordic tone of the “Immigrant Song.” Kashmir on the other hand feels Persian or at least eastern with its references to sandy deserts and Shangri-La.

This side of Zeppelin, the phantasmagoric tendency toward the epic (most of these songs are more than 6 minutes), is a theme that runs through, I think, almost all their songs and infuses it with its larger-than-life quality. For example, “the rain song” uses lyrics that are poetically reminiscent of Carouselambra and Stairway to Heaven, and “In My Time of Dying” could be understood as told from the deathbed of a great hero such as Achilles just as much as it can be imagined as a rootsy Southern riff on Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” Other songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Over the Hills and Far Away” echo some of the epic themes and style of these more paradigmatic songs while still avoiding the flight to absolute fancy or at least staying with the bounds of the strictly bizarre rather than the beyond human.

In short, I think the mythical can be one way to try and understand Zeppelin’s artistic achievement.


1 Response to “Led Zeppelin and Myths”

  1. June 14, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article.
    I like to write a little comment to support you.

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