1001 Songs Challenge,  1970s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #331: When the Levee Breaks (1971)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…


Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (1971)

A brief stay in the US, dear reader, as we need to make our way back to the UK today. We drop in on Led Zeppelin who have appeared on more than one occasion previously. In 1971 Led Zeppelin released their fourth album which was their biggest seller, not least because of the inclusion of the legendary Stairway to Heaven. However, 1001 Songs has not gone with that track. Colour me super surprised! Instead, we have the album’s closing track – When the Levee Breaks.

When the Levee Breaks dates back to 1929 and was written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Robert Plant suggested using the song on the latest album so reworked the lyrics, staying faithful to the original content, while Jimmy Page added his own guitar riff. The lyrics have Plant singing about the levee breaking and the water cascading down, bringing destruction to everything in its path. Plant insists there is nothing to do but find somewhere else and Chicago seems to be the place of choice to flee to but he can’t take his lover with him sadly. He doesn’t say why but he’s off. 

This 7+ minutes take on When the Levee Breaks is Led Zeppelin at their best. Page’s guitar work is stunning, while John Bonham on drums is a revelation here. The sound came from the track being recorded in a supposedly haunted house with the music slowed down to give it a somewhat eerie effect. Only Plant’s vocals are recorded as normal and he effortlessly delivers every line perfectly. I would have liked to see Stairway to Heaven on this list but When the Levee Breaks showcases what Zeppelin were capable of and proves beyond doubt that they have a lot to offer beyond their most famous song.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)

The Doors – The End (1967)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Kinks – Days (1968)

Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)

David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)

Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)

Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (1971)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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