#416: Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin
Robert Anthony Plant was born in 1948 in West Bromwich, six miles northwest of Birmingham, England. He became the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, along with bandmates Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. At an early age Robert Plant was interested in being a pop singer. He said in an interview in 1994 on the Denton Show in Australia, “When I was a kid I used to hide behind the curtains at home at Christmas and I used to try and be Elvis. There was a certain ambience between the curtains and the French windows, there was a certain sound there for a ten-year-old. That was all the ambience I got at ten years old … And I always wanted to be … a bit similar to that.”
In 2008 Plant told Ian Fortnam of Classic Rock Magazine “I left home at 16”, he said, “and I started my real education musically, moving from group to group, furthering my knowledge of the blues and of other music which had weight and was worth listening to.” In 1965 Robert Plant joined The Crawling King Snakes, and latter that year met drummer John Bonham who became a new member. By 1966 Plant and Bonham became members of the psychedelic rock group Band Of Joy.
John Henry Bonham was born in 1948 in Redditch, 15 miles south of Birmingham. When he was five-years-old John Bonham started to play the drums. He learned the snare drum at age ten and by age fifteen had a full drum kit with a bass drum, floor tom, snare drum, tom-tom drum, a high-hat and four other types of cymbals. Bonham played with several school bands prior to joining The Crawling King Snakes.
In 1968 Bonham and Plant met Jimmy Page. James Patrick Page was born in Greater London in 1944. When he was twelve he started to play the guitar. Page recalled years later in a 2012 interview with NPR “When I grew up there weren’t many other guitarists … There was one other guitarist in my school who actually showed me the first chords that I learned and I went on from there. I was bored so I taught myself the guitar from listening to records. So obviously it was a very personal thing.” When he was thirteen-years-old, Jimmy Page was a guest on the BBC1 TV show All Your Own talent show with host Huw Wheldon. Page was part of a skiffle quartet which played “Mama Don’t Want to Skiffle Anymore” and “Cotton Fields”. When he was 14, Page joined a group group called Malcolm Austin and Whirlwinds. He moved on to form the Paramounts, who opened a concert for another band who went on to become Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – a band that took “Shakin’ All Over” to number-one on the UK singles chart in 1960. Page later joined the Crusaders for several years, but also fell ill with mononucleosis.
In 1963 Jimmy Page became a session musician and played guitar on the Jet Harris instrumental “Diamonds”, which became a number-one hit in the UK. Another Top Ten hit on the UK charts in 1963 was “Shout” by Lulu and the Luvers, which Page provided guitar in the studio. Other notable songs Page contributed guitar in the studio were for “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens, “I Can’t Explain” by the Who, “Heart Of Stone” by the Rolling Stones, “The Crying Game” by Dave Berry, “Is It True” by Brenda Lee, “As Tears Go By” and “Come And Stay With Me” by Marianne Faithfull, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “Here Comes The Night” and “Baby Don’t Go” by Them (the latter the B-side to “Gloria” in Canada), “The Pied Piper” by Crispian St. Peters, “Sunshine Superman”, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Epistle To Dippy” by Donovan, “Out Of Time” by Chris Farlowe, “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, and “With A Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker.
In 1966 Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds. The band had a solid track-record as hitmakers with “For Your Love”, “Heart Full Of Soul”, “I’m A Man“, “Shapes Of Things”, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” among their popular singles. Page joined the Yardbirds in the studio for their fourth album, Little Games. He remained with the band for their final single releases including “Ten Little Indians“. But by early 1968 the band was splitting up and so Page reconfigured the band which morphed into Led Zeppelin when he asked John Paul Jones to join.
John Richard Baldwin was born in 1946 in Greater London. At the age of six he started to study the piano. Baldwin joined his first band when he was age fifteen called the Deltas. Around 1963 he was invited to collaborate with The Shadows. This led to Baldwin becoming a session musician in 1964. In time he changed his name for the credits to John Paul Jones. Among the songs he played for as a session musician are “Sunshine Superman”, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Mellow Yellow” for Donovan, “She’s A Rainbow” for the Rolling Stones, “Bus Stop” for the Hollies, “Heart Full Of Soul”, “I’m A Man”, “Shapes Of Things”, “Evil Hearted You” and “Stroll On” for the Yardbirds, “Matthew And Son” for Cat Stevens, John Paul Jones also provided strings and brass for Herman’s Hermits including arrangements on “No Milk Today”, “There’s A Kind Of Hush” and “I Can Take Or Leave Your Lovin'”.
John Paul Jones also arranged “To Sir With Love” and “Morning Dew” for Lulu, the soundtrack for the Herman’s Hermits film Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, “Shame Shame” for the Magic Lanterns, and Dusty Springfield’s 1968 album Dusty…Definitely. It was during the studio recording of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan that session musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones began to talk about a new type of band. This became the New Yardbirds and was later named Led Zeppelin.
Led Zeppelin went on tour in October 1968. On December 28, 1968, The Trials of Jayson Hoover opened a concert at the Pacific Coliseum for Vanilla Fudge. Led Zeppelin, who were largely unknown, and did not appear on the concert poster followed. Vanilla Fudge closed the show. In his printed article on December 29, 1968, Vancouver Sun reporter Jim Allan gave Led Zeppelin a poor review. He wrote “by the time that I was seated The Trials Of Jayson Hoover had finished and Led Zeppelin was just starting the first song of their set.” CKLG promoted the concert with clips of “You Keep Me Hanging On” featured in the ads.
PNWB points out that in December 1968 “no one knew…who Led Zeppelin was. The band had only arrived in North America to go on tour just before Christmas Day. FM stations had not yet received “any advance promotional copies of their debut album until 20 days later on January 17, 1969,” following the release of Led Zeppelin on January 12, 1969. Consequently, Led Zeppelin received only limited mention on air with no airplay by the local DJs in the week just before the concert. It would be later in January that local FM radio listeners in Vancouver began to hear tracks from the album including “Dazed And Confused”, “Good Times, Bad Times”, and “Communication Breakdown”. “Good Times, Bad Times” made the Hit Bound list in early April 1969 on CKLG, but didn’t crack the Top 30. But in Rochester (NY) and Boston “Good Times, Bad Times” made the Top Ten. While in Corvallis (OR) “Communication Breakdown” climbed to #2.
Led Zeppelin returned two more times to perform in concert in Vancouver in 1969. Both concerts were at the PNE’s Agrodome. The first on May 10th and the second on July 26th. Later in 1969 Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin II. The single “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)” climbed into the Top Ten in various radio markets in Florida, Michigan, Kentucky and Washington State in early 1970. But the flip-side, “Whole Lotta Love'” peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1970. With their breakthrough single in America, Led Zeppelin established a broad fan base for the bands’ progressive rock. This included a growing fan base in Vancouver where Led Zeppelin performed for the fourth time in 16 months at a sold out concert at the Pacific Coliseum on March 21, 1970.
Their next single, “Immigrant Song”, was the debut single off the Led Zeppelin III album released in October 1970.
“Immigrant Song” was written in June 1970 just after Led Zeppelin gave a concert in Iceland. The song begins telling a tale of people who “come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.” In a biography of the band, Chris Welch quotes Robert Plant: “We weren’t being pompous … We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic Government on a cultural mission. We were invited to play a concert in Reykjavik and the day before we arrived all the civil servants went on strike and the gig was going to be cancelled. The university prepared a concert hall for us and it was phenomenal. The response from the kids was remarkable and we had a great time. ‘Immigrant Song’ was about that trip and it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different.”
Led Zeppelin considered the lore of Iceland and referenced Vikings who came from Norway to Iceland in ships. The Vikings were known as warriors, and Led Zeppelin sings of how they “fight the horde.” Even death is not feared as the Vikings believed they would be sent to an afterlife in Valhalla. Set in the fortified home of the Aesir tribe in the sky, Valhalla is a golden hall in the Realms of Asgard. This is where the valkyries live and welcome the souls of the mighty warriors who have died in battle.
The Vikings were not actually “immigrants” but conquerors. The song tells us their “only goal will be the western shore.” The Vikings occupied lands in England, Scotland, Ireland, parts of present day Libya, the boot of Italy and Sicily, parts of western Russia, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, and the northwestern tip of Newfoundland in the settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows.
The song tells us of Icelands valleys: “how soft your fields so green.” The island nation has many valleys with green fields. These include Fljótsdalur, Fnjóskadalur, Haukadalur, Hörgárdalur and Þjórsárdalur. But the valleys and fields of Iceland, as the song relates “can whisper tales of gore.” The fields know something about the people who’ve come west to the island in search of new lands, who seek to be overlords of the local inhabitants.
Immigration has more recently become a controversial topic, with politicians debating who should be allowed to immigrate to their country. But, the “Immigrant Song” is a song about Viking conquerors, and so in a different category.
“Immigrant Song” peaked at #1 in St, Louis, Syracuse (NY) and Winnipeg (MB), #2 in Kansas City (MO), Chicago, Chilliwack (BC), Toronto and Hamilton (ON) and San Bernardino (CA), #3 in Vancouver (BC), Rochester (NY), San Jose (CA), Boston, Regina (SK), Tulsa (OK) and Hartford (CT), #4 in Oklahoma City, Anderson (IN), New Haven (CT), Minnneapolis/St. Paul, Indianapolis (IN), La Crosse (WI) and Lethbridge (AB), #5 in Calgary (AB), Portland (OR), Escondido (CA), Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Memphis, #6 in Youngstown (OH), Norfolk (VA), Fresno (CA), Birmingham (AL) and Spokane (WA), #7 in Columbus (OH), Fargo (ND), Green Bay (WI), Albany (NY), Seattle (WA), Wilkes-Barre (PA) and Saginaw (MI), #8 in Bellingham (WA) and Sioux Falls (SD), and #9 in Grand Rapids (MI).
Internationally, “Immigrant Song” peaked at #3 in Denmark, #4 in New Zealand and Switzerland, #6 in Germany, #7 in South Africa, #9 in the Netherlands and Spain, #13 in Austria and Japan, and #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA.
On August 19, 1971, Led Zeppelin launched their seventh North American tour with a concert at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. Next, Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin IV in November 1971. The album sold over 37 million copies and remains among the top dozen all-time album best sellers. The album’s lead single, “Black Dog”, stalled at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, but climbed to #1 in Vancouver (BC). In addition, another track from the album, “Stairway To Heaven” later climbed to #1 on CKVN even though it was not released as a single.
In March 1973 the band released their fifth studio album, Houses of the Holy. Led Zeppelin returned for their third concert at the Pacific Coliseum on July 18, 1973. They returned again to perform at the Pacific Coliseum on March 19th and 20th, 1975. Their tour coincided with the release of the album Physical Graffiti. Through the 1970s Led Zeppelin were the world’s most popular live music attraction. They were able to sell out concert at places like the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, to a crowd of 76, 229 fans. Led Zeppelin’s ability to sell out in front of huge audiences at sports stadiums, gave the band credit for creating “stadium rock.”
In August 1975 Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were in a serious car accident. After admittance to hospital, they recovered in the Channel Islands in Jersey. Jimmy Page is said to have begun using heroin. Meanwhile, the band continued to release more chart-topping albums: Presence, The Song Remains The Same, and In Through The Out Door.
In advance of an October 1980 tour to North America, Led Zeppelin began rehearsals for the tour. On route to the rehearsal studio Bonham asked his assistant to stop for breakfast. At the diner, he downed four quadruple vodkas (from 16 to 24 US fl oz), with a ham roll. He continued to drink heavily after arriving at the studio. After going to bed he was found dead around 1:45 p.m., September 25, by bandmate John Paul Jones and a new manager. The loss of John Bonham led the remaining bandmates to decide by December 1980 to disband.
After Led Zeppelin split up, Robert Plant pursued a solo career. Between 1982 and 1993 Robert Plant charted about a dozen singles onto the pop charts. His most notable success was in October 1983 with “Big Log” from his album The Principle of Moments. The single peaked at #6 in Vancouver (BC). Internationally, it climbed to #20 on the Billboard Hot 100, #4 in the Netherlands, #7 in New Zealand and #11 on the UK Singles chart.
In the winter of 1984-85 Robert Plant’s band the Honeydrippers scored a #1 hit in Vancouver (BC) with a cover of the 1959 Phil Philips hit “Sea Of Love”. The Honeydrippers also included Jimmy Page, former Yardbirds musician Jeff Beck, and co-founder of the disco band Chic, Nile Rodgers. As a solo act, Robert Plant has appeared in concerts at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver October 1, 1983, on June 9th and 10th, 1985, September 21, 1990. In 1993 Plant performed at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre on October 7th, and later on September 22, 2005. More recently, Robert Plant performed at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 17, 2011, and again on June 29, 2018.
In 1994 Robert Plant and Jimmy Page collaborated to record an album titled No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. In 2009 Robert Plant received a Grammy for Album of the Year in his collaboration with Allison Krause. In 2014 Plant released his tenth solo album Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar.
In his post-Zeppelin years Jimmy Page collaborated with Jeff Beck performing in concert. He co-founded the supergroup XYZ, made up of former Led Zeppelin (Page) and Yes bandmates Chris Squire and Alan White. In 1983 Jimmy Page announced he had quit his use of heroin after seven years of addiction. In the 80’s Page collaborated with the Rolling Stones, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. A Led Zeppelin reunion took place on the occasion of the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in July 13, 1985, for famine relief in Ethiopia. After 1988 Jimmy Page stopped touring as a solo act, though he has performed on occasion with Robert Plant and with the Black Crowes in several concerts in 2000, and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of Led Zeppelin in 2009.
In 2005 Jimmy Page was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his Brazilian charity work. In 2008 he performed at the closing of the ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. That year Page also co-produced a documentary on the history of the electric guitar titled It Might Get Loud.
After the breakup, John Paul Jones contributed music to a number of films including Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984), Scream For Help (1984), The Secret Adventures Of Tom Thumb (1993), Risk (1994) and Celebration Day (2012). The latter was a 2007 concert tribute film to songwriter and co-founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, at which Led Zeppelin was one of the performers.
Jones has collaborated with Brian Eno, Foo Fighters, Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper, Heart, Ben E, King, Lenny Kravitz, Paul McCartney, R.E.M. and others. In 2019 Jones formed a new band named Sons of Chipolte. They were scheduled to make their first concert in the USA in March 2020 at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. But the festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
July 24, 2020
Jim Allan, “But Only 3708 Tasters: Fudge Show Candy Sweet,” Vancouver Sun, December 29, 1968.
Mikal Gilmore, “The Long Shadow of Led Zeppelin,” Rolling Stone, August 10, 2006.
“Robert Plant #15: 100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” Rolling Stone, June 30, 2015.
“Rockers still climbing ‘Stairway to heaven‘,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, December 25, 2004.
Jane Cornwell, “Jimmy Page reflects on Led Zeppelin,” Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, Australia, September 27, 2014.
Jimmy Page, Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page, (Genesis Publications, 2014).
Corbin Reiff, “20 Things You Didn’t Know John Paul Jones Did,” Rolling Stone, March 18, 2016.
Chris Welch and Geoff Nicholls, John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums, (Backbeat Books, 2003)
Chris Welch, Led Zeppelin, (Orion Books, 1994), p. 55.
Chris Welch, Led Zeppelin: Dazed and Confused: The Stories Behind Every Song (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999).
“List of Valleys in Iceland,” Wikipedia.org.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, January 8, 1971.
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