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Hello All --
I've had numerous requests to do another song, and many of those were for the song that, in my opinion, was Zeppelin's blueprint for Stairway: "Babe I'm Gonna Leave you."
For reference times, I used the remastered first album.
First of all, does it bother any of you like it does me that the song title has no comma after "Babe"?
Anyway, the song opens with a lone acoustic guitar treated rather heavily with reverb. I think Page said he used a Gibson J-200, but I said that about Stairway and I'm only right about one of 'em, so you decide. That reverb that blooms across from the left to the right? All together now: "Plate reverb!" That's right, it's our old friend (and Page's), the studio plate reverb. Gorgeous! Notice the warmth and sparkle of the acoustic track, and the "soft" attack on the notes; dual mikes on the guitar (one for clarity, one for warmth) and Page is absolutely picking with his fingers.
I remember the first time I ever heard this song. It was part of a Zeppeling "triple shot" on KSJO in San Jose about twelve years ago. When it was done the DJ (Candy Chamberlin) said, "If I had a nickle for every time Robert Plant ever said the word 'baby...'"
Notice how Plant's "b" consonants -- and, as noted in the previous anecdote, there are one or two in the first part of the song -- really whack the microphone. That's called a "p-pop" (as in "pee-pop"), even though these are "bees", and it makes me wonder if Plant is singing without the benefit of a pop filter. Notice that he's singing fairly softly, and is close to the mike, which exaggerates the pops. Later in song (0:56), you can really hear Plant back off the mike, and he says backed off through the next verse. Notice that the p-pops are basically gone.
Notice that Plant's reverb is panned to the same spot as Page's. This reverb was probably applied to both tracks at the same time (during mixdown).
That big entry at 0:58 is pretty cool. Another acoustic guitar comes in on the right side, only this one is strummed with a pick; notice its additional snap. Jones, who's been with us subtly for quite a while, drones on a single note throughout; notice that when the part returns to the verse, Jones plays a high-octave figure that stays out of Plant's way and allows Jones to build through the next verse. More masterwork from the master arranger.
The famous ghost track ("I can hear it callin' me") at 1:41 is probably partly intentional. Without question it's Plant's voice bleeding into other mikes, as opposed to electronic "cross-talk" between tracks. I say it's partly intentional simply because it's there in the finished product; they could've done another mix if they didn't like it. If Plant's voice were bleeding into the guitar track we'd hear it elsewhere in the song, ditto if it were bleeding onto the drum mikes. I suspect that it is in fact coming from the drum mikes, as Plant would've been standing away from the drums during tracking, and the tone quality of the snippet suggests he's pretty far the mike that's "listening." To this point in the song, we've heard no drums, but during mixdown they would've been bringing up the fader in preparation for Bonzo's entry at 1:54. I further suspect that the boys put this in on purpose; an intentional mistake, if you will. It sounds cool.
In this second Bonzo attack, Plant's voice is just incredible. And I love the extra-long sustain on Bonzo's final cymbal. Judging by the weird pan across the field, I'm positive they overdubbed a second cymbal. Notice how it jumps from the center to midway towards the left, and it sustains in an odd way. I think Bonzo added it later, using mallets to hit the cymbal repeatedly to keep it going.
I also love that crazy, ascending, super-reverbed bit of steel guitar that starts at 2:09. It really sets the listener up for the big bash that comes in at 2:22. That big bash introduces a number of new elements all at once, and is one of those really powerful Zep moments that people mention whenever the "favorite Zep moments" thread re-rears its ugly head. Page comes in with yet another guitar, an electric that is almost definitely a Telecaster out on the left, playing the same figure as the acoustics. Actually, make that *two* electric guitars, on one of which Page is playing slide. From 2:22 through 2:50 he simply accenting the fourth beat of every measure with a little slide jab. Way cool, and similar to the slide bits in Whole Lotta Love. In the part beginning at 2:51 he's sustaining simple chords. Spooky, effective, and o-so-Pagian.
Can you dig the sloppy acoustic solo that begins at 3:17? I'll bet Page thought, "I've got this many notes to stuff into this much time! The hell with the rules!" Awesome. Sloppy, but awesome. When people rip Page for being sloppy, this is the type of thing they mean. But if that's their only response to Page's playing here, you should feel sorry for them for have such cold souls.
After the solo is another of those moments.
"Bay-bay...bay-ay-bay...bay-ay-bay..." Whoa. A return to the storm, with the same instrumentation as the last big bash. And again. And again. Magnifico! In one of the "breaks," page plays a little slide solo, which might be a Tele, and might be a pedal steel. After another, it's another sloppy acoustic solo. How about those looooong sustained Plant background vocals? Too cool.
At the end, starting at 5:56 notice the extremely quiet slide bit. Nifty.
There you go. Simple elements, simple arrangement, simply great song. I wish *I* had a nickle for every Plant "baby..."
That was something intended to say about Stairway and neglected to. None of the individual bits of Stairway are weird, trippy, or unusual, but the whole is something to be reckoned with.
Have a good one,
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