Led Zeppelin: Black Dog
"Black Dog" is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, the opening track on their fourth album (1971). It was released as a single in the US and in Australia with "Misty Mountain Hop" as the B-side, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 in Australia.
In 2004, the song was first ranked #294 on Rolling Stone 's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time before being ranked at #300 in 2010. Music sociologist Deena Weinstein calls "Black Dog" "one of the most instantly recognizable Zeppelin tracks".
The song's title is a reference to a nameless, black Labrador Retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording. The retriever, despite his advanced age, was still sexually adventurous, like the song's protagonist who reiterates his desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness it provides. As Plant explained to a 1972 concert audience:
Let me tell you 'bout this poor old dog because he was a retriever in his early days, and the only thing he could ever find in his late days was his old lady who lived two houses away from where we were recording. And he used to go see the old lady quite regularly, but after he'd "boogied" and everything else he couldn't get back. And we used to carry him back.
The lyric "Eyes that shine burning red" is also reminiscent of the Black dog legend.
Plant's vocals were recorded in two takes.
John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff, wanted to write a song with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that people could not "groove" or dance to.
In an interview, he explained the difficulties experienced by the band in writing the song:
I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn't be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there's no turn-around. That was the secret.
"Black Dog" became a staple and fan favourite of Led Zeppelin's live concert performances. It was first played live at Belfast's Ulster Hall on 5 March 1971, a concert which also featured the first ever live performance of "Stairway to Heaven". It was retained for each subsequent concert tour until 1973. In 1975 it was used as an encore medley with "Whole Lotta Love", but was hardly used on the band's 1977 concert tour of the United States. It was recalled to the set for the Knebworth Festival 1979 and the 1980 Tour of Europe. For these final 1980 performances, Page introduced the song from stage.
When played live, Led Zeppelin often played the first few bars of "Out on the Tiles" as the introduction for "Black Dog", except for the 1973 tour where the riff from "Bring It On Home" introduced the song as seen in the concert film, The Song Remains the Same. Also, the "ah-ah" refrains were sung in call-and-response between Plant and the audience.
Page's guitar playing prowess is well demonstrated in different recorded performances of the song from Madison Square Garden in July 1973, as seen in the group's concert films The Song Remains the Same and Led Zeppelin DVD. The Song Remains the Same version had roughly two minutes cut from the song (from 5:48 to 3:54), going from the first "ah-ah" refrain to the guitar lead, cutting out the third and fourth verse and the second "ah-ah". This short version is also on the 2007 re-release of the soundtrack, but the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD has the full version.
There is also a June 1972 live recording which can be heard on the album How the West Was Won, and another live version on disc two of Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions.
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