Best of the B Sides: “Rain Song”

I’ve wanted to write about Led Zeppelin for a while, but it seems a little strange to consider classic rock as having “b sides” when the music has already been thoroughly studied and listened to for forty years. But as it is raining this weekend, it seemed only fitting to tackle “Rain Song” for this week’s b side.

I’d never listened to Led Zeppelin until I was seventeen. Up until that point all I’d know was “Stairway to Heaven” and I didn’t know it terribly well. Led Zeppelin was one of those far-off bands that sounded like the name of one hippie rather than a group of terribly talented musicians from England. Clearly, all of my perceptions about Led Zeppelin were wrong. Horribly wrong. The only way to dive into classic rock is head-first, soaking up every album at least once before settling on one or two albums that really speak to you. I started collecting Zeppelin on vinyl about a year ago and I’m worried I’m going to wear out I and IV. (If anyone can tell me a good place to look for Physical Graffiti, please shout it out).

The first Led Zeppelin song I heard on this grand adolescent adventure of mine was a live version of “Dazed and Confused” that took me to another place. It was meditative, it was sensual, and it was like nothing I’d ever heard. Halfway through my months-long journey, a friend pointed me in the direction of “Rain Song”, and it’s held a special place in my music collection ever since.

I’m a big fan of the “epic” track on any given album — the six to seven minute long composition that brings an artistic clarity to the endeavor — and “Rain Song” is one of those tracks. The official recording clocking in at 7:39 and the superior live recording at 8:26, this is a beast of a song, but it falls into the more contemplative side of Led Zeppelin, the side that is a lot more visceral and organic. Robert Plant does comparatively little singing in “Rain Song” and the Jimmy Page’s guitar is slow and calculated. It’s a rambling, repetitious song about, you guessed it, love. But it’s a beautifully composed dissolution of a relationship, tracking through the seasons. But like any Zeppelin song, it has to have an epic conclusion, and Page bursts into a formidable rambling guitar melody as Plant amps up the power, but the song falls back into its quiet nature for the final verse.

Page and Plant were masters in their day, no question about it. And while the Led Zeppelin classics — “Stairway to Heaven”, “Whole Lotta Love“, “Ramble On” — show just as much mastery, “Rain Song” goes overlooked. It was released in 1973 on Houses of the Holy, one of Zeppelin’s most successful albums. And though “Rain Song” may have gotten notice in its heyday, casual Zeppelin listeners are focused on the bigger hits.

Give it a listen while waiting for all of this rain to pass. Spring’s coming, folks!

Photo credit to Heinrich Klaffs

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