How a John Bonham Drinking Song Became a Classic ‘Led Zeppelin III’ Track
While Led Zeppelin had times the band set aside for songwriting, some classic tracks came straight from studio jams. With Jimmy Page on guitar, John Bonham on drums, and John Paul Jones on multiple instruments, that probably won’t come as a surprise.
On Led Zeppelin IV, Bonham’s smashing through a Little Richard drumbeat led to the group writing “Rock and Roll.” Later, on Physical Graffiti, a soulful groove Jones was working on his keyboard ended up as “Trampled Under Foot.”
But Zep songs could have stranger beginnings as well. On the acoustic-heavy Led Zeppelin III, the band still included a few crushers, and “Out on the Tiles,” the last track on the first side, was one of them.
While Page had written the song’s opening riff, the rest of the track got its inspiration from a drinking song Bonham would sing. It all revolved around the narrator (in this case, Bonzo) carousing to his heart’s content.
‘Out on the Tiles’ is an expression for hitting the bars
When speaking about Zep’s third album in a 1993 Guitar World interview, Page described what it was like hanging out with his late drummer. “John used to do a lot of, sort of, rap stuff,” he said. “He would just get drunk and start singing things like what you hear in the beginning of ‘The Ocean.'”
Page said Bonham would accompany himself with some foot-stomping and finger-tapping as he sang. And one of his songs was about being “out on the tiles” (i.e., in the bars). “He originally had some lyrics about drinking pints of bitter, you know: ‘Now I’m feeling better because I’m out on the tiles.'”
Page said the guitar part he played behind Robert Plant’s vocals was based on the song as Bonham originally sang it. When it came time for Plant to add lyrics, he dropped the boozing theme and switched a story about a man and his woman.
Instead of guzzling pints of bitter, Plant paints a picture of “walking a quiet mile” with a lady when he wants to drive away the blues. All in all, the lyrics don’t end up much deeper than a drinking song.
‘Out on the Tiles’ concluded the heavy songs on ‘Zeppelin III’
When you think of Led Zeppelin III, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the acoustic second side and overall stylistic shift from the group’s first two albums. But you can’t ignore the heavy songs Zep did include on III.
After all, the album begins with “Immigrant Song,” one of the group’s most overpowering tracks. Next comes “Friends,” followed by the assault of “Celebration Day,” one of the band’s most unusual releases. But the slow electric blues of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” keeps the underrated album going.
“Out on the Tiles” would mark both the end of the first side and the last of the heavy songs on the album. Along with Page’s heavy riff, the snarling bass of Jones and all-out attack by Bonham make it a memorable track indeed.