Led Zeppelin: Why It Sounds Like Robert Plant Stutters Late in ‘Immigrant Song’
From the beginning, Led Zeppelin didn’t leave much to chance. That applied to everything from recording decisions to whether the band’s name would appear on the album cover. (Hence the lack of an LP title — or even a personnel listing — on Led Zeppelin IV.)
Jimmy Page, who was Zeppelin’s founder and producer (in addition to guitar player and primary songwriter), insisted on that policy from the start (before the band even had a record deal). Page once spoke of how he wanted artistic control “in a vise grip.”
So when Led Zeppelin decided to never release a single in the U.K., the band’s record label (Atlantic) dealt with it. And if Page and his bandmates wanted to leave the sound of an airplane on an album, they just did it.
By the mid-’70s, the group had become old pros at leaving studio quirks on finished recordings. The list included vocal echoes on “Whole Lotta Love” and the Robert Plant “Immigrant Song” vocal that sounds like he’s stuttering toward the end.
Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ features a quirk in Robert Plant’s vocal
“Immigrant Song” features numerous examples of Page’s handiwork as producer. The first one hits listeners before the band members play. While you hear someone counting out the start of the song, there is a clicking sound in the background along with lots of tape feedback.
Then the Zeppelin onslaught begins. Page knew he wanted to open Led Zeppelin III (1970) with a bang, and it’s very hard to top “Immigrant Song” on that count. And Plant delivers one of his signature vocal performances on the track. But Zep fans have undoubtedly wondered about the last verse.
Before singing “So now you better stop / And rebuild all your ruins,” listeners get a very clear “s” sound (at 1:43 in the recording). You would transcribe that as “S–, so now you better stop.” In Led Zeppelin All the Songs (2018), Jean-Michael Guesdon and Philippe Margotin offer an explanation.
“This is either an earlier track or a [doubled vocal] that had been rejected and badly erased,” the authors wrote. Guesdon and Margotin saw it as another example of Zeppelin leaving in the quirks. “Clearly, the effect struck Page’s ears as too musical not to retain in the final mix.”.
Plant was still singing ‘Immigrant Song’ in the late 2010s
If you know anything about Plant’s solo career, you know the former Zeppelin vocalist has always been one to look forward. That meant staying away from Zep material until the late ’80s. And Plant has avoided singing “Stairway to Heaven” whenever possible (reunion performances were the exception).
But once Plant began singing Zep songs again, fans have been able to size up the singer’s favorites. “Misty Mountain Hop,” which Plant began singing in the ’80s and continued performing into the late 2010s, ranks high on that list.
So does “Immigrant Song.” Though Plant’s solo career has been the opposite of metal (see: the Allison Krauss collab), he started singing the song again when he and Page recorded and toured together in the ’90s. And, over two decades later (2019), Plant tackled the song again at Iceland’s Secret Solstice Festival.