Led Zeppelin: When the Levee Breaks

Song Facts (2015) The lyrics to this song (written by Memphis Minnie in 1927) are based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. After the levee breached, blacks were not allowed to leave the area, and were forced to work in the relief and cleanup effort, living in camps with limited access to the supplies, which were coming in. (Song Facts 2015) The song opens with a driving drum beat, which has been sampled many times. It is easy to loop and has been used mainly by hip-hop producers.

Ethan (2009) “Bonham played a brand new drum kit at the bottom of a big stairwell. The microphones were placed at the top of the stairs three stories above. The stairwell created a huge natural reverb, making the sound both big and powerful, and oddly diffuse and distant. (Ethan 2009) The song has a very long intro until the verse comes in. the intro includes a guitar solo. The drums are held throughout the whole track and do not change keeping the song tight and together. The song is very well known due to the history behind it. Led Zeppelin is also one of the most well know bands to have ever lived.

The piece is strangely different from other blues songs produced during this time, both musically and lyrically. However it is still recognisably derivative.


I am a big fan of Led Zeppelin and it is interesting to learn about the origins of this song. This song was a big hit and is loved by many. We have not done much/any practical work on this song although I hope to do a cover or rendition of this song at one point. We have however attempted to recreate the drumbeat and it was successful in my opinion. Listening to the track over and over gives me more of an idea of the sound needed to recreate the drumbeat as best we can.

Originally the drums were recorded in a hollow stairwell, whereas we had the privilige of using logic to manipulate the sound. Nevertheless we did the best we can in an attempt to recreate the sound live. We did this by moving the microphone further and closer from/to the bass rum. We also put a pillow in the kick drum in order to minimise the vibration so that the sound would have to travel throughout the pillow giving it a more muffled sound. although this alone made the sound of the bass drum sound too muffled. So we moved the equipment in the studio recording room closer together, ensuring all corners of the studio were clear attempting to give the drum the spacious effect, like in the original song.

After a few different techniques and ways of recording we decided to remove the pillow idea as a whole and instead, we put a microphone on the wall. This worked much better than the other methods, as sound waves bounce from the walls. Meaning if a microphone was to be placed there it would capture the full effect of the sound. Giving it an echo like sound as well as a clean cut sound.

We then moved on to mixing the sound of the kick drum in the studio, on the mixing desk. This was not too difficult, however it was a challenge to try and recreate the sound of the drum exactly. Nevertheless i am content with our attempt and feel confident i could do this process again.


Ethan. (2009). When The Levee Breaks. Available: http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2009/the-levee-break/. Last accessed 6th Jan 2016.

Song Facts. (2015). When The Levee Breaks. Available: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=335. Last accessed 6th Jan 2016.


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