The song is famous for its distinctive, wailing cry from vocalist Robert Plant at the beginning of the song, and is built around a repeating, staccato Jimmy Page/John Paul Jones/John Bonham riff in the key of F# minor. There is a very faint count-off at the beginning of the track with lots of hiss which appears on the album version, but is trimmed from the single version. The hiss is feedback from an echo unit.
“Immigrant Song” was written during Led Zeppelin’s tour of Iceland, Bath and Germany in mid-1970. The opening date of this tour took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, which inspired Plant to write the song. As he explained:
We weren’t being pompous … We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic Government on a cultural mission. We were invited to play a concert in Reykjavik and the day before we arrived all the civil servants went on strike and the gig was going to be cancelled. The university prepared a concert hall for us and it was phenomenal. The response from the kids was remarkable and we had a great time. “Immigrant Song” was about that trip and it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different.
The song’s lyrics are written from the perspective of Vikings rowing west from Scandinavia in search of new lands. The lyrics make explicit reference to Viking conquests and the Old Norse religion (Fight the horde, sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming!). In a 1970 radio interview, Plant jokingly recalled:
We went to Iceland, and it made you think of Vikings and big ships… and John Bonham’s stomach… and bang, there it was – Immigrant Song!
“Immigrant Song” is one of Led Zeppelin’s few single releases, having been released in November 1970 by their record label, Atlantic Records, against the band’s wishes.It reached #16 on the Billboard charts. Its B side, “Hey Hey What Can I Do“, was otherwise unavailable before the release of the band’s first boxed set in 1990. The single was also mistakenly released in Japan with “Out on the Tiles” as the B-side rather than “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” That single is now a rare collectible.
First pressings of the U.S. single of the song have a quote from Aleister Crowley inscribed in dead wax by the run-out groove: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
One of the lines from the song became part of Led Zeppelin lore. The line, “The hammer of the gods/will drive our ships to new lands” prompted some people to start referring to Led Zeppelin’s sound as the “Hammer of the Gods.” The phrase was used as the title of Stephen Davis’ famous biography of the band, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. The lyrics also did much to inspire the classic heavy metal myth, of mighty Viking-esque figures on an adventure, themes which have been adopted in the look and music of bands from Iron Maiden to Manowar.
Live versions of the song can be heard on the Led Zeppelin albums How the West Was Won (featuring a performance at Long Beach Arena in 1972) and the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (a version from the Paris Theater in London in 1971). When played live, Page played a lengthy guitar solo, which was absent on the recorded Led Zeppelin III version. “Immigrant Song” was played as part of the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Jeff Beck by both Page and Beck.
Trent Reznor and Karen O teamed up to record a cover for Led Zeppelin’s legendary “Immigrant Song”. They recorded the cover for the upcoming David Fincher film, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Now I never would have thought that this song could be covered and give the original the credit it deserves but Trent and Karen NAILED it with this version. Absolutely brilliant.
So, what do you think? Leave your comments below OR suggest any other covers you would like to see.