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Top 100 Hard Rock Songs

#1 Led Zeppelin - Immigrant Song

By James West,

It’s only fitting that the Greatest Hard Rock Song ever recorded should come from the Greatest Hard Rock Band ever!  But what slice of Zeppelin heaven should you pick as Numeral Uno?  Most would say Stairway To Heaven; some even Rock And Roll or Kashmir. 

Any of these would satisfy most Hard Rock critics, but in my reflection of songswith the biggest wallop you’ve got to give the top prize to Immigrant Song!

What makes Immigrant Song stand out for me is the song’s perfect combination of all things Zeppelin:   It is built upon a thunderous repeating riff and features lyrical references to Norse mythology, with singer Robert Plant's howling vocals coming from the depths of Valhalla.

It is performed in the key of F♯ minor at a moderate tempo of 112 beats per minute. There is a very faint count-off at the beginning of the track with lots of hiss which appears on the album version, but it is trimmed from the single version. The hiss is feedback from an echo unit.

It Hits You In The Face Like A Fistfight!

The song begins with a distinctive, wailing cry from Plant and is built on a repeating, staccato riff by guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham.  From the moment this incredible riff starts it hits you in the face like you’re in a fistfight, and you’re being pummeled relentlessly until you lose your senses.

"Immigrant Song" came out on November 5th 1970 from their third studio album, Led Zeppelin III and was released as a single. The B-side was "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do".  Immigrant Song was written during Led Zeppelin's tour of Iceland, Bath and Germany in the summer of 1970. The opening date of this tour took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, which inspired Plant to write the lyrics. He explained in an interview:

“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.”

Six days after Led Zeppelin's appearance in Reykjavik, the band performed the song for the first time in concert during the Bath Festival.

The song's lyrics are written from the perspective of Vikings rowing west from Scandinavia in search of new lands. The lyrics, such as "Fight the horde, sing and cry, 'Valhalla, I am coming!'" make explicit reference to Viking conquests and the Old Norse religion.

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!"

A phrase from the song was used as the title of Stephen Davis' 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 Viking-esque figures on an adventure, themes which have been adopted in the look and music of bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Manowar.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"

"Immigrant Song" is one of Led Zeppelin's few releases on the 45 rpm single format. It was issued in the United States and reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.  First pressings of the US single 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." The Japanese single included “Out on the Tiles” as the B-side.


In a contemporary review of Led Zeppelin III, Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone described "Immigrant Song" as the closest to being as classic as “Whole Lotta Love”, praising the song's "bulldozer rhythms and Plant's double-tracked wordless vocal crossings echoing behind the main vocal like some cannibal chorus wailing in the infernal light of a savage fertility rite."


I agree with his description, but to me, Immigrant Song woops up on a Whole Lotta Love in any given Rock and Roll fistfight!

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