Why "Kashmir" is Led Zeppelin at Their Finest

Why "Kashmir" is Led Zeppelin at Their Finest

led zeppelin kashmir
Led Zeppelin, 1969 (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images)

If you ask anyone to name the quintessential Led Zeppelin song - or any Led Zeppelin song for that matter - chances are they’ll say “Stairway to Heaven”. It comes as no surprise that the eight-minute epic tops the ‘Best Led Zeppelin Songs of All Time' readers poll from Rolling Stone, and comes in at number 31 on the '500 Greatest Songs of All Time' list from the same publication. 

There’s one man in particular, however, who believes that “Stairway” is not Led Zeppelin's best song. That man is Robert Plant

The legendary singer told loudersound.com that he wishes Led Zeppelin was remembered more for “Kashmir” than “Stairway to Heaven”. He goes on to call “Kashmir”, the final track on side two of their 1975 double LP Physical Graffiti, "perfect Zeppelin," and we can’t help but agree with him. 

Here are three things that make “Kashmir” the quintessential Led Zeppelin song.

1. The Arrangement

Robert Plant isn’t the only Led Zeppelin member that recognises the intensity and brilliance of “Kashmir”. Jimmy Page describes it as the kind of song "you need time to catch your breath after." 

The earliest version of the song was born from a session involving just Page and drummer John Bonham. Page played Bonham a riff he had been working on and wanted to try out, and Bonham loved it. They kept playing the hypnotic riff, and Jimmy Page decided to do a take of it, overdubbing the 12-string guitar cascades over the main riff and the drums. 

Page says he had always thought of the riff in orchestral terms, with cellos and brass playing the various aspects of the riff and cascades. "I didn’t know it would work, but I knew it ought to theoretically."

2. The lyrics

"It’s the quest, the travels and explorations that Page and I went on to far climes well off the beaten track,” Robert Plant says, reflecting on the lyrics of “Kashmir”. 

“Of course, we only touched the surface. We weren’t anthropologists. But we were allowed, because we were musicians, to be invited in societies that people don’t normally witness."

Originally titled “Driving To Kashmir”, the lyrics began as a piece that Plant had been inspired to write in 1973, after a drive through ‘the waste lands’ of southern Morocco. He says the lyrics describe a journey itself, rather than a destination, and quotes the individual lyrics "Oh let the sun beat down upon my face / stars to fill my dreams.

Plant doesn’t deny the influence of literature on his lyricism, and the epic, story-like lyrics of “Kashmir” certainly reflect this. Plant says that when he read “The Lord of The Rings” books, they "kind of dissolved into (him)." This influence is also made apparent in songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Ramble On”.

3. John Bonham

The opening track of Led Zeppelin’s debut album, “Good Times, Bad Times” introduced John Bonham to the world. Straight off the bat, the 21-year-old drummer’s unique, heavily jazz-influenced style proved him to be one of the best drummers out there. His offbeat feel, and now legendary triplets showed that this member of Led Zep was a force to be reckoned with. 

In “Kashmir”, Bonham lays down a solid 4/4 backbeat foundation, for the complex strings arrangement to play over, in 3/4, giving the song a distinct polymetric feel, which adds to the intensity of the track. Towards the end of the song, Bonham’s lightning fast drum fills blur the song into controlled chaos, providing a sort of climax to it and adding a relief at the finish, making you feel like you have been on a journey, not only lyrically but musically as well.   

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