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No. 18: ‘Friends’ – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs

When ‘Led Zeppelin III’ arrived in stores, on Oct. 5, 1970, a huge amount of buzz had grown around this, as yet, still relatively new musical force comprised of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.

After all, they had only broken through to the big time just the year before, via their widely acclaimed and oft-bombastic second album, so it was only natural for rock critics and eager fans alike to expect pretty much more of the same from the group’s next LP.

Certainly, no one in their right mind expected the young quartet to dare mess with such a winning formula, and the muscular drive behind ‘III’s’ opening tune, ‘Immigrant Song,’ appeared to confirm that a whole lotta heavy blues rock was in store.

But that’s where the album’s next cut, and our No. 18 choice in on the list of the Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs – the simply titled ‘Friends’ – dashed all preconceptions against the Cliffs of Dover and pronounced Led Zeppelin’s intentions to take the restrained eclecticism shown on their first two albums to new heights.

Instead of delivering the hammer of the gods, ‘Friends’ never sniffed a Marshall stack, embarking instead on a jaunty Page folk strum, backed by complicit Bonham bongos, before being fleshed out with a stunningly lush string arrangement scored by Jones. Plant’s lyrics, meanwhile, skirted all references to Golden God mystique or fantasy lore, to focus on the simple joys of friendship, and dire consequences of ever taking it for granted.

So take heed, friends – not only of Plant’s wise message but the groundbreaking divergence off the beaten path of hard rock bluster signaled by ‘Friends’ as ‘Led Zeppelin III’ began its careening exploration of multiple new sounds and especially the lighter side of this great band’s musical personality.

Perhaps its no coincidence that, years later, Page and Plant decided to re-record ‘Friends’ with accompaniment from a Middle-Eastern orchestra, for their much vaunted 1994 reunion release, ‘No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded.’

Next: Head West, Young Man!

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