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The Story Behind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Swan Song’ Revealed

Led Zeppelin
Laurence Ratner, Getty Images

Led Zeppelin boasts one of the most impressive — and successful — discographies of the rock era. But the songs that made it to their albums don’t necessarily tell the whole story, as evidenced by a feature in a recent issue of Classic Rock Magazine that traces the evolution of Jimmy Page‘s ‘Swan Song,’ which never appeared on a Zeppelin record — but came awfully close.

The ‘Swan Song’ story starts in 1974, when Page brought elements of what was meant to become a four-part suite about the seasons to the sessions for ‘Physical Graffiti.’ At the time, it was an instrumental featuring what Page is quoted as calling “a number of sections and orchestrated overdubs,” and while the band spent time developing it in the studio — you can find pieces from the sessions on YouTube — it was ultimately cast aside.

But as the article explains, the band’s decision to table ‘Swan Song’ had less to do with the quality of the song than the strength of the material they already had — and Page continued to return to it throughout the rest of Zeppelin’s career, incorporating some of its chord changes into live performances right up until their final tour in 1980.

Page’s fascination with ‘Swan Song’ continued beyond Led Zeppelin, manifesting during the 1983 ARMS tour in the new song ‘Bird on a Wing,’ which used elements from the older composition, and again in 1985, when it was repurposed as ‘Midnight Moonlight,’ a track from the first album Page cut with vocalist Paul Rodgers as the Firm. Compare the ’74 ‘Swan Song’ with ‘Midnight Moonlight,’ both embedded below:

Led Zeppelin, ‘Swan Song’ (1974 rehearsal)

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The Firm, ‘Midnight Moonlight’

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