Few would argue that Led Zeppelin’s formidable discography trails only that of the Beatles when it comes to boundless creativity and risk-taking diversity; and whilst it was undoubtedly Jimmy Page’s musical genius driving the band’s songwriting process, the importance of their accompanying lyrics cannot be overestimated. In singer and primary lyricist Robert Plant, Zeppelin had a dedicated blues enthusiast, as capable of recycling sexual double entendres across the band’s early efforts, as delving, in later years, into aspects of classic literature, mysticism and philosophy. Occasionally, Plant would even blend all of these strains into his own mystifying lingo to match Page’s musical alchemy, and it’s this talent for turn-of-phrase that helped inspire this list of Top 10 Most Head-Scratching Led Zeppelin Lyrics.
‘No Quarter’“They hold no quarter. They ask no quarter. The pain, the pain without quarter.”
This mesmerizing masterpiece from 1973’s ‘Houses of the Holy’ partakes of some rather archaic military terminology guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of soldiers throughout the ages. Literally, it refers to battles where the victorious army refuses to house, or ‘quarter,’ enemy soldiers – i.e. they take no prisoners, even should they try and surrender. How ironic, then, that Zeppelin chose to soundtrack such a brutal practice with John Paul Jones’ delicate and refined keyboard improvisations.
‘Carouselambra'“Held now within the knowing; Rest now within the peace. Take of the fruit, but guard the seed.”
This lengthy, synthesizer-driven curio from 1979’s ‘In Through the Out Door’ utilizes wildly elliptical imagery from start to finish; often borrowing heroic language akin to the Tolkien-inspired ‘The Battle of Evermore’ or Viking lore-based ‘Immigrant Song’ to disguise the real-life actions of a mystery Led Zep acquaintance. Said person’s identity remains unconfirmed to this day, so feel free to wage your bets on who Plant may have been addressing in the comments section below.
‘The Rain Song’“These are the seasons of emotion and like the winds they rise and fall; This is the wonder of devotion – I see the torch we all must hold; This is the mystery of the quotient – upon us all a little rain must fall.”
This loveliest of Zeppelin ballads makes our list based solely on the word “quotient,” which, as straightforwardly defined is the mathematical result of division, and thus hardly an obvious word choice for a romantic song. So, are Plant’s clearly love-spurred lyrics (by his own account, among his Zeppelin favorites) simply alluding to the endlessly dividing raindrops, or the experience of childbirth by the song’s protagonists? Hmmm…
‘Ramble On’“T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair; But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah.”
To thousands of literary nerds worldwide, these words hold absolutely no mystery. But if you’re among the few yet to be exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, in book or feature film form (and when this song emerged in 1969, the series was anything but ubiquitous), such Middle Earth staples as the dark kingdom of Mordor and the accursed bad guy, Gollum, could just fly over your head. Just like a Nazgul, come to think of it!
‘Achilles’ Last Stand’“Sending off a glancing kiss, to those who claim they know; Below the streets that steam and hiss, the devil's in his hole.”
Though Greek mythology (Achilles, Atlas) would seem the obvious culprit behind the centerpiece of 1976’s ‘Presence’ LP, word has it Page and Plant actually cobbled the lyrics of ‘Achilles’ Last Stand’ from their many travels across North Africa (where the Atlas Mountains reside). And so the Top 10 Most Head-Scratching Lyric cited above likely refers to the prized feeling of escaping public life that partly motivated Page and Plant to seek sometimes anonymity in distant lands.
‘The Lemon Song’“Squeeze me baby, till the juice runs down my leg; The way you squeeze my lemon, I'm gonna fall right out of bed.”
OK, so those of you of ripe age know exactly what this lascivious little ‘Led Zeppelin II’ ditty is all about, but were you all that sure if you’d first heard it as a young ‘un? Exactly. So even though ‘The Lemon Song’s’ mysteries have long become mainstream, we simply could not resist including its sexual innuendo (inspired, as was the entire song, by Robert Johnson's "Travelling Riverside Blues" and other blues standards) in our list of Top 10 Most Head-Scratching Led Zeppelin Lyrics.
‘Stairway to Heaven’“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now; It's just a spring clean for the May Queen.”
The theme for Zeppelin’s most famous song is clear enough at first: associating the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with a lady’s selfish desire for the easy way out; but singer Robert Plant’s lyrics become increasingly vague and spiritual as the song develops, culminating in the evocative couplet cited above. Obviously, it references the ancient pagan ritual of May Day and its virginal figurehead, but just how this ties back to that figurative stairway is open to discussion, and therefore still a head-scratcher.
‘The Ocean’“Now I'm singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart; She is only three years old and it's a real fine way to start.”
Not even Led Zeppelin’s affinity for groupie jailbait could explain the sort of underage depravity superficially suggested by these closing lines from ‘The Ocean,’ but fear not! There’s a far more reasonable and innocent explanation for the three-year-old who stole Plant’s heart, because she was in fact his daughter Carmen, born three years prior to ‘The Ocean’s’ recording during the 1972 ‘Houses of the Holy’ sessions. Phew!
‘Royal Orleans’“And when the sun peeked through John Cameron with Suzanna; Poor whiskers set the room alight. Whiskers!”
‘Royal Orleans,’ from the 1976 LP, ‘Presence,’ is simply jam-packed with colorful ambiguity -- as it should be so as to protect the guilty parties. According to Zep lore, these lyrics are based on an incident whereupon John Paul Jones (a.k.a. ‘John Cameron’) and a mysterious ‘lady’ friend (“Whiskers,” and we’ll leave it at that) shared a friendly smoke at the Royal Orleans Hotel, then accidentally set their room on fire. Needless to say, any hope of discretion went up in smoke along with the hotel.
‘Dancing Days’“I told your mamma I'd get you home but I didn't tell her I had no car; I saw a lion he was standing alone with a tadpole in a jar.”
And the grand prize in our list of ‘Top 10 Most Head-Scratching Led Zeppelin Lyrics’ goes to this particularly stupefying nugget from ‘Dancing Days,’ off 1973’s ‘Houses of the Holy.’ Frankly, after much head-scratching ourselves, the only explanation we can come up with for this lyric is that it represents a giant metaphoric leap suggesting the lion-maned Plant was forced to ‘trap’ his tadpole in a condom … and don’t ask us about the car, or lack thereof. Clearly, your best guess is as good as ours here.
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