Happy Thursday and almost-Friday LemonWire readers. Today, we’ll be looking at another summer song to get you through to the weekend: “The Ocean”, by Led Zeppelin.
So far this week, we’ve been looking at songs each day that match the weather we have here in Indianapolis. Monday we looked at “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” by CCR for the last in a long string of rainy days. Tuesday we heard “Mr. Blue Sky” as the sky cleared up for the first time in awhile. And yesterday, we looked at Yeasayer’s “Sunrise” as another solid summer tune.
With the summer solstice now behind us, we’re in the midst of the dog days now. For that, we’ve got another classic rock throwback.
While we usually provide a quick breakdown of the artists we cover for our song of the day, I don’t think there’s a need to do that in this case. If you don’t know who Led Zeppelin is, I suggest Google.
“The Ocean” is the last track on Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album, “Houses of the Holy”, which was released in 1973. At this point in Led Zeppelin’s career, they were still riding the high from the release of the massively successful “Led Zeppelin IV”, and continuing to experiment with their compositions.
The two singles released with “Houses of the Holy”, “Dancing Days” and “D’yer Maker”, signaled the band’s move away from some of the blues-based rock that had made them so popular. Instead, they began experimenting with different time signatures and musical styles. The time signature for “The Ocean” is a great example, as the verse repeats a loop of one measure in 4/4, followed by one in 7/8. The ending brings another shift, as “The Ocean” transitions into a spritely, 12/8 shuffle.
In the beginning of the song, you can hear the drummer, John Bonham counting off with, “We’ve done for already, but now we’re steady, and then they went, 1, 2, 3, 4”. While some have suggested that this refers to the four albums they’d previously released, Bonham was actually referring to the number of takes the band had done while recording. In Led Zeppelin’s live shows, Bonham continued to use the count-off, which became one of his most famous lines.
The combination of John Bonham’s drums and Jimmy Page’s guitar is really what gives “The Ocean” its magic. But we can’t forget Robert Plant’s contributions either. As always, he brings his powerful voice to the track, and raises the whole song up another level. “Houses of the Holy” is Led Zeppelin at the top of their game, and “The Ocean” is the gut-punching, sprawling finale that closes it off with a bang.
The title, “The Ocean”, refers to the sea of fans facing the band as they played. But there’s also some great lyrics that capture the essence of summer. The first two lines, “Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain / Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain” evoke summer activities, as well as the feeling of freedom often associated with the warmest season.
In the second verse, we get the first look at the ocean metaphor. “Singing about the good things and the sun that lights the day / I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost its way”. Here, singing on the mountains refers to the level of success Led Zeppelin had had at that point. But once they were on top, perhaps they wondered whether fans were starting to get bored with their sound.
The last verse reveals Plant’s answer to any loss of fans the band might go through, and why it didn’t matter to him.
“Sitting round singing songs ’til the night turns into day
Used to sing about the mountains but the mountains washed away
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”
Here, Plant envisions all of Led Zeppelin’s success disappearing and being washed away, but still not caring about it, because he’s found meaning in being a father. In live shows over the years, Robert Plant would modify these lyrics to reflect the age of his daughter.
“The Ocean” is one of my all time personal favorite Led Zeppelin songs. To me, it perfectly encompasses what they were about as a band, and I think it’s one of their more underrated songs. So give it a listen if you’re not familiar with it, and see what you think. If anything, it’ll set the right kind of summer mood for the weekend.
That about finishes up our discussion for today. We’ll be back next week with more songs to keep you going.