Music

All That Glitters: Led Zeppelin - "Misty Mountain Hop"

With its recurring hooks and tidy verse/chorus structure, the opener for the second half of Led Zeppelin's fourth album is a fairly decent pop song that nevertheless is the slightest contribution to that classic LP.


Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin IV

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 1971-11-08
UK Release Date: 1971-11
Amazon
iTunes

The second half of Led Zeppelin IV is inaugurated with the sprightly “Misty Mountain Hop”, a fairly unassuming number to have follow up the heavenly grandeur of the album’s centerpiece, “Stairway to Heaven”. Compared to “Stairway” and every other cut on the LP, “Misty Mountain Hop” is an perfunctory exercise in pop formalism that doesn’t break the mould. It just gets in, does its business with little fuss, and then wraps up.

Like the 1950s-indebted “Rock and Roll” from the album’s first half, “Misty Mountain Hop” is essentially a stylistic throwback, this time one rooted in ‘60s British Invasion pop/rock (though this song was recorded only a few short years divorced from that period, rock music was evolving by leaps and bounds in late ‘60s and early ‘70s). Based around a jaunty four note riff (originated by guitarist Jimmy Page, refined by bassist John Paul Jones), “Misty Mountain Hop” follows a very straightforward verse/chorus structure, with a middle section set aside for Page’s guitar solo. Suiting its ‘60s air, the lyrics are fixated on a rather topical concern for members of the Woodstock generation: flowers-in-their-hair-sporting hippies caught in a drug bust. The main bit of inventiveness on display in this song is how the verses alternate between multiple tracks of Robert Plant chanting in monotone -- performed in a rhythmic manner that accentuates the quarter notes -- and the singer’s solitary lung-bursting wails. Again, as on “Rock and Roll”, Plant’s performance, plus those of his bandmates (especially John Bonham’s scale-crushing drum beat), modernizes the form the band is playing with to the point where the homage becomes fairly fuzzy, only visible if you squint.

“Misty Mountain Hop” presents Led Zeppelin at the poppier end of its spectrum -- and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, heavy rock aficionados. As other tracks on the album -- and elsewhere in the Zep songbook -- illustrate, it was healthy for the band to expand its range and tweak expectations. The track’s poppy nature is its virtue; it’s probable that it was the tune’s hookiness that earned it the honor of being selected as the b-side to the “Black Dog” single. No, what makes “Misty Mountain Hop” the least impressive offering from such a monumental album is that it plays far longer than it needs to. This song has the group tackling a form designed for optimal performance at around two and a half minutes, but here Zep extends it to nearly five. Such a basic riff and repetitious structure isn’t designed for that kind of overkill, which means the song gets pretty old before it’s even done.

Like every offering from Led Zeppelin IV, “Misty Mountain Hop” is an undying radio staple and has its share of fans, even if the track isn’t as ambitious or weighty as “Black Dog” or “Stairway to Heaven”. On the whole, it’s a decent, if basic, song -- but imagine how improved it would be as a listening experience if a verse or two were taken out.


Previous entries:

* "Black Dog"

* "Rock and Roll"

* "The Battle of Evermore"

* "Stairway to Heaven"

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image