When the Levee Breaks (7:08)

Cover of Led Zeppelin IV

From Led Zeppelin IV and 18 other releases

“When the Levee Breaks” is a blues song written and first recorded by husband and wife Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. The song is in reaction to the upheaval caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. According to the When The Levee Breaks Songfacts, African-American plantation workers were forced to work on the levee at gunpoint, piling sandbags to save the neighboring towns. Hence the lyrics, “I works on the levee, mama both night and day, I works so hard, to keep the water away.”

Led Zeppelin’s version
“When the Levee Breaks”

Album Led Zeppelin IV
Released November 8, 1971
Recorded December 1970 – March 1971
Length 7:08
Label Atlantic
Writer Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham/Memphis Minnie
Producer Jimmy Page

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin had the original McCoy and Minnie recording in his personal collection. He removed and rearranged lines and line parts from the original song and added new lyrical parts (again, the lyrics focused on the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927), and combined it with a revamped melody. Recording for the song took place in December 1970 at Headley Grange, where the band used the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. It had already been tried unsuccessfully by the band at Island Studios at the beginning of the recording sessions for their fourth album.[

The Led Zeppelin version features a distinctive pounding drum beat by John Bonham recorded in a three-story stairwell, driving guitars and a wailing harmonica, all presumably meant to symbolize the relentless storm that threatens to break the levee, backing a powerful vocal performance by Robert Plant.


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Albums featuring this track (19)

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  • calsimon

    The unofficial theme song of Hurricane Katrina. Too soon? [2]

    26 Jul 12:28pm Reply
  • doctor_is_in

    sounds like COOLest song ever for me

    22 Jul 1:45pm Reply
  • fanvonoldies

    best band of all time (subjective assessment)

    15 Jul 3:35pm Reply
  • Dr-Danihell

    Essential drum loop

    13 Jul 10:22am Reply
  • YoQueSe666

    After Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie wrote and recorded this blues tune in 1929, Led Zeppelin tried their hand at it in the early 1970s. The band’s version of the track added hard rock to the mix through Bonham’s deep drums, Page’s guitar and Plant’s vocals and harmonica-playing. The result was an effects-heavy number that’s as subtle as it is complex but also oh-so-Zeppelin. -- watchmojo

    21 Jun 3:37am Reply
  • tygergurl72

    Going to Chicago...sorry but I can't take you...going down now

    5 Jun 11:49pm Reply
  • tygergurl72

    Bonzo killing those drums!

    5 Jun 11:42pm Reply
  • danteruivo666

    amazing song with legendary drums

    4 Jun 4:58pm Reply
  • ivoterziev

    Legendary song! Best drums ever!

    28 May 10:40pm Reply
  • Malkamillian

    Because Mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about.

    9 May 1:23pm Reply
  • delboy5


    26 Apr 7:31pm Reply
  • joshsaussey

    Bonham's drum sound is legendary on this track. [2] Such an insane groove on this track.

    26 Apr 7:12am Reply
  • corpsetastic

    Dem dere drums.

    20 Apr 1:40am Reply
  • Stor74

    Одна из лучших!!!

    10 Apr 5:13pm Reply
  • theironictea

    That drumfill at 5:13 is like a sonic kick in the stomach! [2]

    7 Apr 1:56pm Reply
  • theironictea


    7 Apr 1:56pm Reply
  • DeThoom

    That drumfill at 5:13 is like a sonic kick in the stomach!

    30 Mar 9:39am Reply
  • farfafarf

    My fave

    27 Mar 11:50pm Reply
  • SiftyFix

    wasn't the beginning of this used in Enigma's Return to Innocence?

    22 Mar 12:39am Reply
  • ddorough


    4 Mar 12:39am Reply
  • All 594 shouts

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