Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir: Inspiring AND Influential

It’s almost difficult to distinguish what individual song is classified as an influential song in the music industry, but if I had to pick one, it would be Kashmir, by Led Zeppelin.  Two main reasons why I feel that this song is influential is the orchestration, and the rhythm of the song.

Led Zeppelin were an English rock band formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page on guitar, Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on bass, and John Bonham on drums.  They had a very heavy sound, especially in that time period and are sometimes known as the first heavy metal band.  The band played and toured until 1980, where in a show in Germany, John Bonham collapsed and was rushed to a hospital.  Many rumors began to swirl that this was the result of Bonham’s heavy drug and alcohol abuse, but the band insisted he was overtired.  On September 24, 1980, the band began recording in the studio, and Bonham had what he called “breakfast” which consisted of four quadruple vodkas.  After rehearsals, the band went back to Page’s house where Bonham passed out.  The next day John Paul Jones and their tour manager found Bonham dead.  The cause of death was asphyxiation from vomit. They issued a press statement on 4 December 1980 confirming that the band would not continue without Bonham. “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”

During their time, Led Zeppelin released nine studio albums, and on their 5th album (Physical Graffiti), the band released Kashmir.

Right from the beginning of the song, the listener realizes that this is not a “normal” Zeppelin song.  The crash of the cymbal welcomes a swell of orchestral strings.  The strings move up the scale in a step-wise manner in a triplet feel.  Jimmy Page originally used the “riff” as a tuning progression.  The triplet feel creates a staggered feel to the beat, almost making it feel like the melody is falling off the beat, however in this particular song, the triplet isn’t the reason the listener can have difficulty “feeling” the beat listening to the melody.  In Kashmir, John Bonham’s drumbeat is in the feel of 4/4, which basically means that there is four beats in the measure with the quarter note having the value of the beat.  Many popular songs are in the 4/4 time signature, where the feel of 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 is very basic and easy to follow.  Another very common time signature is 3/4; when there are three beats in the measure with the quarter note holding the value of the beat.  A 3/4 time signature is most commonly used in a waltz; the feel of 1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3 is easy to dance to.  What makes Kashmir so unique is the fact that while Bonham’s drumbeat is in 4/4, the strings play in a 3/4 feel.  The mixture of the two time signatures creates a feel where the strong beat of the drums only aligns with the strong beat of the strings every twelve beats.  The “chorus” riff is a downward progression that counters the upward progression of the verse, and following the second chorus, the band goes into a break down, vintage Led Zeppelin, with the drums holding a very standard beat and Page swooning and wooing over it.

Although at the time of recording Kashmir none of the band members have actually been there, Robert Plant’s lyrics were writing in the “wastelands” in Southern Morocco, while driving in the Sahara Desert.  In a Top 100 Hottest Songs of All Time chart done on Triple J, Plant was quoted saying: “It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is… not grandiose, but powerful: it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments. But everything is not what you see. It was quite a task, ’cause I couldn’t sing it. It was like the song was bigger than me. It’s true: I was petrified, it’s true. It was painful; I was virtually in tears.”  Lyrically, the song provides a very positive and uplifting message, and that message, mixed with the orchestration and guitar riff, makes the song sound almost majestic.

The song itself runs over eight minutes long, which is considered to be a long song and probably wouldn’t have been played on the radio if it weren’t for the success of Stairway to Heaven.  Since Stairway to Heaven is also such a long piece, and had great success on the radio, the stations were more willing to play Kashmir in it’s entirety.

Kashmir was played in almost every live performance of Led Zeppelin from its debut in 1975, and though it had a good deal of popularity, it didn’t show it on the charts.  Members of Led Zeppelin said that this was the “essential Led Zeppelin song” but whenever a chart of “best rock songs of all time” or “top songs you must own” is made, Stairway to Heaven always gets the top billing, at least of Zeppelin songs.  However, the song itself does have enough credibility to earn several other accolades; in 1995, in a “Top 50 Classic Rock Songs of All Time,” it came in as #20.  In 2000, VH1 did a list of “The 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time,” Kashmir came in at #62.  Three years later, Rolling Stone Magazine released their chart of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” where Kashmir came in at #140 (Stairway to Heaven was #31)

It would have been easy for me to have chosen Stairway to Heaven as my influential song, but I feel Kashmir made more of a musical impact.  I don’t know if that is enough to be considered an influential piece of music in the business but I believe it is.  Many artists since then have experimented with time signatures as well as mixing multiple signatures to get a staggered feel.  Even though they were not the first band to write a song purely for the orchestra accompaniment, with the exception of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, it is one of the most popular pieces of rock music with a string melody.  Aside from the fact that Led Zeppelin is also, in my opinion, one of the greatest rock bands in history, Kashmir stands the test of time and spans the gap from generation to generation.

Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

LYRICS

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face
With stars to fill my dream.
I am a traveler of both time and space
To be where I have been.

To sit with elders of a gentle race
This world has seldom seen.
They talk of days for which they sit and wait
When all will be revealed.

Talk an’ song from tongues of lilting grace
Whose sounds caress my ear.
But not a word I heard could I relate
The story was quite clear.
Whoa-ohh-oh
Whoa-ohhh-oh-oh

Ooooh
Oh baby, I’ve been flyin’
Nooo-yeah
Oh mama there
Ain’t no denyin’

Oh!
Ooooh-yes
I’ve been flyin’
Ma-ma-ma
Ain’t no denyin’
No denyin’-uh

Oh!
All I see turns to brown
As the sun burns the ground.
And my eyes fill with sand
As I scan this wasted land.
Tryin’ to find
Tryin’ to find
Where I’ve been.

Oh pilot of the storm who leaves no trace
Like thoughts inside a dream
Who hid the path that led me to that place
Of yellow desert screen.

My shangri-la beneath the summer moon
I will return again.
Sure as the dust that floats high in June
When movin’ through Kashmir.

Oh father of the four winds, fill my sails
‘Cross the sea of years (?)
With no provision but an open face
Along the straits of fear. (?)

Whoa-oh ah-oh
Whoa-ohhh oh

Ohhh

Whoa!
When I’m on,
When I’m on my way yeah!
When I see,
When I see the way
You stayyyyy-yeah!

Ooh-ooh yeah-yeah
Ooh-ooh yeah-yeah
When I’m downnn-yeah

Ooh-ooh yeah-yeah
Ooh-ooh yeah-yeah
When I’m down, so down

Ooh my baby
Oooh my baby let me take you there

Oh-oh
Come on, come on
Oh!
Let me take you there
Let me take you there

Ooh yeah-yeah
Ooh yeah-yeah…

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81 Comments so far

  1.   Stephanie on March 5th, 2010

    Though I am not fully educated on Led Zeppelin’s music, I would be oblivious if I did not know how “Kashmir” orchestral sound,till this day, is empowering in the genre of rock. As much as I find sampling an opportunity for a musician to create an art with a foundation, I was totally against Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me” using “Kashmir” with Jimmy Page’s permission. It was just wrong and an example how sampling can go wrong, very wrong.

  2.   John Chimel on March 5th, 2010

    I agree. I am not really a fan of artists just using classic rock songs or any type of music for that matter to rap over. It’s one thing to use the main idea or riff but when the entire song is copied, I find it to be lazy.

  3.   Silver Chaudry on March 6th, 2010

    I, personally, appreciate your break down of exactly what you were referring to when you described the unique time signatures. I’m the furthest from a music expert, and because rock isn’t my favororite genre, I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the instrumental terms. Your detailed description made it easier for me to understand. Thank you!

  4.   schen on March 6th, 2010

    You did a nice job breaking down the music. Just wondering, was Led Zeppelin the first metal band to incorporate an orchestra or were they one of the first? cause I think I remember Metallica doing it too but they might have done it later then Led Zeppelin. I never realized that Puff Daddy sampled from this song! I guess it’s cause I never heard this song until know. It’s very informative.

  5.   Neil on November 28th, 2012

    The song gets a justified revival with the release of the “Celebration Day”, CD, DVD, Bluray.

    Thanks for the breakdown of the polytime signature, and for reproducing the lyrics. to see how it all works together see
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PD-MdiUm1_Y

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  12.   Chris Endres on July 20th, 2013

    I had heard that the guitar in Kashmir plays a 3/4 rhythm so out of curiosity I wanted to see if it could actually be waltzed to. The tempo is slow for international style waltz, but within reason, so we sped it up a little and gave it a shot. There were some parts (in the middle and end) where we are doing 4/4 timing, but when the rhythmic guitar kicks in we are waltzing! Everyone told us that they couldn’t hear the music as a waltz, but as John stated above the music has a 12 beat cycle that can be counted as ONE 2,3; TWO 2,3; Three 2,3; FOUR 2,3
    Here’s the performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_wsq2gcXfA

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