No, Not THAT Sandy

Sandy Denny With GuitarWell, with all of the Hurricane Sandy excitement these past couple of days, I seem to have slipped a little bit on the ol’ blog here … but honestly, I am trying to keep a regular schedule. Therefore, I thought I’d jump in – even if only briefly – to share an interesting fact that I didn’t know until this past year. (And after reading this, most of you will then be able to say the exact same thing…)

Anyone out there a fan of Led Zeppelin? Good. Now, quick … name the only duet ever recorded and released by Led Zeppelin.

Know that answer? Wow, you’re pretty smart! Now here’s your follow up question, good for a year’s supply of turtle wax, a new set of steak knives, and a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat:

Who was the person who sang that duet with Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant?

In case you’re not familiar with the answer to either question, here’s a short story for you. Back in 1970, Led Zeppelin was on the upswing, building on their first two records and solidfying what was to be an incredibly successful career. They had spent most of the year recording what was to be released in October as “Led Zeppelin III“, not one of their greatest-selling albums, but certainly one that was artistically important and showed off the band’s range and versatility. There was a great emphasis on acoustic and folk-leaning compositions with this effort, and there was a lot of experimentation in the air. This mindset ended up carrying over into the work the band did for their next record, and it was in this more relaxed and experimental atmosphere that Jimmy Page picked up a mandolin.

“Battle of Evermore” was made up on the spot by Robert and myself,” Page recalls. “I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.”

Plant came up with some epic lyrics and they fleshed the song out, but something was missing: another voice. This track, Plant felt, was something that needed an extra vocal to help tell the story, and so he reached out to his friend Sandy Denny, a very popular English singer-songwriter who had just the previous year come off a stint as the lead vocalist for iconic folk-rock band Fairport Convention. (I could pivot here to talk about the insanely talented Richard Thompson, who was a founding member of that group, but I feel that perhaps that’s best left to another post….) Sandy’s role in the song was to be a counterpoint, a “town crier” to Robert Plant’s role as narrator. Or, as Page put it, “we figured we’d bring Sandy by and do a question-and-answer-type thing.”

I’ll tell you … for years I thought that Robert Plant sounded a bit different on some parts of that song, like he was singing in falsetto on certain lines just for effect. But no, he wasn’t employing Janet Jackson-type vocal tricks, I eventually discovered … it was a duet. It’s amazing to me that no matter how much you think you know about music, there’s always something else to learn….

Anyway, another interesting footnote to this little story: Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is often known as the “four symbols” album, as there were no words on the record jacket at all, just a framed photo of an old man and some symbols. These four icons were actually chosen (or created, in the case of Page) by the band members to represent themselves anonymously on the outside sleeve of the record. Again, a priceless quote from Page:

“After all this crap that we’d had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it’d be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.”

What’s not commonly known, though, is that there is a fifth symbol on the record. On the inside sleeve credits, a small icon showing three triangles touching at their points appears. This symbol represents Sandy Denny and honors her contribution to the album.

Now, if you can tell me the only guest vocalist the group Rush has ever recorded with and who that was (and on what song), well, I guess I’ll have to do better than a stupid set of steak knives now, won’t I?

2 Responses to “No, Not THAT Sandy”

  1. I intentionally store as little information about Rush in my brain as possible, so I’ll go with “Someone who also yells a lot.” I so love “Battle of Evermore,” though, so I like that a woman had something to do with it. Plant should have thrown that on Raising Sand. Allison Krauss would kill it.

    • Actually, they did “Battle of Evermore” on the “Raising Sand” tour … and, although I never attended one of those shows, I’m quite sure Alison Krauss did indeed kill it.

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