What is going on at the start of Immigrant Song?

📅 Published : - Author : Miroslav Novak
📌 Posted under: Stories

The opening of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” grips listeners instantly with a mysterious and powerful build-up that has intrigued fans since its release. As the track begins, there’s a distinctive rising action that sounds almost like a sonic countdown, creating a palpable sense of anticipation before the iconic hammering guitar riff and Robert Plant’s formidable vocals burst into the soundscape.

This enigmatic start to “Immigrant Song” might prompt one to wonder about its origin and purpose. Was it an intentional artistic element or a serendipitous studio quirk?

Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song (Single, 1970)
Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song (Single, 1970)

The Hum Explained

Listening closely with headphones or good pair of studio speakers, you can tell that the beginning of the song features a looping sound that becomes louder with each pass. This is our first clue that we’re hearing an echo effect that repeats itself.

You can also hear a clicking noise each time a new layer of background hiss begins, and each click is precisely timed (around 400ms). This basically debunks the “rival” theory that the sound was a result of tracks being manually unmuted by the engineer, as it would be impossible to time them that preciselly.

Lastly, note that the countdown that we hear (“two, three, four”) is separate from this track, and it does not repeat itself.

So, if we consider all this, and look back at the equipment Jimmy Page used back then, like the Maestro Echoplex EP-2, it’s clear that the opening buzz and buildup in “Immigrant Song” come from using an echo effect, and it was mostly likely done on purpose.

Maestro Echoplex EP-2 – the culprit behind the hum noise at the beginning of “Immigrant Song”.

Origins and Creation

“Immigrant Song” is a track infused with the spirit of Viking lore and Norse mythology, all packed into a rock anthem by the legendary band Led Zeppelin. Crafted in the pivotal year of 1970, it marked a bold entry as the opening track for their third album, fittingly named Led Zeppelin III.

Bron-Yr-Aur, near Machynlleth, the Welsh cottage to which Page and Plant retired in 1970 to write many of the tracks that appeared on the band’s third album

The creative spark for “Immigrant Song” ignited during a concert in ReykjavikIceland. Frontman Robert Plant was moved by the rugged Icelandic landscape, which conjured images of powerful Viking explorers setting sail for conquests and the discovery of new lands. Plant channeled this inspiration into the song’s lyrics, encapsulating the raw essence of seeking out Valhalla, the illustrious hall of fallen warriors.

The song immediately launches into action with a distinctive, howling call to adventure, reminiscent of a Norse war cry. Jimmy Page, the guitarist and producer, is credited with transforming that battle cry into a blistering riff that defines the track’s aggressive sound. “Immigrant Song” was released as a single and swiftly became a beacon for fans, embodying Led Zeppelin‘s potent blend of mysticism and raw musical power.

It was an expression of might, echoing the Viking themes of exploration and conquest, while also serving as a metaphor for Led Zeppelin‘s own artistic expeditions into uncharted territories of rock music.

Cultural Impact and Legacy

Since its release, “Immigrant Song” has been a staple in the concert hall, being both a critical and commercial success. It powered through the Billboard Hot 100, sealing the band’s reputation as giants in the rock band scene of the 1970s. Publications like Rolling Stone have often recognized “Immigrant Song” as a testament to Led Zeppelin’s profound influence on rock music, celebrating its placement in the Top 10 music charts.

Led Zeppelin’s iconic track made a significant resurgence in the 2017 movie Thor: Ragnarok, linking the Norse-inspired lyrics with Marvel’s Norse god Thor in a cinematic context. This integration exemplified the song’s lasting appeal and relevant themes that transcend its original 1970s London origins.

Beyond entertainment, “Immigrant Song” has been adopted educationally in films like School of Rock, where Jack Black famously wielded it as an educational tool. The song has also been interpreted through various covers by notable artists such as Karen OTrent Reznor, and Atticus Ross for the soundtrack of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” demonstrating its flexibility and enduring appeal across different genres and artistic visions.

The collective enthusiasm of fans worldwide suggests that “Immigrant Song” is more than just a track; it’s a cultural phenomenon that continues to inspire musicians and music lovers, maintaining its position as a hallmark and an homage to the Hammer of the Gods.

Notify of
1 Comment
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
24 days ago

Hi there! I’d like to add my hearing experience about this Immigrant Song intro discussion. What I hear is a kick drum with lots of reverb fading in during one bar, then Hell breaks loose, haha. I do not hear “one, two, three, four”, but only “two, three, four” also fading in, so that the “one” is most probably there, but I just cannot hear it. Now, the “two” is hard to tell; but the “three, four” are definitely there.
I used MySpleeter and then played the drum track in GarageBand. I sliced out that one first bar, and played it in loop mode. Only the fact that this “mysterious” build is IN the drum track is quite telling. I’m positive about what I’m saying. No mystery, sorry.