What Is and What Should Never Be

'What Is and What Should Never Be' is a 1969 song by English rock band Led Zeppelin. The song was composed by Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant, and recorded at Olympic Studios, Barnes, England in April 1969; Groove Studios, New York in May 1969, and mixed at A & R Studios, New York, in August 1969. It appeared as the second track on Led Zeppelin's second album Led Zeppelin II, released on 22 October 1969. 'What Is and What Should Never Be' is one of the first songs in which singer Robert Plant received a writing credit. It is also one of the first songs in which guitarist Jimmy Page used a Gibson Les Paul on the recording. Like 'Whole Lotta Love' on Led Zeppelin II, the track utilizes a number of studio mixing effects, such as the stereo panning of instruments and the flanging of vocals.


'What Is and What Should Never Be' was one of Plant's first lyrics recorded by the band, which is about his affection towards Maureen Plant's sister but realises in the end 'what should never be'. It also highlights Plant's love of Celtic myths and legends, with his 'to a castle I will take you' line, later expanded on in 'Ramble On' and 'The Battle of Evermore'. The recording also marks the first appearance of drummer John Bonham's Paiste brass Chinese gong, which he set up as part of his drum kit in concerts. The gong appears in the middle section amongst Jimmy Page's mellower guitar riffs. The song changes musical colouring moving from the jazzier passages to hard rock, underpinned by a busy bass line from John Paul Jones.

Live performances

'What Is and What Should Never Be' was performed regularly in set lists between June 1969 and June 1972. A performance from Royal Albert Hall on 9 January 1970, is featured on the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD. Plant performed the song on his 1993 Fate of Nations solo tour, and later on the Page and Plant tours. Page recorded a version for his 1999 album with the Black Crowes, Live at the Greek.



  • Jimmy Page – electric guitar, producer, remastering, digital remastering
  • Robert Plant – vocals
  • John Paul Jones – bass guitar
  • John Bonham - drums, percussion


  • Peter Grant – executive producer
  • George Chkiantz - engineer, mixing
  • Joe Sidore - original CD mastering engineer (mid-1980s)
  • George Marino - remastered CD engineer (1990)


  • Lewis, Dave (2012) Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1 (OCLC 782996334).
  • Welch, Chris (2009) Led Zeppelin: The Stories Behind Every Led Zeppelin Song. London: Carlton Books. ISBN 978-1-84732-286-9 (OCLC 317254118).

External links


  • APRA: GW01545825
  • ASCAP: 530162753
  • GEMA: 715430-001
  • ISWC: T-070.202.113-3
  • US Copyright Office:

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