When the Levee Breaks

'When the Levee Breaks' is a 1971 song by English rock band Led Zeppelin. The song was composed by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, with a co-credit to Memphis Minnie, and recorded at Headley Grange, Hampshire, England in January 1971, and mixed at Sunset Sounds, Los Angeles in August 1971. It appeared as the eighth and final track on Led Zeppelin's fourth album Led Zeppelin IV, released on 8 November 1971. 'When the Levee Breaks' is a dense hard-hitting blues rock recording. The song's drums has often been cited as one of the most sampled tracks in recorded music history.


'When the Levee Breaks' was originally attempted at Island Studios in December 1970 before the band revived the song for the Headley Grange session in January 1971. The major difference was the sound drummer John Bonham was able to achieve in the hall and stairwell of the Headley Grange manor. By using a distance miking technique using two Beyerdynamic MI60 microphones hung from the staircase and pointed in the direction of Bonham's drum kit, producer Jimmy Page and engineer Andy Johns were finally able to achieve a massive drum sound they were looking for. The lyrics by singer Robert Plant retell the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood, executed with phased vocals, and there is harmonica playing by Plant that uses backwards echo. This song is the only surviving track from the Sunset Sounds sessions, that the band were happy with and used.

'When the Levee Breaks' has been covered by many artists including Jeff Buckley, A Perfect Circle, and WASP, as well as appearing in numerous hip hop samples.

Live performances

'When the Levee Breaks' was only attempted on the 1975 tours, for the concerts in Rotterdam, Brussels, and the first few shows of their North American tour. Due to the complexity of the drum sound, it was difficult to replicate live what had been recorded in the studio. Page and Plant revived the song for their 1994 MTV Unledded special, and subsequent 1995, and 1996 tours. John Paul Jones performed the song as an instrumental for his 1999 and 2001 solo tours. Plant and singer-songwriter Alison Krauss also played a version for their 2008 tours.



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


  • Peter Grant – executive producer
  • Andy Johns - 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).

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