"When the Levee Breaks" is a country blues song written and first recorded by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in 1929. The lyrics reflect experiences during the upheaval caused by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
"When the Levee Breaks" was re-worked by English rock group Led Zeppelin as the last song on their untitled fourth album. Singer Robert Plant used many of the original lyrics and the songwriting is credited to Memphis Minnie and the individual members of Led Zeppelin. Many other artists have performed and recorded versions of the song.
Led Zeppelin recorded "When the Levee Breaks" for their untitled fourth album. When considering material for the group to record, singer Robert Plant suggested the Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie song. Jimmy Page commented that while Plant's lyrics identified with the original, he developed a new guitar riff that set it apart. However, it is John Bonham's drumming that is usually noted as the defining characteristic of the song.
John Bonham's drumming, played on a Ludwig kit, was recorded in the lobby of Headley Grange using two Beyerdynamic M 160 microphones which were hung up a flight of stairs; output from these were passed to a pair of Helios F760 compressor/limiters. A Binson Echorec, a delay effects unit, was also used.
Portions of the song were recorded at a different tempo, then slowed down, explaining the "sludgy" sound, particularly on the harmonica and guitar solos. It was the only song on the album that was mixed at Sunset Sound in Hollywood, California (the rest being remixed in London). Page identifies the panning on the song's ending as one of his favourite mixes "when everything starts moving around except for the voice, which remains stationary." The song was difficult to recreate live; the band only played it a few times in the early stages of their 1975 U.S. Tour.
"When The Levee Breaks"
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan It's got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well Don't it make you feel bad When you're tryin' to find your way home You don't know which way to go? If you're goin' down south Then there's no work to do If you re goin' north there's Chicago Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move All last night I sat on the levee and moaned All last night sat on the levee and moaned Thinkin' about my baby and my happy home Going, I'm going to Chicago Going to Chicago Sorry but I can't take you Going down... going down now Going down... going down now Going down Going down Going down Going down Going down now Going down Going down now Going down Going down now Going down Going down