Certain Songs #892: Led Zeppelin – “Thank You”

Album: Led Zeppelin II
Year: 1969

Conveniently placed at the end of side one of Led Zeppelin II so it could be easily skipped by high-school boys who didn’t want to deal with the overt sentimentality and acoustic guitars — god forbid this song somehow blasted from your car in a parking lot! — “Thank You” is probably the first place where Led Zeppelin truly showed their mastery of non-heavy songs as well.

All of these years later, it’s clearly the first power ballad, fully embracing all of the tropes acoustic guitars, lovelorn lyrics, extra instrumentation, shifts from quiet to loud — that have made power ballads the objects of equal parts of love and loathing.

But of course, when Page & Plant dropped “Thank You,” nobody knew that the scourge of the “Home Sweet Homes” and “Sisters Christian” (not the mention the awesomeness of your “Dreams On” and “Estrangeds“) that lay in the future. They were just trying to vary things up after a noisey, bluesy first side.

The first set of Zeppelin lyrics written by Robert Plant, “Thank You” — written for his wife, Maureen — absolutely drips with sincerity. Which it had better, since it could just have easily been called “Thank You (For Sticking By Me While I’m Out Banging Groupies By The Dozen”)

If the sun refused to shine
I would still be loving you
When mountains crumble to the sea
There will still be you and me

Message: not only am I the guy in “Whole Lotta Love” who’ll fuck you all night long while scary theremin noises mask the sound of you coming over and over again, I’m also the guy who will love you all life long, as a church organ plays sweetly in the background.

With Page’s chiming 12-string guitar weaving in and around that church organ, and John Bonham not really getting the memo and sticking in weird drum rolls wherever he damn well pleased — the one halfway through the guitar solo completely doesn’t fit, which is why it fits perfectly — “Thank You” manages the neat trick of of being quietly anthemic, the greatest and the purest love song in the Zep canon.

I also think it’s the song on Led Zeppelin II (a record thats never been one of my favorites) which has aged the best: “Whole Lotta Love” seems too rooted in its time and place, the blues songs have to deal with their various levels of appropriation and even the more formal experiments in terms of arrangement, like “What Is and What Should Never Be” or “Ramble On” don’t quite feel as timeless.

Not so “Thank You.” Maybe because it’s a straightforward, simple song, it feels ageless and timeless in a way that, say, “The Lemon Song” never will.

Fan-Made video for “Thank You”

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant performing “Thank You” live

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