Certain Songs #904: Led Zeppelin – “Over The Hills and Far Away”

Album: Houses of The Holy
Year: 1973

This is the first Led Zeppelin song I ever heard.

Or at least the first Led Zeppelin song I ever heard that I subsequently knew was by Led Zeppelin. Released as a single, “Over The Hills and Far Away” got a lot of airplay on KYNO-AM during the exact moment when I was becoming a pop music fanatic, so it’s one of those songs that I memorized by heart as a kid, only to fully discover as an adult that it had dozens of layers I’d completely missed.

And it’s probably a top 5 Led Zeppelin song for me now. Which doesn’t make me unique, as “Over The Hills and Far Away” is one of those Zep songs that is eternal and timeless, isn’t it? It grabs you from the very opening with Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar doubling back upon itself, enjoying the lick that he’d come up with so much that he probably waved Robert Plant off in the studio, as if to say, “hang on, I’m really enjoying this.”

And when Plant comes in at first, he’s quiet and subdued, because he’s also marveling at that guitar lick, knowing that a million teenagers will soon be playing it in their bedrooms and at guitar stores.

And in a quintessential moment of dynamism, Page suddenly switches to the electric, and with a nod to John Paul Jones & John Bonham, “Over The Hills and Far Away” crashes into gear, with a stuttering rhythm crashing against itself like waves against a cliff as Robert Plant sings.

Many have I loved, and many times been bitten
Many times I’ve gazed along the open road
Many times I’ve lied, and many times I’ve listened
Many times I’ve wondered how much there is to know

During the uptempo parts of “Over The Hills and Far Away,” in between the verses and during the long guitar solo section — especially live, where you aren’t distracted by the overdubs — you realize that Led Zeppelin has added yet another element to their music for Houses of The Holy: funk.

Obviously, this latest influence was most pronounced on “The Crunge,” which no white boy teenager of the musically segregated 1970s could make heads or tales of, but it was also there in the chicken scratch guitar of “Song Remains The Same,” the tricky riff of “The Ocean,” and even the faux-reggae of “Dy’er Mak’er.”

But listen to Bonham and Jones throughout “Over The Hills and Far Away,” and you can hear just locked in together they are — not as overt as, say Charlie Watts & Bill Wyman on the Rolling Stones funkier songs, but more so than, say Roger Waters and Nick Mason. Of course, because so much of the run time of “Over The Hills and Far Away” is taken up by Jimmy Page’s long acoustic intro and the fading outro, you don’t really think of it as a groove song, but it’s all there.

Of course, none of that even crossed my mind as the music-crazed pre-teen who taped “Over The Hills and Far Away” from KYNO in the summer of 1973 while the DJ went on about the sex appeal of Robert Plant’s long hair over the outro. At that time, I preferred the Deep Purple or Grand Funk Railroad singles I heard on the radio, since those were at least proper verse chorus songs.

Nowadays, I think that “Over The Hills And Far Away” might be my favorite Led Zeppelin song, because it’s so moody and mysterious and still rocks the fuck out to boot. And check out the version the version that ended up on How The West Was Won, where they’d barely even played it, but still captured its spirit.

“Over The Hills and Far Away”

“Over The Hills and Far Away” from The Song Remains The Same

“Over The Hills and Far Away” from How The West Was Won

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