My favorite song on Physical Graffiti, and probably a top 5 Led Zeppelin song, “Ten Years Gone” is probably the saddest, most wistful song in their catalog.
With Jimmy Page strumming a lonely 12-string guitar, quietly backed by John Paul Jones on bass, “Ten Years Gone,” establishes its tone from the start, as it slowly builds up to the central riff, the sound of someone walking on a beach, thinking about their past.
And as the song drops into near silence, Robert Plant sings, regret filling his voice:
Then as it was, then again it will be
And though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
And when Page & Jones pick back up, John Bonham is right there, echoing the riff, supporting it, like the waves crashing on the shore during that beach walk, and again right there as they soar into Page’s long, contemplative guitar solo. When then leads into the bridge, where Plant asks a bunch of questions to which he already knows the answer.
Did you ever really need somebody?
And really need ’em bad?
Did you ever really want somebody?
The best love you ever had?
Do you ever remember me, baby?
Did it feel so good?
‘Cause it was just the first time
And you knew you would
After this is another guitar solo, but Page starts layering guitar after guitar for a bit, playing with each other, around each other, through each other until they all collapse at once, for the last verse. “Ten Years Gone” is like that all the way through: it stops dead in its tracks, almost too weary to go on, but as the song progresses, it finds the strength go on, marching through time, riding through its sad sad riff, and climaxing with a whole army of guitars crying at once, making the sound of a sudden rainstorm while you’re swimming in the ocean.
It’s just so beautiful and so sad: another mood that Led Zeppelin isn’t really known for, but here they are, capturing the sound of pain and regret and coming to terms all at once.
I think there are a handful of Led Zeppelin deep cuts that you could play for people who’ve always claimed not to like Led Zeppelin, but also haven’t really heard them, and if you could somehow fool those people into not knowing they were hearing Led Zeppelin, they might like the song: “Tangerine,” “Dancing Days,” “Thank You,” “Hey Hey, What Can I Do” and most especially this one.
“Ten Years Gone”
“Ten Years Gone” performed live at Knebworth, 1979
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