Certain Songs #915: Led Zeppelin – “For Your Life”

Album: Presence
Year: 1976

Working much of the same lyrical territory as “Sick Again,” the sticky, sweaty, sleazy, stomping “For Your Life” is one of the those songs that chronicles the backstage excess that made Hammer of The Gods such a salacious success.

With Robert Plant alternating between resisting temptation and succumbing to temptation, knowing full well the risks he was taking, “For Your Life” utterly captured the those moments where you know you shouldn’t be doing any more drugs or having any more sex . . . but you keep thinking maybe you should.

I mean, the song starts out with his, ahem, lemon in her hand while he’s eyeing the exits, so she then doubles down:

And she said, don’t you want to?
Don’t you want cocaine, cocaine, cocaine?
Hadn’t planned to, could not stand to try it, fry it

I’ll note that the lyrics I found online had this as “cook it,” not “cocaine,” but c’mon. I’ve been hearing it as “cocaine” since “For Your Life” completely bowled me over on the box set. (Of course, I’d owned Presence since 1982, but it took that long for this song to get me.)

Of course, it wasn’t the lyrics of “For Your Life” that got me, it was the music. Quite possibly their greatest funk song, the riff that powers the verses of “For Your Life” is tricky and straightforward at the same time, with John Bonham and John Paul Jones so locked in you couldn’t separate them with a laser, and Page slashing at his guitar with his whammy bar to add an extra layer of dirt and grime.

It’s all a perfect setting for Robert Plant to moan and gurgle and snort and stutter until he makes his decision on the bridge. I guess it’s the bridge. Could be the chorus. Either way, all of a sudden, Jimmy Page his a chord that suspends the universe long enough for Bonham to turn the beat entirely around, Page follows up by unleashing a torrent of crystalline notes that sound like they could be redemption, but are probably just another devil’s trick.

Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it
Do it when you wanna
Do it, do it, do it
Do it when you wanna

Staying at just a skosh below mid-tempo, “For Your Life” doesn’t so much play out as unfold, each riff, solo, modulation and rhythmic flourish — Jimmy Page’s extra chickenscratch guitar on the last verse (when Plant is snorting) — just adding to the sense of being locked into a moment of space in time that could fuck with the future.

They never played this in their original incarnation: the only Presence songs that ever made those setlists were “Achilles Last Stand” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” but they did pull it out for the 2007 reunion show, and the combination of surprise as well as how much fun they were clearly having revisiting a time and place they were lucky to escape from (Bonzo sadly excepted, of course), it’s easily my favorite thing from Celebration Day.

“For Your Life”

“For Your Life” performed live in 2007

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