Certain Songs #916: Led Zeppelin – “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”

Album: Presence
Year: 1976

See that’s the thing about Presence: it’s got three of my top 10 — hell, practically three of my top 5 — Led Zeppelin songs.

I’ve already written about the grandly epic “Achilles Last Stand,” and the sleazy, dirty “For Your Life,” so now it’s time to tackle what’s probably my favorite of all of their songs, the upside-down blues of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Like most of the songs on funk-filled Presence, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” glides through a series of stops and starts, too restless to stay in the same place and too nervous to move too far forward at any given time.

So first it starts with a classic Page/Plant duel, full of phase-shifted guitar and “ahh-ah-ah-ahhhhh” vocals until John Bonham and John Paul Jones get bored and wanna join in, so they all crash together into the main riff so that Robert Plant can channel the Blind Willie Johnson song that he’s particularly feeling at this moment in his life.

Oh, nobody’s fault but mine
Nobody’s fault but mine
Trying to save my soul tonight
Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but mine

Taking full responsibility for all of the bad behavior exhibited in songs like “Sick Again,” Plant continues to wander towards the crossroads, where even the Devil didn’t want to have anything to do with him. (Of course, this is because of the Devil’s strict “only one guy in a band policy.”) Eventually he just breaks down, and the song shifts back into the phased guitar/ahh-ah-ah-ah.

Only this time, Bonham and Jones are involved, and all four members of Led Zeppelin are playing hide-and-seek with each other.

Then the greatest thing happens: out of nowhere, Page crashes a couple of chords, an suddenly a harmonica wails like a banshee for what seems like days, months, years. It’s Robert Plant, starting a solo. This didn’t happen very often in Led Zeppelin’s music. In fact, the only times I can remember are during the appropening of “Bring It On Home” and, of course, “When The Levee Breaks“.

But, generally, when you can make your voice sound like a guitar, you don’t need a harmonica, so Robert Plant taking a harmonica solo was a complete surprise. In fact, it was such a surprise to John Bonham, he tried to knock it out of Robert Plant’s mouth with the biggest, baddest, loudest snarerolls of his career.

Man, the utter chaos in the four bars that introduce that harmonica solo: Page setting it all up, Plant sounding like the he’s on the hellhound’s trail for a change and Bonham trying to invoke the gods to stop it all ever-increasing fury and desperation.

It’s my favorite musical moment of any Led Zeppelin song.

The solo itself is primal and brutal, with Page riffing underneath like he’s on fire, and it sets up the next verses, where he’s banging a gong and dealing with the mo mo mo monkey on this back back back back set up Page’s guitar solo, which is great, of course, but compared to the utter fire of the harmonica solo, great isn’t quite good enough.

After that, it’s one last round of hide-and-seek, but, for once Led Zeppelin knows to get out when the getting is good, so after one more acceptance of all of the blame, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” comes crashing to the end.

“Nobody’s Fault But Mine”

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