The songs Led Zeppelin never performed live

Despite their name, Led Zeppelin rose like a helium balloon to top the rock ‘n’ roll roost of the late 1960s and ’70s alongside The Rolling Stones and The Who. Their heavier blues approach, fuelled by John Bonham’s thunderous percussion and Jimmy Page’s rapturous guitar, sculpted something unprecedented as it underpinned the powerful, dynamic vocals of Robert Plant.

From the iconic, headbanging perversity of 1969’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to 1979’s chaotic, surging ‘Carouselambra’, Led Zeppelin matured on and off the stage, documenting their musical odyssey with eight seminal studio albums. The group entered the fray with instrumental confidence but proved themselves as unbound creatives and master composers over the ’70s.

In true prog-rock spirit, Led Zeppelin never shied from complexity, and if they approached the shores of pretension, then so be it – where would art be without pretension? In 1971, the band released ‘Stairway to Heaven’, one of their most enduring epics, which set the tone for the complexities of future material.

While the protracted chart-pleaser garners attention on the level of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, it wasn’t the most technically complex track on its home album, Led Zeppelin IV. The signature-bending ‘Black Dog’ undoubtedly gives ‘Stairway’ a run for its money, but ‘Four Sticks’ was the only song to completely stump the band when looking to recreate a studio recording on-stage.

To the untrained ear, the obscure 1971 hit doesn’t appear so much complex as it does plain, chaotic and disjointed. Alas, it’s the disjointed chaos of this oscillating frenzy of sound that made it so difficult to play.

The drumming pattern lifts from a 5/4 verse section to a 6/8, and in the studio, it proved to be quite the challenge for Bonham to get his sticks around. According to bassist John Paul Jones: “It took him ages to get ‘Four Sticks.’ I seemed to be the only one who could actually count things in. Page would play something, and [John would] say, ‘That’s great. Where’s the first beat? You know it, but you gotta tell us…’ He couldn’t actually count what he was playing. It would be a great phrase, but you couldn’t relate it to a count. If you think of ‘one’ being in the wrong place, you are completely screwed.”

Bonham finally managed to get his drum tracks down in the studio, using two sticks in each hand – hence the song’s title – to get that characteristic clicking sound. Due to the song’s complexity, Led Zeppelin added ‘Four Sticks’ to a list of tracks they would neglect in set lists. They only attempted the song live once, at a 1971 concert in Copenhagen, before abandoning it for good. Hear below.

The list below collates the 19 songs Led Zeppelin omitted from all live shows, whether on the grounds of complexity or disinclination. Ironically, ‘Houses of the Holy’, an ode to the live Led Zep experience, makes an appearance on the list.

The songs Led Zeppelin never performed live
‘Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)’
‘La La’
‘Hats off to (Roy) Harper’
‘Hey, Hey, What Can I Do’
‘D’yer Mak’er’
‘The Rover’
‘Houses of the Holy’
‘In the Light’
‘Down by the Seaside’
‘Night Flight’
‘Boogie With Stu’
‘Royal Orleans’
‘Candy Store Rock’
‘Hots on for Nowhere’
‘Tea for One’
‘South Bound Suarez’
‘Fool in the Rain’
‘I’m Gonna Crawl’

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