“Rock and Roll” is a song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, which was first released as the second track from the band’s fourth album in 1971. The song features a guest appearance by the Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart.
Befitting its title, the song is based on one of the most popular structures in rock and roll, the three-chord song. It is performed in the key of A at a tempo of 170 beats per minute. “Rock and Roll” stands as one of the best-known songs in the band’s catalogue.
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page explained that the song developed from a spontaneous jam session, whilst the band were trying (and failing) to finish the track “Four Sticks”, at the Headley Grange mansion they had rented in Hampshire, England to record the track. John Bonham began by playing the drum introduction from the Little Richard song “Keep A-Knockin'” to which Page added a Chuck Berry-style guitar riff. The tapes were rolling and fifteen minutes later the basis of the song was completed. Page commented:
We were recording another number [Four Sticks]; we’d just finished a take and John Bonham did the drum intro and we just followed on. I started doing pretty much half of that riff you hear on Rock n Roll and it was just so exciting that we thought, “let’s just work on this”. The riff and the sequence was really immediate to those 12-bar patterns that you had in those old rock songs like Little Richard, etc., and it was just so spur-of-the-moment the way that it just came together more or less out of nowhere.
It actually ground to a halt after about 12 bars, but it was enough to know that there was enough of a number there to keep working on it. Robert [Plant] even came in singing on it straight away.
“Rock and Roll” was a key component of the band’s setlist at Led Zeppelin concerts from 1971 on. Initially, Plant referred to it on stage as “It’s Been A Long Time”, which is the first line of the song. In 1972 it was elevated to the opening number of all concert performances and it retained this status until 1975. For the band’s 1977 North American tour, it became part of a medley encore with “Whole Lotta Love”, and during 1979and 1980 it became an encore in its own right.
A live performance of the song from Madison Square Garden in July 1973 was recorded for the band’s concert film The Song Remains the Same and accompanying soundtrack album. There is also a June 1972 live recording of “Rock and Roll” which has been captured on the album How the West Was Won.
In 1985 Page, Plant and Jones reunited and performed the song at the Live Aid concert at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, as part of the Led Zeppelin set featuring drummers Tony Thompson and Phil Collins. “Rock and Roll” was also performed as the final encore at Led Zeppelin’s reunion show at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007, where, due to Robert Plant’s ageing voice, it is played down a whole step. On 7 June 2008, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins on stage at Wembley Stadium to perform “Rock and Roll,” along with “Ramble On”.