“The Ocean” is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, from their 1973 album Houses of the Holy. The ocean is a metaphor for the “sea of heads” faced by lead singer Robert Plant “in the auditoriums”, according to the group’s biographer Dave Lewis.
Houses of the Holy is the fifth studio album by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was released on 28 March 1973 by Atlantic Records.
The album benefited from several band members installing studios at home, which allowed them to develop more sophisticated songs and arrangements, and expand their musical style. Several songs subsequently became fixtures in the group’s live set, including “The Song Remains the Same”, “The Rain Song” and “No Quarter”. Other material recorded at the sessions, including the title track, was shelved and released on the later albums Physical Graffiti and Coda. The cover was the first by the band to be designed by Hipgnosis and was based on a photograph taken at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Although critical response was mixed, Houses of the Holy became a commercial success, and was later certified 11x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1999. In 2012, the album was ranked at #148 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Eddie Kramer, who was present during the recording of Houses of the Holy, commented on extraneous noises in the recording: “It’s entirely possible. [The song was] done in a house [but] I don’t remember there being [a phone ringing].” Jimmy Page remarked:
I’m thrilled the records are recorded in such a way that the hi-fi quality, even though it’s tough… you can hear detail on it because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It was supposed to be something whereby you could hear everything that was going on.
In the last line, the “girl who won my heart” refers to Robert Plant’s daughter Carmen, (born 21 November 1968), who was three years old at the time of recording. In concert, Plant always updated the lyric to reflect her current age, as captured on the Led Zeppelin DVD which features a performance of the song at Madison Square Garden in 1973. During this performance, Plant sang the third verse, which starts with “Sitting round singing songs ’til the night turns into day” as the second verse and sang the second verse at the end of the song. The band first played the song live on their 1972 U.S. concert tour and it remained as part of their performances until their 1973 U.S. tour. It was deleted from the set list thereafter.
In a review for the reissue of Houses of the Holy, Kristofer Lenz of Consequence of Sound gave “The Ocean” a positive review, calling the song “clattering and demonstrative… [an] underappreciated gem”. Lenz continues, “Page and co. get back to their swaggering rock roots with one of the nastiest guitar riff/drum fill combos in rock history.” and “The song and album end with a riotous crescendo as Plant screams out “Ohhhh, so gooood!” And he is soooo right.”
However, not all the reception for the song was as positive. In a contemporary review for Houses of the Holy, Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone gave “The Ocean” a negative review, calling the track “so diluted” and filled with “pointless humor”. Fletcher further wrote, “Jimmy Page’s guitar spits jagged fireballs with John Paul Jones and John Bonham riffing along behind him, but the effect is destroyed by ridiculous backup cooings and an overbearing “killer” coda that’s so blatant it can only be taken as a mock of straight rock & roll.”