“Immigrant Song” is a 1970 song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It is built upon a repeating riff and features lyrical references to Norse mythology, with singer Robert Plant’s howling vocals mentioning war-making and Valhalla. The song was included on their third studio album, Led Zeppelin III and released as a single. Several live recordings have also been issued on various Led Zeppelin albums. Other artists have recorded renditions of the song or performed it live.
Though Led Zeppelin is regarded as an album-oriented group, “Immigrant Song” is one of the band’s several hit singles and appeared on singles charts in several countries. The song’s popularity has led to its inclusion in such compilation albums as Led Zeppelin Remasters (1990) and Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1 (1999).
“Immigrant Song” was written during Led Zeppelin’s tour of Iceland, Bath, and Germany in the summer of 1970. The opening date of this tour took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, which inspired Plant to write the lyrics. He explained in an interview:
We weren’t being pompous … We did come from the land of the ice and snow. We were guests of the Icelandic Government on a cultural mission. We were invited to play a concert in Reykjavik and the day before we arrived all the civil servants went on strike and the gig was going to be cancelled. The university prepared a concert hall for us and it was phenomenal. The response from the kids was remarkable and we had a great time. ‘Immigrant Song’ was about that trip and it was the opening track on the album that was intended to be incredibly different.
Six days after Led Zeppelin’s appearance in Reykjavik, the band performed the song for the first time in concert during the Bath Festival.
The song begins with a distinctive, wailing cry from Plant and is built on a repeating, staccato riff by guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. It is performed in the key of F♯ minor at a moderate tempo of 112 beats per minute. There is a very faint count-off at the beginning of the track with lots of hisses which appears on the album version but is trimmed from the single version. The hiss is feedback from an echo unit.
A phrase from the song was used as the title of Stephen Davis’ biography of the band, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. The lyrics also did much to inspire the classic heavy metal myth, of Viking-esque figures on an adventure, themes which have been adopted in the look and music of bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Manowar and Amon Amarth.
In a contemporary review of Led Zeppelin III, Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone described “Immigrant Song” as the closest to being as classic as “Whole Lotta Love”, praising the song’s “bulldozer rhythms and Plant’s double-tracked wordless vocal crossings echoing behind the main vocal like some cannibal chorus wailing in the infernal light of a savage fertility rite.”
“Immigrant Song” was used to open Led Zeppelin concerts from 1970 to 1972. On the second half of their 1972 concert tour of the United States, it was introduced by a short piece of music known as “LA Drone”, designed to heighten the sense of anticipation and expectation amongst the concert audience. By 1973, “Immigrant Song” was occasionally being used as an encore, but was then removed from their live set. Live versions of the song can be heard on the Led Zeppelin albums How the West Was Won (featuring a performance at Long Beach Arena in 1972) and the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (a version from the Paris Theatre in London in 1971). When played live, Page played a lengthy guitar solo, which was absent on the recorded Led Zeppelin III version. “Immigrant Song” was played as part of the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Jeff Beck by both Page and Beck.