Black Dog

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Black Dog
1971 French single
Appears on Led Zeppelin IV
Published by Superhype Music
Registration ASCAP 320170472
Release date 2 December 1971
Recorded January - February 1971
Genre Hard rock, blues-rock
Language English
Length 4 minutes 55 seconds
Composer Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones
Label Atlantic Records
Producer Jimmy Page
Engineer Andy Johns

'Black Dog' is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, which is featured as the lead-off track of their fourth album, released in 1971. It was also released as a single in the US and Australia with 'Misty Mountain Hop' on the B-side, and reached number 15 on Billboard and number 11 in Australia.


Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff,[1][2] wanted to write a song that people could not 'groove' or dance to with its winding riff and complex time signature changes.

In an interview, Jones explained the difficulties experienced by the band in writing the song:

I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn't be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there's no turn-around. That was the secret.[3]

The song's title is a reference to a nameless black Labrador retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording.[4] The dog has nothing to do with the song lyrics, which are about desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness resulting thereby. Regarding the lyrics to the song, Plant later said, 'Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized. Things like 'Black Dog' are blatant, let's-do-it-in-the-bath type things, but they make their point just the same.'[5] Plant's vocals were recorded in two takes.[6]

Built around a call-and-response dynamic between vocalist and the band, the start and stop a cappella verses were inspired by Fleetwood Mac's 1969 song 'Oh Well'.[7] (Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes would later perform 'Oh Well' on their 1999 tour and included it on the album Live at the Greek.)

Despite the seeming simplicity of the drum pattern, the song features a complex, shifting time signature. Jones originally wanted the song recorded in 3/16 time but realised it was too complex to reproduce live.[8] In live performances, Bonham eliminated the 5/4 variation so that Plant could perform his a cappella vocal interludes and then have the instruments return to together synchronised.[9] If the volume is turned up loud enough, Bonham can be heard tapping his sticks together before each riff. Page made reference to this in an interview he gave to Guitar World magazine in 1993:

He did that to keep time and to signal the band. We tried to eliminate most of them, but muting was much more difficult in those days than it is now.[10]

Page also discussed how he achieved his guitar sound on the track:

We put my Les Paul through a direct box, and from there into a mic channel. We used the mic amp of the mixing board to get distortion. Then we ran it through two Urei 1176 Universal compressors in series. Then each line was triple-tracked. Curiously, I was listening to that track when we were reviewing the tapes and the guitars almost sound like an analogue synthesizer.[11]

Page's solo was constructed out of four overdubbed Gibson Les Paul fills.[12] The sounds at the beginning of the song are those of Page warming up his electric guitar. He called it 'waking up the army of guitars' — which are multitrack recorded in unison with electric bass guitar to provide the song's signature.

Live performances

'Black Dog' became a staple and fan favourite of Led Zeppelin's live concert performances. It was first played live at Belfast's Ulster Hall on 5 March 1971, a concert which also featured the first ever live performance of 'Stairway to Heaven'.[13] It was retained for each subsequent concert tour until 1973. In 1975 it was used as an encore medley with 'Whole Lotta Love', but was hardly used on the band's 1977 concert tour of the United States. It was recalled to the set for the Knebworth Festival 1979 and the 1980 Tour of Europe. For these final 1980 performances, Page introduced the song from stage.[14]

When played live, Led Zeppelin often played the first few bars of 'Out on the Tiles' as the introduction for 'Black Dog', except for the 1973 tour where the riff from 'Bring It On Home' introduced the song. Also, the 'ah-ah' refrains were sung in call-and-response between Robert Plant and the audience.

Page's guitar playing prowess is well demonstrated in different recorded performances of the song from Madison Square Garden in July 1973, as seen in the group's concert films The Song Remains the Same and Led Zeppelin DVD. There is also a June 1972 live recording of 'Black Dog' which can be heard on the album How the West Was Won, and another live version on Disc 2 of BBC Sessions.

'Black Dog' was performed at the Led Zeppelin's reunion show at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007.

Plant sampled the song on his solo tracks 'Tall Cool One' and 'Your Ma Said She Cried In Her Sleep Last Night'. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performed an updated version of this song on their 1995 tour. 'Black Dog' was the first song performed by Page and Plant at the American Music Awards, which kicked off their first tour together in almost 15 years. Robert Plant also played a version of the song during his solo tour in 2005, as is included on the DVD release Soundstage: Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation. Whitesnake overtly based 'Still of the Night' on this song; later, when Coverdale-Page toured in 1993, they played both songs together. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss regularly covered 'Black Dog' during their tour of USA and Europe in April and May 2008.[15] It also features on their appearance on the Country Music Television show CMT Crossroads, recorded in October 2007.[16]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Classic Rock United States The Top Fifty Classic Rock Songs of All Time[17] 1995 18
The Guitar United States Riff of the Millennium[18] 1999 7
Rolling Stone United States The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[19] 2003 294
Q United Kingdom 1010 Songs You Must Own![20] 2004 *
Blender United States The Greatest Songs Ever![21] 2005 *
Bruce Pollock United States The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000[22] 2005 *
Q United Kingdom The 20 Greatest Guitar Tracks[23] 2007 1
DigitalDreamDoor United States The 100 Greatest Recordings From 1971[24] 2007 20
DigitalDreamDoor United States The 100 Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs[25] 2007 32

(*) designates unordered lists.

Chart positions

Chart (1972) Peak position
Japanese Singles Chart[26] 24
Dutch Singles Chart[27] 20
US Billboard Hot 100 Chart[28] 15
Canadian CHUM 30 Chart[29] 14
US Cash Box Top 100 Singles Chart[30] 9
US Record World 100 Top Pops[31] 10
Canadian RPM Top 100 Chart[32] 11
German Singles Chart[33] 22
Australian Go-Set Top 40 Singles Chart[34] 9
New Zealand Top 50 Singles Chart[35] 10
French Singles Chart[36] 23
Chart (1973) Peak position
Swiss Singles Chart[37] 6

Single (Digital download)

Chart (2007) Peak position
UK Singles Chart[38] 119
US Billboard Hot Digital Songs Chart[39] 66
Canadian Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart[40] 59

Note: The official UK Singles Chart incorporated legal downloads as of 17 April 2005.


  • Musicians:
    • Jimmy Page – electric guitar, producer, remastering, digital remastering
    • Robert Plant – vocals
    • John Paul Jones – bass guitar
    • John Bonham - drums, percussion
  • Production:
    • Peter Grant – executive producer
    • Andy Johns - engineer, mixing
    • Joe Sidore - original CD mastering engineer (mid-1980s)
    • George Marino - remastered CD engineer (1990)


  1. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 52. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  2. Schulps, Dave (October 1977). "Jimmy Page: The Trouser Press Interview". Trouser Press 4 (22). ISSN 0164-1883.
  3. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Complete Studio Recordings
  4. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Complete Studio Recordings
  5. Crowe, Cameron (13 March 1975). "The Durable Led Zeppelin". Rolling Stone (182). ISSN 0035-791X. Retrieved on 19 April 2014.
  6. Led Zeppelin Database - Studio Vaults. Argenteum Astrum (25 March 2014). Retrieved on 19 April 2014.
  7. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 52. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  8. Lewis, Dave (2003). “The Making of Led Zep IV”, Led Zeppelin: The 'Tight but Loose' Files: Celebration II. London: Omnibus Press, 22. ISBN 978-1844-49056-1. 
  9. Gracyk, Theodore (2007). Listening to Popular Music, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Led Zeppelin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 166. ISBN 978-0-472-06983-5. 
  10. Tolinski, Brad; Greg DiBenedetto (May 1993). "Inside the studio with Jimmy Page". Guitar World 14 (5). ISSN 1063-4231.
  11. Tolinski, Brad; Greg DiBenedetto (May 1993). "Inside the studio with Jimmy Page". Guitar World 14 (5). ISSN 1063-4231.
  12. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 52. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  13. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (2005). Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, Revised. London: Omnibus Press, 130. ISBN 978-1-84449-659-4. 
  14. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 52. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  15. Sparaco, Gerard (2 January 2011). Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Your Long Journey (Wardour-063). Collectors Music Reviews. Retrieved on 19 April 2014.
  16. Staff writer (15 January 2008). Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: 'Cmt Crossroads' to Premiere Next Month. Retrieved on 19 April 2014.
  17. ROCK SONGS The Top Fifty Classic Rock Songs of All Time - 1995. Jacobs Media. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  18. Riff of the Millennium - December 1999. The Guitar. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  19. The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time - November 2003. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  20. 1010 Songs You Must Own! Celebrity Choices - September 2004. Q. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  21. Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own - January 2005. Blender. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  22. The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 - 2005. Acclaimed Music. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  23. Greatest Guitar Tracks The 20 Greatest Guitar Tracks - September 2007. Q. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  24. The 100 Greatest Recordings From 1971 - 2007. DigitalDreamDoor. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  25. The 100 Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs - 2007. DigitalDreamDoor. Retrieved on 2009-02-10.
  26. Top 100 Singles - 1 January 1972. Oricon. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  27. Top 100 Singles - 29 January 1972. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  28. Hot 100 Singles - 12 February 1972. Billboard. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.
  29. CHUM Singles Chart - 12 February 1972. Retrieved on 15 January 2009.
  30. Top 100 Singles - 19 February 1972. Cash Box. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.
  31. Top 40 for 1972 - February 1972. Record World. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  32. RPM Singles Chart - 26 February 1972. RPM. Retrieved on 15 January 2009.
  33. Top 100 Singles - 6 March 1972. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  34. Top 40 Singles - 1 April 1972. Go Set. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  35. Scapolo, Dean (2007). “Top 50 Singles - May 1971”, The Complete New Zealand Music Charts. Wellington: Transpress. ISBN 978-1-877443-00-8. 
  36. Top 100 Singles - 1972. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  37. Top 100 Singles - 7 March 1973. Retrieved on 15 January 2009.
  38. UK Top Singles - 18 November 2007. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.
  39. Hot Digital Songs - 1 December 2007. Billboard. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.
  40. Hot Digital Singles - 1 December 2007. Billboard. Retrieved on 17 January 2009.