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"Black Dog"
File:Black Dog45.jpg
French single picture sleeve
Song by Led Zeppelin
from the album Led Zeppelin IV
B-side"Misty Mountain Hop"
Released2 December 1971 (1971-12-02) (US)
RecordedHeadley Grange, Headley, England, 1971
Producer(s)Jimmy Page

"Black Dog" is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, the opening track on their fourth album (1971). It was released as a single in the US and in Australia with "Misty Mountain Hop" as the B-side, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 in Australia.

In 2004, the song was first ranked #294 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[5] before being ranked at #300 in 2010.[6] Music sociologist Deena Weinstein calls "Black Dog" "one of the most instantly recognisable [Led] Zeppelin tracks".[7]


The song's title is a reference to a nameless, black Labrador Retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording.[8][9] The retriever, despite his advanced age, was still sexually adventurous, like the song's protagonist who reiterates his desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness it provides. As Plant explained to a 1972 concert audience:

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Let me tell you 'bout this poor old dog because he was a retriever in his early days, and the only thing he could ever find in his late days was his old lady who lived two houses away from where we were recording. And he used to go see the old lady quite regularly, but after he'd "boogied" and everything else he couldn't get back. And we used to carry him back.[10]

The lyric "Eyes that shine burning red" is also reminiscent of the Black dog legend.

Plant's vocals were recorded in two takes.[11]


John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff,[12][13] wanted to write a song with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that people could not "groove" or dance to.

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

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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.[8]

Musical structure[]

Built around a call-and-response dynamic between the vocalist and band, ""Black Dog"'s start and stop a cappella verses were inspired by Fleetwood Mac's 1969 song "Oh Well."[12] But Jones has claimed he wrote down the song's basic riff on the way to a rehearsal at Jimmy Page's Pangbourne boathouse, on the back of a train ticket in 1968. Although it has an apparently simple drum pattern, the song's complex, shifting time signature was intended to thwart cover bands from playing the song.[citation needed] Jones originally wanted the song recorded in 6/8 time but realised it was too complex to reproduce live.[14] In live performances, John Bonham eliminated the 5/4 variation so that Plant could perform his a cappella vocal interludes and then have the instruments return together synchronised.[15] If the volume is turned up loud enough, Bonham can be heard tapping his sticks together before each riff. Page explained this in an interview with Guitar World magazine in 1993:

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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.[16]

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

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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 analog synthesizer.[16]

Of the song's chords, Page remarked:

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"It's in A, and then it sort of goes to an E chord. But then, while it's snaking around it, it has some sort of little triplets that take you back into the A. So, yes, it's tricky. You just have to sort of know how to count it."[17]

Towards the end of the song, Page incorporates parallel thirds into the riff.

The guitar tracks are heavily layered. 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".[12] 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.[12]

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 as seen in the concert film, The Song Remains the Same. Also, the "ah-ah" refrains were sung in call-and-response between 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. The Song Remains the Same version had roughly two minutes cut from the song (from 5:48 to 3:54), going from the first "ah-ah" refrain to the guitar lead, cutting out the third and fourth verse and the second "ah-ah". This short version is also on the 2007 re-release of the soundtrack, but the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD has the full version.

There is also a June 1972 live recording which can be heard on the album How the West Was Won, and another live version on disc two of Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions.

"Black Dog" was performed at the Led Zeppelin's reunion show at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007. A cover version of the song with video was released in 1988 by Newcity Rockers on Critique/Atlantic Records in the US and Mercury Records in Europe. This is the only cover version to achieve US Billboard Hot 100 status peaking at number 65. The song was put into immediate rotation on MTV. In an interview with MTV, Plant stated that he was dropping the song from his current live tour.

Plant sampled the song on his solo tracks "Tall Cool One" and "Your Ma Said She Cried in Her Sleep Last Night". Page and 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 fifteen years. 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. Former Deep Purple-singer David Coverdale's band Whitesnake released the song "Still of the Night" in 1987 which has often been cited similar to "Black Dog"; later, when Coverdale toured with Page in 1993, they played both songs together. Plant and Alison Krauss regularly covered "Black Dog" during their tour of US and Europe in April and May 2008.[18] It also features on their appearance on the Country Music Television show CMT Crossroads, recorded in October 2007.[19] Plant recently performed Black Dog at the Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale, MS.


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Classic Rock United States "The Top Fifty Classic Rock Songs of All Time"[20] 1995 18
The Guitar United States "Riff of the Millennium"[21] 1999 7
Q United Kingdom "1010 Songs You Must Own!"[22] 2004 *
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[5] 2004 294
Blender United States "The Greatest Songs Ever!"[23] 2005 *
Bruce Pollock United States "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944–2000"[24] 2005 *
Q United Kingdom "The 20 Greatest Guitar Tracks"[25] 2007 1
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[6] 2010 300

(*) designates unordered lists.

Formats and track listings[]

1971 7" single (US/Australia: Atlantic 45–2849, Angola/South Africa: Atlantic ATS 568, Argentina: Atlantic 2091175, Austria/Germany: Atlantic ATL 10103, Brazil: Atco 2091175, Canada: Atlantic AT 2849, Cape Verde: Atlantic ATL N 28–118, Ecuador: Atlantic 45-73502, France: Atlantic 10 103, Greece: Atlantic 2091 175, Italy: Atlantic K 10103, Japan: Warner Pioneer P–1101A, Mexico: Atlantic 2207–024, Netherlands: Atlantic ATL 2091 175, New Zealand: Atlantic ATL 88, Philippines: Atlantic ATR 0033, Portugal: Atlantic N 28118, Singapore: Stereophonic 10103, Spain: Atlantic HS 775, Sweden: Atlantic ATL 10.103, Turkey: Atlantic 72 500)

  • A. "Black Dog" (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Misty Mountain Hop" (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:38

1971 7" radio edit (Japan: Warner Pioneer P–1001A)

  • A. "Black Dog" (Stereo) (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Black Dog" (Mono) (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56

1973 7" single (Venezuela: Atlantic 5–011)

  • A. "Black Dog" (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Rock and Roll" (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant) – 3:40

Chart performance[]


Cover versions[]

Main article: List of cover versions of Led Zeppelin songs


  1. Fast, Susan (2001). In the Houses of the Holy : Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511756-1. "Black Dog" (...) represents a defining moment in the genre of hard rock
  2. "Led Zeppelin Biography". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2 February 2014. Black Dog" was a piledriving hard-rock number cut from the same cloth as "Whole Lotta Love.
  3. Schuman, Michael A. (2009). Led Zeppelin: Legendary Rock Band. Enslow Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7660-3026-8. The fourth album also has its share of hard rock tracks. Three that received a lot of radio airplay are "Black Dog," "Misty Mountain Hop," and the appropriately named "Rock and Roll."
  4. Bream, Jon (2010). Voyageur Press (ed.). Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time. ISBN 978-0-7603-3955-8. [Led Zeppelin IV] balances the blues-rock grind of "Black Dog" against the sun-dappled utopianism of "Going To California"
  5. 5.0 5.1 The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (1–500) at the Wayback Machine (archived 20 August 2006). Rolling Stone.
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  7. Weinstein, Deena (1991). "Listener's Guide to Heavy Metal". Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 278. ISBN 0-669-21837-5.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Complete Studio Recordings
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  11. Led Zeppelin Database – An online guide to bootleg recordings at the Wayback Machine (archived 9 November 2007).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Lewis, Dave (1994). The Complete Guide to the Music of Led Zeppelin. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-3528-9.
  13. Schulps, Dave (October 1977). "Interview with Jimmy Page". Trouser Press. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  14. Lewis, Dave (1991). "The Making of Led Zep IV". Led Zeppelin: A Celebration II. Omnibus Press. p. 22. ISBN 1-84449-056-4.
  15. Gracyk, Theodore (2007). Listening to Popular Music, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Led Zeppelin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 166. ISBN 0-472-06983-7.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Schulps, Dave (1993). "Interview with Jimmy Page". Guitar World. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
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  18. McComb, Richard (6 May 2008). Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at the Birmingham NIA at the Wayback Machine (archived 12 May 2008). The Birmingham Post.
  19. CMT Crossroads › Ep. 27 at the Wayback Machine (archived 4 January 2015). Country Music Television.
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  22. "1010 Songs You Must Own! – Celebrity Choices – September 2004". Q. Retrieved 10 February 2009.
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  38. CASH BOX Top 100 Singles – Week ending FEBRUARY 19, 1972 at the Wayback Machine (archived 8 September 2012). Cash Box magazine.
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