Not as much a You’re Playing It Wrong as an “Are We Hearing It Right?,” this month’s rhythmic conundrum from the Led Zeppelin catalog presents another curious case of the “Where’s one?” syndrome. The riff in question comes from “Dazed and Confused,” where it appears one way during the song’s intro and first two verses and another way in the reintro and third verse even though both circumstances utilize the same notes. So what’s up with that?
The two-bar 12/8 figure, which consists of two sets of chromatically descending low-register single notes (G-F#-F-E and D-C#-C-B) all played on the A string over a pedal low E, is first introduced by John Paul Jones as a bass line during the intro and first verse. (Jimmy Page fills these first eight bars with eerie, wah-inflected natural harmonics.) Now I don’t know about you, but I have always heard this version of the riff as starting with a pickup on beat four. This seems to be further confirmed when Page joins in with the riff beginning at the end of bar 8, so when it was time to write it down, I opted for the rhythmic scheme notated in Ex. 1, which documents Page’s four-bar re-intro and four-bar second-verse figures. Well, almost four bars.
The first anomaly occurs in the fourth ending (bar 4 of the second verse) where the riff is shortened by one beat via a bar of 9/8 that segues directly to the hardhitting, half-chord/half-single-note 6/8 riff shown in Ex. 2. This ingenious change of meters also shifts the emphasis from eighth-notes grouped in threes to eighths grouped in twos to great dramatic effect.
The second anomaly takes place when Page and company return to the intro and third verse figure after four rounds of the riff from Ex. 2. Ex. 3 depicts how the same figure now starts on the downbeat of bar 1, which displaces the riff by moving it one beat ahead of its previous incarnation. This also eliminates the need for a 9/8 bar during the next segue to the 6/8 riff from Ex. 2. Pretty slick stuff!