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It's their hugest-sounding track, partly because it was one of the few that used outside musicians – a string and brass corps that augmented Jones' Mellotron swirls, Bonham's druid storm-trooper processional and Page's Arabic-­Indian vibe ("I had a sitar before George Harrison," he said). Plant's lyrics were born from an endless car ride through southern Morocco, and his 15-second howl around the four-minute mark may be his most spectacular vocal moment. Plant called it "the definitive Zeppelin song."

Lyrics Based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

 

The lyrics to this song (written by Memphis Minnie in 1927) are based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. African-American plantation workers were forced to work on the levee at gunpoint, piling sandbags to save the neighboring towns. Hence the lyrics, "I works on the levee, mama both night and day, I works so hard, to keep the water away." After the levee breached, blacks were not allowed to leave the area, and were forced to work in the relief and cleanup effort, living in camps with limited access to the supplies which were coming in. Many left at the first chance since there was no work in the Delta after the destruction of all of the plantations; hence the lyrics, "Oh cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do no good" and "I's a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan, gonna leave my baby, and my happy home" 

Was Only Performed Live Twice

Heavily produced in the studio, this was difficult to perform live, which Led Zeppelin did only twice: once in a "warm up" gig in Denmark before their 1975 US tour, and again on their second night in Chicago. 

The Drums Were Sampled for Many Rap Songs

 

Many rap songs have sampled the drums on this. For sampling purposes, this is great because of the clean, uninterrupted drum break at the beginning. The Beastie Boys used it on "Rymin' And Stealin'" which opened their first album License To Ill. Other songs to use it include "Lyrical Gangbang" by Dr. Dre and "Beats And Pieces" by Coldcut.

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break
When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay


Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan
Lord mean old levee taught me to weep and moan


It's got what it takes to make

a mountain man leave his home
Oh well, oh well, oh well

Don't it make you feel bad
When you're tryin' to find your way home
You don't know which way to go?
If you're goin' down South
They got no work to do
If you don't know about Chicago

Cryin' won't help you prayin' won't do you no good
Now cryin' won't help you prayin' won't do you no good
When the levee breaks mama you got to move
All last night sat on the levee and moaned
All last night sat on the levee and moaned
Thinkin' 'bout me baby and my happy home
Going to Chicago
Going to Chicago

Sorry but I can't take you
Going down, going down now, going down
Going down now, going down
Going down, going down, going down

Going down now, going down
Going down now, going down
Going down now, going down
Going d-d-d-d-down
Woo, woo

WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS