John Bonham’s drumming was essential to Led Zeppelin. He used his bag of tricks to give powerfully stellar performances, but Bonzo also displayed his talent for playing various styles of beats and showing restraint when necessary. Still, the band didn’t employ their drummer on some songs. These are the six Led Zeppelin songs without Bonham’s drums (in chronological order).
The 1 Led Zeppelin song that might not include John Bonham’s drumming, but we’re not sure
Before diving into the Zep songs we know don’t have Bonham’s playing, we need to discuss one we’re unsure about.
“That’s the Way,” a delicate gem from the back half of Led Zeppelin III, is nearly all acoustic guitar and vocals with steel guitar flourishes. Yet the tambourine that enters the mix toward the end (it’s distinct starting at the 4:44 mark) could be Bonham. He’s not credited with playing that specific instrument on the record (per AllMusic). Plus, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant handled much of the instrumentation (Page played bass on the song) and lyrics after they composed it together at the Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Plant shook the tambourine during the recording session, but we’re 100% sure Bonham wasn’t included.
1. ‘Black Mountain Side’
Bonham’s impressive bass drum triplets a few seconds into Led Zeppelin I opener “Good Times Bad Times” set the tone for the hard-rocking album and his astounding feats that followed over the next decade.
Bonzo’s skills showed up throughout the debut record (the “Dazed and Confused” and “You Shook Me” solos and “Communication Breakdown” were impressive displays). Yet Page brought in tabla player Viram Jasani to handle percussion on “Black Mountain Side.” The acoustic instrumental forecast some of the Eastern music tidbits Led Zeppelin added to later songs, but Bonham was nowhere to be found.
Page tapped Jasani again to provide tablas on the Led Zeppelin III (1970) track. Unsurprisingly, Jasani’s tablas, the swelling strings, and Page’s open tuning on his guitar lent an Eastern feel to the song, which, at almost four minutes, nearly doubled the run time of “Black Mountain Side.”
Also unsurprisingly, Led Zeppelin made the right call not to include Bonham’s drumming on the track. There wasn’t a good spot for his percussion. You could perhaps make a case that a cymbal crash here or there wouldn’t have been out of place, but including that form of intermittent playing would have been distracting and unnecessary.
3. ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’
The final song on the Led Zeppelin III track listing, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” was the Led Zeppelin tune that most resembled a back-porch jam. How many impromptu back-porch jams include a drummer with a full kit? The percentage is probably barely over zero, which was a reason Bonham’s drumming was nowhere to be found.
Plus, Plant and Page needed just two takes to nail the experimental song. So not only did drums not fit the tone, but the band arrived at the finish line before they could even consider asking Bonham to contribute.
4. ‘The Battle of Evermore’
It’s almost impossible to say which Led Zeppelin album contained Bonham’s best drumming. It comes down to personal preference, but Led Zeppelin IV (1971) would have to be in the running even though he sits out 25% of the album.
The mandolin and guitar epic “The Battle of Evermore” didn’t suffer from the lack of Bonham’s drumming. If anything, it left ample space for Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny to duet with Plant on the only Led Zeppelin song where he shared vocal duties.
5. ‘Going to California’
Led Zeppelin’s homage to Joni Mitchell was one of the band’s folkier songs. Like its drum-less Led Zeppelin IV counterpart, it didn’t need Bonham’s playing to get it to the finish line. John Paul Jones played mandolin and Page acoustic guitar, which gave Plant room to have one of his best Led Zeppelin moments.
The shortest Led Zeppelin song might also be one of their prettiest. Page’s acoustic composition came to life while making Led Zeppelin III, but the band held on to it until they released Physical Graffiti in 1975.
The guitarist deftly played chiming notes on the high strings while providing his own bass line on the low strings in an utterly beautiful tune. It’s almost a personal performance of a demo. As such, there was no room for John Bonham’s drumming on the track. Page’s outstanding solos became can’t-miss moments, but “Bron-Yr-Aur” (not to be confused with the misspelled LZ III song “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”) proved his guitar technique extended beyond electrified shredding.
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