Video footage of Led Zeppelin’s incendiary cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally from the band’s epic performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 9 January 1970 has emerged online.
That this footage is largely unseen and was the preserve of bootlegs is something of a mystery. It was pro-shot, with decent quality audio, and it captures one a great moment in electric guitar history when Jimmy Page cuts loose and goes over the edge with one of his wildest guitar solos.
But somehow it never made the cut when Led Zeppelin released their Albert Hall concert performance on Disc One of their eponymous 2003 DVD. Another track notable for its absence was Heartbreaker. These days, Led Zeppelin concert footage is like a precious natural resource – they’re not making any more of it, so whatever is unearthed has to be savoured.
This performance in particular was one for the ages, a final cover in a set that opened with LedZep’s legendary cover of Ben E King’s We’re Gonna Groove – a track that reportedly was in the running for Led Zeppelin II but only got released on disc when it showed up alongside other offcuts on 1982’s post-breakup album Coda. Indeed, Led Zeppelin used the Albert Hall performance for Coda, polishing up with some overdubs.
As for this Long Tall Sally footage, the video was spliced together from all available sources of the video, and it makes for a helter skelter viewing experience, with split screen footage, fast cuts, and an in your face camera that gets you closer to Robert Plant’s mutton chops than any barber of the era. The audio does bottom out now and again but when it is on, it is on.
Page is on a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which by that point had supplanted the Fender Telecaster as his number one instrument, and is in fine voice as Page and co play fast and loose with the arrangement. The energy is off the charts. But then Little Richard was always an animating force for Led Zeppelin as he was for any rock band of that era.
When the band hit a wall, dipping into the Little Richard catalogue for a cover could often shake something lose, as it did during the writing sessions for Led Zeppelin IV, when John Bonham started playing and a riff just appeared to Page.
“Rock And Roll was a spontaneous combustion,” he said, speaking to Dave Schulps of Trouser Press in 1977. “We were doing something else at the time, but Bonzo played the beginning of Little Richard’s Good Golly Miss Molly with the tape still running and I just started doing that part of the riff. It actually ground to a halt after about 12 bars, but it was enough to know that there was enough of a number there to keep working on it. Robert even came in singing on it straight away.”
Page might have been misremembering the Little Richard track in question. It was widely regarded that the drum tag that opens Keep A Knockin’ was the inspiration for Rock And Roll – it is instantly recognisable. But the point stands. The influence of the rock ’n’ roll pioneer would echo throughout the late ‘60s and ‘70s as a new generation put their stamp on it.
In 1985, Page would cover Little Richard’s Lucille with the Beach Boys in Philadelphia, rocking a Hawaiian shirt and his 1953 B-Bender-equipped Telecaster, and doing some serious damage with that solo. Hey there’s a pattern developing here...