Led Zeppelin’s “Carouselambra” Played Live & The Story Behind The Song

Led Zeppelin Never Performed Carouselambra Live

If They Had, It Probably Wouldn’t Have Sounded As Good As Randy Jackson Of Zebra’s Acoustic Solo Version

Led Zeppelin never got to perform Carouselambra live. It’s a ten minute thirty four second synthesizer driven opus.

This version of Carouselambra performed by Zebra’s Randy Jackson is absolutely spectacular.

Carouselambra is one of the radio’s least played Led Zeppelin songs. Maybe it is because of the length of the song or maybe it is the mix which is not up to the usual Led Zeppelin standards. Whatever the reason, besides its enigmatic and haunting lyrics, Carouselambra has some very strong points.

Randy Jackson (lead singer and guitarist of Zebra) not only does the song justice, but turns in an amazing solo performance. Remember, this song was originally recorded with swirling keyboards, guitars, bass and drums. (At end of our story is the original Zeppelin recording.)

The Story of Carouselambra

After the sudden death of Robert Plant’s five-year-old son Karac from a virus in 1977, touring came to an immediate halt and the band went on hiatus. Robert Plant distanced himself from his band mates.

After a long period of self-introspection, Plant decided he was ready to make music again. In December 1978, Led Zeppelin convened to make their final studio album, In Through The Out Door. Three weeks of recording time in Stockholm’s Polar Studios, owned by members of ABBA, were mainly consumed by bassist John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant. The pair, who had never been the closest of friends, spent a lot of time together and ended up writing almost all of the music and lyrics for the album.

John Paul Jones told Zeppelin biographer Barney Hoskyns, “The band was splitting between people who could turn up at recording sessions on time and people who couldn’t,”

On most days “people who couldn’t” meant guitarist Jimmy Page and drummer John Bonham. Page and Bonham would arrive late into writing and recording sessions with most of the songs fleshed out already by Plant and Jones. Though the mood was good in the studio, there was tension within the band.

Even if he wasn’t at his best, Page played well and definitely contributed to In Through The Out Door. Page has five of the seven songwriting credits and as producer Page was responsible for the final album mix.

Led Zeppelin leave the stage at the end of their final show July 7, 1980 at Eissporthalle in Berlin, Germany.

Zeppelin went out and headlined the Knebworth Festival in England in 1979 and then embarked on a short 14 date European tour in June 1980 as a prelude to a major U.S. tour later that year. Three songs were from the new album were played during the tour, but not Carouselambra.

Had Zeppelin gone on a U.S. tour as planned that fall, the band would have changed their set list and Carouselambra would have been performed live. Unfortunately, John Bonham died September 25 ,1980 and Led Zeppelin broke up soon after.

So what does Carouselambra mean?

Some have speculated Carouselambra’s lyrics are another ode to Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings.

But in a 1979 interview Plant revealed, “The song was about someone who, when one day realizing the song was written about them, would say, ‘My God! Was it really like that?”

Later in a 2003 Mojo magazine interview Plant said “I thought parts of ‘Carouselambra’ were good, especially the darker dirges that Pagey developed. I rue it so much now, because the lyrics on ‘Carouselambra’ were actually about that environment and that situation. The whole story of Led Zeppelin in its latter years is in that song, and I can’t hear the words.”

Perhaps the muddled final recording mix of Carouselambra is because Jimmy Page heard the lyrics all too clearly.

Here are the poetic words of Robert Plant:

Led Zeppelin – Carouselambra  (Jones/Page/Plant)

Sisters of the way-side bide their time in quiet peace
Await their place within the ring of calm
Still stand to turn in seconds of release
Await the call they know may never come
In times of lightness, no intruder dared upon
To jeopardize the course, upset the run
And all was joy and hands were raised toward the sun
As love in the halls of plenty overrun
Uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh

Still in their bliss unchallenged mighty feast
Unending dances shadowed on the day
Within their walls, their daunting formless keep
Preserved their joy and kept their doubts at bay
Faceless legions stood in readiness to weep
Just turn a coin, bring order to the fray
And everything is soon no sooner thought than deed
But no one seemed to question in any way
Uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh

How keen the storied hunter’s eye prevails upon the land
To seek the unsuspecting and the weak
And powerless the fabled sat, too smug to lift a hand
Toward the foe that threatened from the deep
Who cares to dry the cheeks of those who saddened stand
Adrift upon a sea of futile speech?
And to fall to fate and make the ‘status plan’
But no one there had heaven within their reach
Singing uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh

Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh

Where was your word, where did you go?
Where was your helping, where was your bow?

Dull is the armor, cold is the day
Hard was the journey, dark was the way.

I heard the word, I couldn’t stay, oh
I couldn’t stand it another day, another day

Touched by the timely coming, roused from the keeper’s sleep,
release the grip, throw down the key.

Held now within the knowing, rest now within the peace,
Take of the fruit, but guard the seed.

Held now within the knowing, rest now within the beat,
take of the fruit but guard the seed.
Take of the fruit but guard the seed.

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