The Meaning in the Mix: Tracing a Sonic Narrative in ‘When the Levee Breaks’

This article closely examines the recorded sound of Led Zeppelin’s song, ‘When the Levee Breaks’, from the landmark album Led Zeppelin IV. Though the song has appeared in academic discussions of authenticity (Headlam: 1995), gender studies (Fast: 2001), and rhythm (Brackett: 2008), none has examined in detail the relationship between the song’s unusual production—arguably one of the most significant factors in its popularity and longevity—and its reception. Through the recorded sounds, I will outline a sonic portrayal of the levee breaking, a ‘sonic narrative’ that complements the lyrical narrative.