Tangerine (Led Zeppelin song)

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Song by Led Zeppelin
from the album Led Zeppelin III
Released 5 October 1970 (1970-10-05)
Format LP record
Recorded Headley Grange, England, 1970
Genre Folk rock
Length 3:12
Label Atlantic
Composer(s) Jimmy Page
Lyricist(s) Jimmy Page (disputed)
Producer(s) Jimmy Page

"Tangerine" is a folk-rock song by the English band Led Zeppelin. Recorded in 1970, it is included on the second, more acoustic-oriented side of Led Zeppelin III (1970). The plaintive ballad reflects on lost love and features strummed acoustic guitar rhythm with pedal steel guitar, which author Mick Wall describes as "country-tinged, Neil Young-inspired".[1]

The Yardbirds, with guitarist Jimmy Page, recorded an early version of the song in 1968, titled "Knowing That I'm Losing You". When it was released on the Page-produced 2017 album Yardbirds '68, Keith Relf's vocal was left out. "Tangerine" has been performed in concert by Led Zeppelin at different points in their career and has been recorded by other musicians.


"Tangerine" dates back to Page's time as lead guitarist with the Yardbirds.[2] In April 1968, the group recorded demos for several songs at the Columbia Studios in New York City.[3][a] Page biographer George Case notes that one, titled "Knowing That I'm Losing You", is very similar to "Tangerine"[6] and suggests that Jackie DeShannon inspired the tune.[7] Recordings from these sessions (with producer Manny Kellem) and the concert performance later used for Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page were rejected for release at the time,[8] but were issued in 2017 on the Yardbirds '68 compilation album produced by Page. While the demo recorded by the Yardbirds featured a vocal by Keith Relf, the 2017 release does not include it.

To develop material for a follow-up album to Led Zeppelin II, Page and singer Robert Plant took a "working holiday" at Bron-Yr-Aur, a rustic retreat in South Snowdonia, Wales.[9] Plant in particular was inspired by the "back-to-the-land" trends in northern California and the British folk scene.[10] Accompanied only by acoustic guitar, hand-claps, and harmonica, the pair created tunes that served as the basis for several songs on Led Zeppelin III and later albums.[11] Although written earlier, "Tangerine" reflects this rural sensibility[12] and journalist Nigel Williamson includes it with "the acoustic material born of the Bron-yr-aur sojourn.[13]

Led Zeppelin biographer Keith Shadwick also notes other earlier influences:

The song's construction and overall tone is very much that of "lost love" ballads from 1966–68 ... There are touches too of the type of arrangement (and subject-matter) used effectvely on Mickie Most's Donovan sessions in the Yardbirds years when both [bassist John Paul] Jones and Page were still hired hands.[14]

Composition and recording[edit]

The song begins with a "nicely low-key, deliberate-mistake intro" by Page on guitar,[1] after which he pauses to set the right tempo with a "strummed A minor–G–D guitar figure".[6] Page explained in 1970: "That's commonly known as a false start. It was a tempo guide, and it seemed like a good idea to leave it in – at the time. I was trying to keep the tempo down a bit. I'm not so sure now it was a good idea. Everyone asks what the hell is going on".[15] Page actually plays two guitar parts – one on a six-string and the other on a twelve-string acoustic guitar – which, due to the audio mixing, almost sound as one.[15]

Plant then sings the first verse accompanied by the backing guitar chords:

Measuring a summer's day
Only finds it slips away to grey
The hours they bring me pain[16]

Bassist John Paul Jones complements Page on mandolin, which writer Jeff Strawman describes as "blended well into the composition, with its organic texture, well enough that it matched up to the twelve-string guitar tone."[15]

The second verse contains the chorus, at the beginning of which Jones on bass and drummer John Bonham come in – Jones follows the chord changes and Bonham plays a straight-forward, backing beat.[15] Through the use of double tracking, Plant provides a harmony vocal line.[17] Page also adds pedal steel guitar fills; however, he departs from the typical American country music approach by adding a wah-wah pedal tonal effect.[18] For the third verse, Plant returns to singing accompanied by guitar chording.

The verses are broken up with an instrumental middle section with Page, Jones, and Bonham. Jones achieves a "warm, heavy bass sound" by using a vintage 1953 Gibson EB-1, instead of his usual Fender Jazz Bass.[15] Page solos on a heavily sustained Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar, which is also double tracked.[15] Led Zeppelin biographer Dave Lewis calls it "a smooth woman-tone solo"[18][b] and in Hammer of the Gods Stephen Davis describes it as "an eloquent solo that seems to quote Jeff Beck".[19] After a second chorus, the song winds down with pedal steel fills and ends with an acoustic guitar figure.

Led Zeppelin recorded the song at Headley Grange, Headley, East Hampshire, using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.[20] The song was engineered and later mixed by Andy Johns at Olympic Studios in London.[20]

Disagreement over lyrics[edit]

Although writers do not question who composed the music for the song,[c] there is some disagreement over who wrote the lyrics. In addition to being credited as the songwriter on all Led Zeppelin releases, Page claims to be responsible for the lyrics: "I'd written it after an old emotional upheaval and I just changed a few of the lyrics for the new version".[22] Author and music documentarian Bob Carruthers writing in Led Zeppelin: Uncensored on the Record, claims it was a sole composition by Jimmy Page.[23][further explanation needed]

However, Case, Shadwick, and Williamson identify the Yardbirds' song as a joint or co-compostion by Page and Yardbirds' singer and primary lyricist Keith Relf.[6][14] Yardbirds' drummer Jim McCarty and bassist Chris Dreja both assert that Relf wrote the words for "Knowing That I'm Losing You";[21] they and Jane Relf (sister and singer who also performed with Relf) believe some of his original lines found their way into "Tangerine".[6] Strawman comments on the verses (both songs have three verses, one is repeated as the chorus):

Unfortunately for the Yardbirds, they never copyrighted "Knowing That I'm Losing You", which allowed Robert Plant to lift the third verse ("Measuring a summer's day ...") into the first verse of "Tangerine".[15]

Discographer Neil Priddey adds:

"Tangerine" was a direct lift of a previously recorded Yardbirds tune – "Knowing That I'm Losing You" – which had never been copyrighted, so Page simply "claimed" the track without acknowledging Keith Relf's partial lyric contribution.[24]

In When Giants Walked the Earth, Wall describes the words as typical of Relf for the period: "they did smack of the classic flower-child-isms of Keith Relf".[1] Case notes that "Tangerine" is "one of the two Zeppelin non-instrumentals that credit Page as the sole songwriter"[6] (the credit for the second song, "Dazed and Confused", was later amended).[d]

Release and influence[edit]

"Tangerine" was issued as an album track on Led Zeppelin III on 5 October 1970 in the US and 23 October 1970 in the UK and quickly went to number one on the album charts.[1] It was included on the LP record's second side, which featured more acoustic- and folk-influenced tunes.[26] Williamson notes that "the song also points the way to the future ... the acoustic guitar intro can easily be seen as an early template for 'Stairway to Heaven'".[17] During Led Zeppelin's 1971–72 tours, they regularly performed the song and recordings appear on several bootleg albums[27] (see Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings). Various musical artists have performed or recorded it (see List of cover versions of Led Zeppelin songs § "Tangerine").




  1. ^ Several writers use a date in May or June 1968 for the recording session, although 4 April 1968, appears in Yardbirds' biographies by Gregg Russo[4] and Alan Clayson.[5]
  2. ^ Eric Clapton used what he called a "woman tone" for several guitar parts in Cream's "I Feel Free" and "Sunshine of Your Love".
  3. ^ Page/Led Zeppelin biographer Case notes: "The strummed A minor–G–D guitar figure and pedal steel licks are doubtless all Page's invention".[6] Yardbirds' drummer Jim McCarty also believes the music was Page's: "Jimmy must have had that musical idea already – he had those chords. When he did it, I thought it was the strongest song."[21]
  4. ^ After legal action, the credit for "Dazed and Confused", which the Yardbirds also performed, was changed to "By Page – Inspired by Jake Holmes".[25]


  1. ^ a b c d Wall 2010, p. 185.
  2. ^ Cole & Turbo 1992, p. 164.
  3. ^ Russo 2016, pp. 105–106.
  4. ^ Russo 2016, p. 105.
  5. ^ Clayson 2002, p. 191.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Case 2011, eBook.
  7. ^ Case 2007, pp. 53, 96.
  8. ^ Russo 2016, pp. 106–107.
  9. ^ Shadwick 2005, p. 1112.
  10. ^ Shadwick 2005, p. 112.
  11. ^ Shadwick 2005, p. 114.
  12. ^ Case 2007, p. 102.
  13. ^ Williamson 2007, p. 77.
  14. ^ a b Shadwick 2005, p. 138.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Strawman 2016, eBook.
  16. ^ Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
  17. ^ a b Williamson 2007, p. 226.
  18. ^ a b Lewis 2012, eBook.
  19. ^ Davis 1985, p. 121.
  20. ^ a b The Complete Studio Recordings (Boxed set booklet). Led Zeppelin. New York City: Atlantic Records. 1993. Led Zeppelin III CD liner notes. OCLC 29660775. 82526-2. 
  21. ^ a b Russo 2016, p. 106.
  22. ^ Yorke 1993, p. 116.
  23. ^ Carruthers 2011, p. 65.
  24. ^ Priddey, eBook.
  25. ^ Led Zeppelin (Reissue liner notes). Led Zeppelin. Burbank, California: Atlantic Records. 2014. Inside gatefold. OCLC 884474979. R2-536127. 
  26. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Led Zeppelin III – Album Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  27. ^ Lewis & Pallett 2005, pp. 155–182.