Previously on Professional Moron, we covered Led Zeppelin’s acoustic set from the 1970s. Now it’s time to go Down by the Seaside to have a swim.
As we think this is one of the band’s most underrated songs, a shimmying tale of aquatic ambiance and other such folky influences. Submerge yourself into this one…
Down by the Seaside’s Swooning Sense of Lazy Summer Days (and fish)
Down by the Seaside was written by lead vocalist Robert Plant and genius guitarist Jimmy Page. It was included on the band’s ambitious 1975 double album Physical Graffiti.
The song has its roots in soft rock, with folky elements.
Tonally, it’s similar to Can’s Future Days (1973) and various songs from that landmark album. Lots of bubbling and aquatic noises go on in both—two genius bands having finding grooves in water by happenstance.
But Led Zeppelin’s song is deeply entrenched in folky roots. It’s a whimsical tale, with lyrics lingering on busy people, city life, fish, and stopping to enjoy the moment.
Down by the seaside,
See the boats go sailing,
Can the people hear,
What the little fish are saying?
Oh, oh, the people turned away,
Oh, the people turned away.
Down in the city streets,
See all the folk go racing… racing,
No time left, to pass the time of day.
The people turned away,
The people turned away,
So far away, so far away.
Down by the Seaside then breaks into a mid-song rush with a sense of urgency.
It also shows the band’s fondness to experiment around with tempo changes to make a musical and lyrical point.
It takes a break from its relaxed repose to sit up and tell you something, which seems to be the overall purpose of the song.
Do you still do the twist?
Do you find you remember things that well?
I want to tell you,
Some go twisting every day,
Though sometimes it’s awful hard to tell.
After that, the song settles down again and we can bask in Page’s aquatic guitar riffs and Plant’s lilting, singsong tones.
And, yes, we do think Down by the Seaside is a jaunty reminder to slow down every now and then and enjoy nature, life, and stuff around you.
Led Zeppelin was big on that in the early 1970s.
You can see footage from a 1973 performance of Stairway to Heaven, right after the lyrics:
“And the forests will echo with laughter…”
Plant breaks off for a moment to chastise the audience with the line:
“Does anyone remember laughter!?”
A sign of the troubled time in the early ’70s but, heck, things don’t really ever change, do they? And Led Zeppelin’s music is a welcoming reminder about the joys of life.
It’s a fantabulous song. Page’s clever use of production makes it sound like he’s playing underwater. Whilst Plant’s voice is as glorious as ever.
The song doesn’t get enough love, but we’re pointing at it today and going, “Hello there, song, we like you!” And you should, too.
The Origins of Down by the Seaside
Down by the Seaside was originally penned as an acoustic number. You can hear an early take on the song above, with only strumming and vocals.
It was written in 1970 at Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales, where Plant and Page were recuperating after a major tour.
Most of the band actually hated the song, but eventually warmed to it enough to include it on Physical Graffiti on side three (track number nine).
But it had already been cut from Led Zeppelin III (1970). And again from Led Zeppelin IV.
Plant then suggested including it on Physical Graffiti, but the others actually laughed in his stupid face. Take that, Plant! Bassist John Paul Jones was thoroughly against the idea and didn’t like the song at all.
Once they decided to record it, Page used a Leslie speaker to create the water, shimmering tremolo effect.
As glorious as it is, the big problem the song has is it remains part of Led Zeppelin’s vast, and quite imposing, catalogue of genius songs.
Down by the Seaside was never performed live.
Fans attending concerts wanted to hear the most famous tracks, of course, but we feel the band could have added it into their acoustic set. A missed opportunity.
But then, again, this is Led Zeppelin. They had a lot of great songs they decided to skip on and, frankly, we should be thankful the band decided to include the number on Physical Graffiti.
And now, excuse us… we’re going off to the seaside with a copy of My Family and Other Animals. It just seems apt.
Further Alternative Rock Aquatic Listening
Even if you’re not near the ocean, have a listen to a few more aquatic favourites of ours.
Yes, we mentioned German legends Can earlier. And the band’s radical album Future Days, with its incredible eponymous opener, is even better than Led Zeppelin’s effort.
We’ll like review that at a later date, but for now that’s a glorious number to bask in as summer descends on us all.
Also, there’s David Wise’s Aquatic Ambiance,
It’s part of a legendary soundtrack he composed for the SNES’ Donkey Kong Country (1994). Quite the marvel.
If you were around in 1994 and armed with a Super Nintendo, you’ll know exactly what that’s all about.
Anyway, we’re calling it a day here. If you’ve got any other water-based favourites, add them into the comments section for ONLY a $10 fee!