Immigrant Song

Back when I was a spotty pre-teen, Led Zeppelin made me nervous.

My cousin, who’s a little older and not nearly as much of a late-bloomer as I was, was really into heavy rock, and she attempted to spread the gospel to me. Unfortunately, I think she was wearing her scary, devil-encrusted Black Sabbath shirt at the time, and in my mind, all the bands she was talking about were immediately tarred with Satan’s brush.
Zeppelin included. I think she was trying to get me to listen to “All My Love”, from In Through The Out Door, which is no one’s idea of a paean to Lucifer, but I was having none of it, and for years I refused to listen to any Zep songs.
Except, for some reason, “Immigrant Song”. Maybe because the riff is just stupid and bludgeoning enough that it might have been written specifically for 10 year-old boys, I couldn’t get enough of this song.
Years later, when I finally had a suitable guitar, a nasty distortion pedal, and sufficient chops, I set out to cover the track. After getting over the sheer, dumb joy of playing the guitar riff for seven hours in a row, though, I realized that I was going to be undone by the fact that I was not Robert Plant. And how do you do this song without the big Viking battle cry?
zeppelin plane
Additional years passed, and then one day I was fooling around with guitars and vocoders (the devices that make those synthesized voices you hear on Daft Punk and Beastie Boys records) when it came to me in a blinding flash: I know! Robots! ROBOTS SINGING LED ZEPPELIN!!
Well, robots…and my friend, the excellent singer/songwriter Rick Starbuck, who ended up nailing the Plant howl throughout this track (thanks, Rick!).
In fact, once invited in, the robots kind of took over this song, delivering a kind of stiff, erector set funk that hopefully sets this version somewhat apart from the peerless original. It’s, well…you kind of have to hear it. Click that play button!
Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think – give me a yea or nay, as well as any other views you might have, down there in the comments!

50 replies on “Immigrant Song”

Let me start by saying that that particular Zeppelin song isn’t my favorite. I didn’t love the arrangement. I felt like there were too many different musical styles in the same song. The beginning was a bit vocal-soft and music loud; by the end it seemed to switch and the music was softer and the vocals were louder. There was a really cool funky beat down in the middle that I liked. The signature part of that song is the “ahh, ahhhhhh” felt a bit “siren-ish” rather than voice. There were some cool parts to it, but as a whole, I didn’t love it. I’m sorry – just being honest.

Hey Josh: yes, yes, yes – that’s exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for! Don’t worry about being honest with a No vote; honesty is hard to come by, and I’m happy to get it in no matter what form.
Thanks so much for taking the time to check it out. ~ Mike

First off, I really like Immigrant song. Always tough to remake a classic and make it your own.
There was a part in the middle that was funked out and groovy and I liked it – i wanted to take drugs and lick Dean’s leg (around the 1:45 mark)
At 2:18, you took the auto-tune off your voice and I liked that. You’ve got a distinct voice – let it shine. Wasn’t a fan of the super computer voice at the beginning.
The last 15 seconds had me begging for more and it’s abrupt end made me wish that groove went on a little longer (that’s the phish in me).
Overall, I give it a solid 7/10. Tone down the auto-tune and let the funk out. It’s in there. Good work son!

Excellent comment, E – thanks for all the details! I especially like that you worked Dean into this, but I’m pretty sure it’s not his leg he wants licked. Just sayin.
Definitely let you guys know first when/if this gets released.

i rather like this cover version. It keeps the edge of classic Zeppelin and gives it an 80s euro alternative touch. Excellent!!

Thanks, Chewy! Yep, euro robot disco, with just enough sand in the gears to keep a little roughness to it, was kind of what I was going for

Immigrant Song is probably my least favorite Zep track, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment. To me, your version sounds better than theirs because your vocals are less screechy than Plant’s and your bass line is interesting. So, aficionados of the song should be pleased to hear it. – Dirty Dan the sewer Man

Thanks, DD! Though I can’t believe that I.S. is anyone’s least favorite Zep song, you balanced it out by saying you liked my version better. So I’ll just interpret you as saying I’m better than Led Zeppelin and leave it at that.

I think it is fine. But, if you are going to do a cover of something as famous as any Zeppelin, you have to really make it something completely different. For a live show, where the cool cover is an essential ingredient, doing like the original is fine. But, as a recording where you are trying to make an artistic statement, it needs to be a whole new view on the piece. Talking Heads doing Take Me to the River. Sinead O’Connor doing Nothing Compares 2 U. Johnny Cash doing Hurt.

What, trading Robert Plant out for robots isn’t different enough for you? 😉
Srsly, though, I see what you mean. I really didn’t mess with Zep’s foundational approach to the song, and perhaps my version isn’t quite as pummelicious as the original. Nope, it’s definitely not. Maybe next time I’ll aim for more contrast and do it as a polka…thanks, Alex!

Mike, the Immigrant Song is a Classic Zeppelin song. The bass line was groovy and a highlight. Don’t like songs with the distorted or auto voice. Vocals important to me…Maybe, you should start that voice 1st verse and use your voice rest of song. I would give it a 5 out of 10. Nuno had a song on Schizophonic that started with the distorted voice and then his regular voice. It was well-done. I’d do some more work on it before releasing it. John

Thanks, John – I’ll check out that Nuno song. When setting up a mix, it can be easy for me to forget that a particular sound/instrument/effect, once started, doesn’t necessarily need to play throughout the song. Good points!

I’d give your Immigrant Song 5 out of 10. The pumping bass line good but I didn’t like the distorted vocals. Maybe, just use those vocals first verse and then your regular voice rest. John

Hey Mike, my gut feel is that this song doesn’t adequately represent your talent. When I went back and listened to the original, I particularly noticed that while the instruments set a good groove, the real interest in Zepplin’s version is in the vocal artistry and syncopation. As I heard it, in yours, the instruments (and perhaps vocal doctoring) are intended to be the stars. I think this song loses the distinctiveness of your voice and over emphasizes the instrumental elements. (Maybe the balance between the two just isn’t there.) While I’m a fan of you, I’m not a fan of this cover.

Straightforward and clear – thanks, Robby. It can definitely be tough for me to keep the focus in the right place when I’m playing all the parts, etc. Good to be reminded what the balance should probably be like.

Hey Mike, I liked your take of Immigrant. It is more low key; groovier than the original… put images of post-apocalytic cylons in my head (long day!). Love the way it starts–great groove, but not crazy about the distorted vocals. The voice just floats above the funky groove but feels very separate–very patchwork-like? At first I felt the entrance of the vocals was too jarring, just too much going on. After the 3rd or 4th listen, I adjusted to it but I didn’t love it. There’s a lot going on in the arrangement but I don’t feel the elements are quite meshing. Hope this is helpful!

Yes yes, super-helpful! That’s exactly the type of thing that I just might not notice anymore on the 6,734th hearing of the song. Honestly, it’s like you people have X-Ray hearing or something…thanks!

That 1:40 funk…I like that! Next time I’m stuck on what to do in a song, I may just add some 1:40 funk. You’re not the only one who’s feeling more human – less robot, so things may be headed in that direction…

I guess, the problem is in the overall purpose of the song. IS is a battle cry, meant to make people wanna reap and tear. When guitars are halfway gone and synths come onto stage, it’s now supposed to be groovy. but it’s still IS – can’t make two ends meet. Besides, yeah, Plant is Plant, Paige is Paige: LZ are extremely difficult to cover. The only worthy cover of LZ I’ve heard was Santana feat. Chris Cornell – Whole Lotta Love – but they didn’t try to reinvent the song itself as you do. However, your arrangements sounds more and more promising. And zut! A little snack of LZ and a cup of Radio Nowhere is arguably the best way to start the morning, thanks, Mike!

Thanks, Andrey! Yup, not too many people who can/should be doing a straight-ahead version of many Zep songs, which is why I tried to go at it from left field. May not get there, but it’s been super fun to try!

Well, okay, if it wasn’t possible to see title, it’s Tomoyasu Hotei, japan guy who wrote “battle without honor or humanity” song for Kill Bill, he made his own interpretation of IS – with robots and synths. really interesting to compare. Somehow, as for me, you beat him – probably thanks to funky-groove in second part and your vocals – Hotei is using low horror-raspy voice, which is not…well, alive enough. guess it’s about finding the right balance between robots and humans. Cyborgs, yep.

Ah – thx for the description, Andrey – definitely not what I would’ve guessed. Working with robots is hard. Once you get them into the production in the first place, they just want to take over everything…

Immigrant song was never one of my favorite Zeppelin songs. That said, I think this cover almost works. No point doing it straight up unless you plan to outdo Page and Plant and I think your twist on it is a great direction. I like most of the electronica, including voice echoes around 2:25 and the electronic music around 3:00. I think the electronic music around 1:40 (and perhaps around 3:00, but less so) could actually be made a bit more wild and energetic. The distortion in your main voice (center channel) didn’t really bother me. Sometimes it was great and very effective (“hammer of the gods”) but other times it was just there.
All of that said, I wanted to strangle the robot in my left ear (listening on headphones). The only time I found the robot voice effective was when he said “We are your overlords.” Kind of gave me chills, but I don’t see how you can keep that in and take the robot out everywhere else. Maybe you have to rework the robot a voice so it doesn’t sound quite so preposterous and annoying? Or maybe give it up? The song already has a lot going on and perhaps you could increase the other electronica and just forget the robot voice idea…
Anyway, I think you’re onto something that could be very good. But I don’t think you’re done yet. Hope this helps!

What?! Strangle one of my robots?! RU-1X37 is going to be very disappointed in you.
I like your idea about dropping some/all of his cameo spots, though. This track started out as 100% robot, and I’ve slowly chipped away at that. Tend to forget that things that’ve been there since the start can actually be removed if they no longer serve a purpose…but that’s exactly why comments from you & everyone else are so helpful. Thanks!

Led Zep’s version of this song is iconic. There has only been one successful cover, Karen O singing it for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s success hinged on how perfectly it jived as a theme song for the avenging Scandinavian heroine. Your version is fine enough, but I agree with others who say that you need to radically transform it in some way in order to make it your own. I’m not sure electronics are enough of a transformation. One idea to fool around with might be, does this work as a slowed down folk ballad? Could the lyrics resonate with the Syrian immigrant crisis? Just a thought — “ice and snow” is a problem if you’re taking the lyrics literally, but maybe the sentiment of the song could overcome that, if done right.

Thanks, Joyce. “Iconic” is definitely the word, and if I’d slowed down long enough to consider that, I might not have even started to try & cover this…I agree that radical transformation should generally be the point of a cover, and it’s possible that this version doesn’t clear that bar. We’ll see what some more time in the lab brings…

I like it! I agree with Chewy – you can feel the original in there somewhere. I love the whole 80s synth vibe and it definitely had me grooving in my seat. I particularly enjoyed the tension you build at the “on we sweep” part – the music takes a backseat there in the original and you bring it forward and for me it works really well. I’ve come back and listened a few times and would definitely add this to my playlist.

Sweet- thx, Jen! I think that 80s vibe, and the way it clashes with the guitars, is probably my favorite part of the whole track too. So glad it makes the cut for your playlist!

Presumption of auto-tune? Well now. Here’s my .02: dig the original, dig this imagining. From a sonic perspective, the timbre of the main driving snare doesn’t sound quite right to me. Too curt or abrupt. Otherwise, I like its various movements, like usual with your stuff. Contrary to another comment here, I thought this was a reimagining w/hints of homage, which I liked. All the various movements felt a wee bit disjointed, however. I wanted more of a through line. But this could change upon repeated listenings. Or maybe it’s ready for one more revision?
FWIW, also dig the ^ reflections re: older cousin, Satan worship, etc etc etc.

Thx James – think I know what you mean about disjointedness. To me, there’s a herky-jerky quality to the whole thing which extends to the section-by-section continuity or lack thereof; I kinda dig it, but you’re not wrong about the lumpiness of the batter, as it were.
Glad you enjoyed the Satan worship; opening the wrapping paper is part of the experience, right?

i semi-agree with what jamey said about wanting more of a throughline amongst the various parts – but i know what to do! take the ending, copy it, and put it at the beginning (minus the pauses). to me, if you start of with something that doesn’t sound like immigrant song for a few measures, the listener gets the payoff of “hey wait this is a led zep cover…crazy!”. also…when i first heard it – via my computer speakers – i didn’t like it that much. but when i listened with real headphones (not phone headphones) i caught all the subtle awesome keyboards and arpeggios and shit. so i say it’s awesome just give us a little funkyness at the beginning. anyway i know you just wanted to sing “hammer of the gods”.

yes – i agree with myself! you gotta start with the electronic phunk, then drop the guitar with “come from the land…” that will surely slay them all. maybe slip a little bit of the elektro underneath the chorus too…

” i know you just wanted to sing “hammer of the gods”. – Guilty!
I like your idea, though, and this track is already kind of calling for an extended dance remix anyway…pardon me while I head back into the studio…
Thx CC!

I like Rick’s voice when he does the Plant howl. Enjoyed it the 2nd time around. There’s much interesting about the song. You will get it right. John

Full disclosure: I fucking hate this song. Always sounded to me like Zeppelin lost a bet or were otherwise strong-armed into covering a Rush song. The price of doing business with the devil?
That being said, I really enjoyed parts of this (e.g. the heretofore named “licking Dean’s leg” part around 1:40. This feel might be worth articulating in greater depth.) far more than the original. And the layered vocals worked for me throughout. The miss for me was due to the drums, which are thin (fuck, how could they not; playing with tree branches might not be enough). This makes me think that covering Zeppelin requires an even bigger departure from the original. You made some interesting choices, even if they didn’t all work.
P.S. In a complete departure from all things relevant, have you ever considered Springsteen’s Valentine’s Day?

Addendum:
Perhaps, closer to a Rush song played by the Star Wars bar band.
Thin drums may be on my end (e.g. thin listening device), as I assume they’re sampled.

Damn, that’s cold…drums weren’t sampled, actually. But they are a little small, in order to make room for everything else that’s going on. Or that was the theory, anyway. But they’re definitely not going to rise to Bonham level, not as long as I’m the one playing them!

The “sample” comment is on me. When I went back to relisten, I oscillated between your version and theirs and honestly struggled to be able to tell the difference between drum kits, thus (wrongly) assuming it was a sample. In other words, kudos on your drum playing. Jesus, fuck, man.

Thanks – I’ll take the kudos, but if it’s hard to tell the difference between my playing and John Bonham’s, it probably means that I successfully obfuscated the difference by piling shit on top 😉

Funny how many people (ostensibly Zep fans, otherwise) hate this song – never would’ve guessed that. Glad to get another vote for licking Dean’s leg, too; the extended remix is definitely taking shape. Thx for the detailed critique!
P.S. I’ve never even heard of that song. Is it on Nebraska? [googles] Nope. But I dig the lyrics – any song where I get to sing about timberwolves and spooky highways sounds like a win to me. I’ll check it out after breakfast!

Hey Mike,
Overall comment and then specifics. You know I have always been a huge fan of your voice unfettered or altered—The instrumentation in the beginning overpowers your voice—I would like to see your voice in the foreground and music/percussion in the back (or at least equal in volume) I love your natural tone and always want to hear more of that than less. Personal bias.
Specifics:
0.25—From start of song on, more voice, music less volume
0.47–Great electronica upward sweeps– interesting dynamic
1.03—Great Howl
1.15—Like the electronic voice over
1:26—We …Overlords–Yes!
1:41 —Like this beat better than beginning measures–
2:04—Excellent beat here
2:21—I like Robot voices here —cool effect–fun to listen to
2.47—Good Voice overlay
2:57—Nice background build up
3:03—This beat/instrumentation for the beginning of the song?
Bakes, you still got it, but I am a Mike Baker purist—I want more of you and less of everything else in all you do.
Good luck with the battle and so glad you are still creating your magic.
OXOX Hambone

Woowwwww…somebody was really paying attention, and listening with stopwatch in hand – thanks,Doug! You’ll be happy to hear that the votes for more human/less robot on the vocals are starting to pile up. I will be fighting back against Skynet on the next go-round.

I think this would be excellent live. I hope someday to see you play my friend. Congrats on this production. We are so immersed in content in modern times it’s easy to forget how impressive it is to produce something of this quality, but I try not to, and I’m always stoked to see friends doing cool stuff like this. Respect.

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