Classic Rock Wiki

"Black Dog" is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, the opening track on their fourth album (1971). It was released as a single in the US and in Australia with "Misty Mountain Hop" as the B-side, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 10 in Australia.

In 2004, the song was first ranked #294 on Rolling Stone '​s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[3] before being ranked at #300 in 2010.[4] Music sociologist Deena Weinstein calls "Black Dog" "one of the most instantly recognisable [Led] Zeppelin tracks".[5]



  • 1 Title
  • 2 Writing
  • 3 Musical structure
  • 4 Live performances
  • 5 Accolades
  • 6 Formats and tracklistings
  • 7 Chart positions
    • 7.1 Original release
    • 7.2 Digital download
  • 8 Personnel
  • 9 Cover versions
  • 10 References


The song's title is a reference to a nameless, black Labrador Retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording.[6][7] The retriever, despite his advanced age, was still sexually adventuresome, like the song's protagonist who reiterates his desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness it provides. AsPlant explained to a 1972 concert audience:

The lyric "Eyes that shine burning red" is also reminiscent of the Black dog legend.

Plant's vocals were recorded in two takes.[9]


John Paul Jones, who is credited with writing the main riff,[10][11] wanted to write a song with a winding riff and complex rhythm changes that people could not "groove" or dance to.

In an interview, he explained the difficulties experienced by the band in writing the song:

Musical structure[edit][]

Built around a call-and-response dynamic between the vocalist and band, ""Black Dog"'s start and stop a cappella verses were inspired by Fleetwood Mac's 1969 song "Oh Well."[10] (Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes performed "Oh Well" on their 1999 tour, and included it on their album Live at the Greek.)[12]

Although it has an apparently simple drum pattern, the song's complex, shifting time signature was intended to thwart cover bands from playing the song.[citation needed] Jones originally wanted the song recorded in 6/8 time but realised it was too complex to reproduce live.[13] In live performances, John Bonham eliminated the 5/4 variation so that Plant could perform his a cappella vocal interludes and then have the instruments return together synchronised.[14] If the volume is turned up loud enough, Bonham can be heard tapping his sticks together before each riff. Page explained this in an interview with Guitar World magazine in 1993:

Page also discussed how he achieved his guitar sound on the track:

Towards the end of the song, Page incorporates parallel thirds into the riff.

Page's solo was constructed out of four overdubbed Gibson Les Paul fills.[10] The sounds at the beginning of the song are those of Page warming up his electric guitar. He called it "waking up the army of guitars" — which are multitrack recorded in unison with electric bass guitar to provide the song's signature.

Live performances[edit][]

"Black Dog" became a staple and fan favourite of Led Zeppelin's live concert performances. It was first played live at Belfast's Ulster Hall on 5 March 1971, a concert which also featured the first ever live performance of "Stairway to Heaven".[10] It was retained for each subsequent concert tour until 1973. In 1975 it was used as an encore medley with "Whole Lotta Love", but was hardly used on the band's 1977 concert tour of the United States. It was recalled to the set for the Knebworth Festival 1979 and the 1980 Tour of Europe. For these final 1980 performances, Page introduced the song from stage.[10]

When played live, Led Zeppelin often played the first few bars of "Out on the Tiles" as the introduction for "Black Dog", except for the 1973 tour where the riff from "Bring It On Home" introduced the song as seen in the concert film, "The Song Remains the Same". Also, the "ah-ah" refrains were sung in call-and-response between Plant and the audience.

Page's guitar playing prowess is well demonstrated in different recorded performances of the song from Madison Square Garden in July 1973, as seen in the group's concert films The Song Remains the Same andLed Zeppelin DVD. The Song Remains the Same version had roughly two minutes cut from the song (from 5:48 to 3:54), going from the first "ah-ah" refrain to the guitar lead, cutting out the third and fourth verse and the second "ah-ah". This short version is also on the 2007 re-release of the soundtrack, but the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD has the full version.

There is also a June 1972 live recording which can be heard on the album How the West Was Won, and another live version on disc two of Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions.

"Black Dog" was performed at the Led Zeppelin's reunion show at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007. A cover version of the song with video was released in 1988 by Newcity Rockers on Critique/Atlantic Records in the US and Mercury Records in Europe. This is the only cover version to achieve US Billboard Hot 100 status peaking at number 65. The song was put into immediate rotation on MTV. In an interview with MTV, Plant stated that he was dropping the song from his current live tour. The song is played a whole step down.

Plant sampled the song on his solo tracks "Tall Cool One" and "Your Ma Said She Cried in Her Sleep Last Night". Page and Plant performed an updated version of this song on their 1995 tour. "Black Dog" was the first song performed by Page and Plant at the American Music Awards, which kicked off their first tour together in almost fifteen years. Plant also played a version of the song during his solo tour in 2005, as is included on the DVD release Soundstage: Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation. Former Deep Purple-singer David Coverdale's band Whitesnake released the song "Still of the Night" in 1987 which has often been cited similar to "Black Dog"; later, when Coverdale toured with Page in 1993, they played both songs together. Plant and Alison Krauss regularly covered "Black Dog" during their tour of US and Europe in April and May 2008. [16] It also features on their appearance on the Country Music Television show CMT Crossroads, recorded in October 2007.[17] Plant recently performed Black Dog at the Sunflower River Blues Festival in Clarksdale, MS.


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank Classic Rock United States "The Top Fifty Classic Rock Songs of All Time"[18] 1995 18
The Guitar United States "Riff of the Millennium"[19] 1999 7
Q United Kingdom "1010 Songs You Must Own!"[20] 2004 *
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[3] 2004 294
Blender United States "The Greatest Songs Ever!"[21] 2005 *
Bruce Pollock United States "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000"[22] 2005 *
Q United Kingdom "The 20 Greatest Guitar Tracks"[23] 2007 1
Rolling Stone United States "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[4] 2010 300

(*) designates unordered lists.

Formats and tracklistings[edit][]

1971 7" single (US/Australia: Atlantic 45–2849, Angola/South Africa: Atlantic ATS 568, Argentina: Atlantic 2091175, Austria/Germany: Atlantic ATL 10103, Brazil: Atco 2091175, Canada: Atlantic AT 2849, Cape Verde: Atlantic ATL N 28–118, Ecuador: Atlantic 45-73502, France: Atlantic 10 103, Greece: Atlantic 2091 175, Holland: Atlantic ATL 2091 175, Italy: Atlantic K 10103, Japan: Warner Pioneer P–1101A, Mexico: Atlantic 2207–024, New Zealand: Atlantic ATL 88, Philippines: Atlantic ATR 0033, Portugal: Atlantic N 28118, Singapore: Stereophonic 10103, Spain: Atlantic HS 775, Sweden: Atlantic ATL 10.103, Turkey: Atlantic 72 500)

  • A. "Black Dog" (John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Misty Mountain Hop" (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:38

1971 7" radio edit (Japan: Warner Pioneer P–1001A)

  • A. "Black Dog" (Stereo) (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Black Dog" (Mono) (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56

1973 7" single (Venezuela: Atlantic 5–011)

  • A. "Black Dog" (Jones, Page, Plant) – 4:56
  • B. "Rock and Roll" (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant) – 3:40

Chart positions[edit][]

Original release[edit][]

Chart (1971–1972) Peak


Australia (Go-Set National Top 40)[24] 9
Australia (Kent Music Report)[25] 10
Belgium (VRT Top 30 Flanders)[26] 29
Canada (CHUM)[27] 14
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[28] 11
France (IFOP)[29] 18
Germany (Media Control Charts)[30] 22
Japan (Oricon)[31] 24
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[32] 22
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[33] 20
New Zealand (RIANZ)[34] 10
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[35] 6
US Billboard Hot 100[36] 15
US Cash Box[37] 9
US Record World[38] 10

Digital download[edit][]

Chart (2007) Peak


Canadian (Hot Canadian Digital Singles)[39] 59
UK (Official Charts Company)[40] 119
US Billboard Hot Digital Songs[41] 64

Note: The official UK Singles Chart incorporated legal downloads as of 17 April 2005.


  • Robert Plant – vocals
  • Jimmy Page – guitars
  • John Paul Jones – bass guitar
  • John Bonham – drums