One of those cool little songs you play every now and then just to hear something different, “Black Mountain Side” took this young rock band into deeply uncharted territory and kept them there. An acoustic instrumental with some light percussion and a Middle Eastern influence that the Led Zeppelin gang would hardly touch until Page and Plant reunited years later to record No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded.
One half of the Jimmy Page staple, “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” this pleasant and folksy little number explored strange tunings, exotic influences and a sound that is nothing like the rest of the blues-based rock numbers on Led Zeppelin’s first album. Along with “Your Time is Gonna Come,” it helped to lay the foundation of so many of Zeppelin’s most famous acoustic and acoustic/electric numbers including “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Over the Hills and Far Away” and just about every track on Led Zeppelin III.
Short and simple but with finger-picking that is quite intricate and requires a masterful approach, only Jimmy Page could put this song on vinyl and make it sound so natural. Further pushing the boundaries of Led Zeppelin I and comfortably adding another stroke of variety to the band’s debut album, and their sound, “Black Mountain Side” is a testament to the band’s creativity.
It would later be combined with the old Yardbirds’ number “White Summer” and played as a solo during concerts by Jimmy Page – with occasional layers of bass and percussion by Jones and Bonham. A live recording of that version exists on the band’s first boxed set but the recording from Led Zeppelin I is one of those rare Zeppelin mini-classics. It’s quite a treat actually, almost like finding a golden Easter egg.
“Black Mountain Side” also showcased Page’s talents as a guitarist. Not only could he fire blistering blues licks and hard rock riffs but he could also be more subtle, more mysterious. Listening to “Black Mountain Side” makes one wonder what an entire album of Jimmy Page acoustic instrumentals would have sounded like had it been recorded in 1969, when he was just starting along this journey. Before sold out concert arenas and “Stairway to Heaven.” Would he have produced an entire album of songs like “Black Mountain Side” and “Bron-Yr-Aur” or would those songs be just one color on the pallet? Would he hunker down and play only folksy acoustic numbers like these or would Page run off in every direction, breaking new ground with every note like his mates in Led Zeppelin? One guesses you could expect the latter, as Page was the leader of this band and it was primarily his influence that drove the band to the utmost limits of creativity.