Achilles Last Stand

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Achilles Last Stand
Appears on Presence
Published by Flames of Albion Music
Registration ASCAP 310147990
Release date 31 March 1976
Recorded 9-27 November 1976 at
Musicland Studios, Munich.
Mixed at Musicland Studios, Munich.
Genre Hard rock
Language English
Length 10 minutes 26 seconds
Composer Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
Label Swan Song Records
Producer Jimmy Page
Engineer Keith Harwood

'Achilles Last Stand' is a song by English rock group Led Zeppelin, featured as the opening track on their 1976 album Presence.

Overview

It was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Page's house in Malibu, California where they stayed for a month while Plant recovered from a serious car accident he had sustained in Greece in 1975. The song was then recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. 'Achilles Last Stand', at ten minutes and twenty-five seconds, is the third longest studio recording released by Led Zeppelin (after 'In My Time of Dying' at eleven minutes six seconds and 'Carouselambra' at ten minutes thirty-four seconds).

It is famous for John Bonham's powerful drumming, John Paul Jones's galloping bass line (played on a custom-built Alembic eight string bass) and Jimmy Page's overdubbed orchestral guitar arrangement (the dozen or so guitar tracks having been recorded in Munich in a single session). An EMS VCS3 was used for a small overdub at the six minute fifty-four second mark. The bridge changes 4/4 time to 5/4 time, and uses triplets. It is also known for its dramatic, epic guitar solo which is considered by many to be among Page's best. The guitarist applied vari-speed during production of this song to speed it up, one of the few times he employed that device in the studio for Led Zeppelin songs.[1] In 1977, he explained:

I'll tell you about doing all the guitar overdubs to 'Achilles Last Stand'. There were basically two sections to the song when we rehearsed it. I know John Paul Jones didn't think I could succeed in what I was attempting to do. He said I couldn't do a scale over a certain section, that it just wouldn't work. But it did. What I planned to try and get that epic quality into it so it wouldn't just sound like two sections repeated, was to give the piece a totally new identity by orchestrating the guitars, which is something I've been into for quite some time. I knew it had to be jolly good, because the number was so long it just couldn't afford to be half-baked. It was all down to me how to do this. I had a lot of it mapped out in my mind, anyway, but to make a long story short, I did all the overdubs in one night ... I thought as far as I can value tying up that kind of emotion as a package and trying to convey it through two speakers, it was fairly successful.[2]

It has been suggested that the title of the song was an acknowledgement of Plant's broken ankle, which he suffered as a result of his car accident. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Plant's experiences in Morocco, where he and Page travelled following Led Zeppelin's 1975 Earl's Court concerts.[3] Plant specifically refers to Morocco's Atlas Mountains in the line: 'The mighty arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the Earth'. This is a double-meaning to imply the Atlas mountains in a physical sense seeming to hold up the sky, as well as the reference to the Titan Atlas and his task to hold up the sky on his shoulders and thus separate it from the Earth. Plant's lyrics were also inspired by some of the poetry he was reading at the time, which includes William Blake. 'Albion remains/sleeping now to rise again' is a reference to Blake's engraving The Dance of Albion. The following is an excerpt from the poem that goes with the song:

'Albion rose from where he labour'd at the Mill with Slaves.
Giving himself for the Nations he danc'd the dance of Eternal Death.'

Albion is the most ancient name of Great Britain.

'Achilles Last Stand' was used in the film Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001), one of the few times the band allowed a number from its catalogue to be used in a motion picture.

Live performances

Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that 'Achilles Last Stand' is his favourite Led Zeppelin song.[4] Not surprisingly, it became an integral component of almost every Led Zeppelin concert from their 1977 tour of the United States onwards. Though Page initially expected that he would need to use his Gibson EDS-1275 double-necked guitar to play the song live, he realised that it was possible to use the Gibson Les Paul (or occasionally a red Telecaster).[5] One live version, from Led Zeppelin's performance at Knebworth in 1979, is featured on disc two of the Led Zeppelin DVD.

Page has mentioned that this song, like several others the band recorded which involved guitar overdubs, was quite challenging to adapt for live performances on stage:

'Achilles' is the classic one. When Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards came to hear us play, Keith said, 'You ought to get another guitarist; you're rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business.' Quite amusing. There are times when I'd just love to get another guitarist on, but it just wouldn't look right to the audience.[6]

Credits

Personnel
  • Musicians:
    • Jimmy Page – electric guitar, producer, remastering, digital remastering
    • Robert Plant – vocals
    • John Paul Jones – bass guitar, EMS VCS3
    • John Bonham - drums, percussion
  • Production:
    • Peter Grant – executive producer
    • Keith Harwood - engineer, mixing
    • Jeremy Gee – tape engineer
    • Joe Sidore - original CD mastering engineer (mid-1980s)
    • George Marino - remastered CD engineer (1990)

References

  1. Tolinski, Brad and Di Benedetto, Greg (January 1998). "Light and Shade: A Historic Look at the Entire Led Zeppelin Catalogue Through the Eyes of Guitarist/Producer/Mastermind Jimmy Page". Guitar World 18 (1): 16. ISSN 1045-6295.
  2. Schulps, Dave (October 1977). "Jimmy Page: The Trouser Press Interview". Trouser Press 4 (22). ISSN 0164-1883.
  3. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 80. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  4. Shadwick, Keith (2005). “Unforseen Circumstances”, Led Zeppelin: The Story of a Band and Their Music: 1968-1980. London: Omnibus Press, 246. ISBN 978-0-87930-871-1. OCLC 224513955. 
  5. Lewis, Dave (2012). Led Zeppelin: From a Whisper to a Scream. London: Omnibus Press, 80. ISBN 978-1-78038-547-1. 
  6. Schulps, Dave (October 1977). "Jimmy Page: The Trouser Press Interview". Trouser Press 4 (22). ISSN 0164-1883.