The song that plays at the end of the 2015 movie The Big Short, is none other than Led Zeppelin’s iconic reworking of the anthem “When the Levee Breaks”. It’s the powerful, foreboding 7-minute “coda” to ZOSO, what fellow Zep fans call the otherwise untitled 4th album Led Zeppelin IV.

“Reworking?” They covered that?

It wouldn’t be Led Zeppelin if they didn’t cover or get heavily influenced by a classic Mississippi Delta Blues staple when recording an album. In this case, it was a song first recorded by Memphis Minnie in the late 1920s. Wikipedia says Memphis Minnie recorded it with her husband, Kansas Joe McCoy, which was news to me. I just remember reading the album’s inside cover 234,234,234 times when I got my first copy of ZOSO.

The song is originally about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

It was about the worst flood in history. Actually, I don’t know what was close. Wikipedia (I quoted it, again) says up to 90% of 630,000 residents in the south were affected and 200,000 African Americans were displaced. The event was credited for intensifying the great northern manufacturing migration because, well, seriously, who the Hell would want to go through that again?

As Wikipedia states:

“…On Christmas Day of 1926,[3] the Cumberland River at Nashville, Tennessee exceeded 56 ft 2 in (17.1 m), a level that remains a record to this day, higher than the devastating 2010 floods.

“Flooding overtopped the levees, causing Mounds Landing to break with more than double the water volume of Niagara Falls. The Mississippi River broke out of its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2). This water flooded an area 50 mi (80 km) wide and more than 100 mi (160 km) long. The area was inundated up to a depth of 30 ft (9 m). The flood caused over US$400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states.”

The song is a great choice to end the movie. I’ll concede that.

The song fits the ending. The crash was incredible. And I know time marches on and that even the most iconic have to toe the line between being exclusive and being relevant, but it’s hard to hear When the Levee Breaks on anything other than a Led Zeppelin album.

I know, I know, it’s not the first time the band that would never sell out sold out. They offered up a couple B-hits in the incredible 2000 movie “Almost Famous”:

  • Bron-Y-Ar
  • Misty Mountain Hop
  • Tangerine
  • That’s the Way
  • The Rain Song

I’m guessing the Cameron Crowe / Rolling Stone connection contributed to having those in there. Not that I’m complaining.

I also know that The Immigrant Song was in the trailers for the video game Destiny:

and Whole Lotta Love has been showing up in places such as a goddamned cologne commercial involving Twilight’s Edward:

And I don’t talk about Jimmy Page teaming up with Puff Daddy or whatever the Hell his name is today

But When the Levee Breaks, to me, was supposed to still be in heavily-guarded treasure trove of untouchable Led Zeppelin songs. Like Hey, Hey, What Can I Do? and Over the Hills and Far Away, there were supposed to be a few songs that were sacred, left to only the fans of Led Zeppelin.

But if When the Levee Breaks was going to be lent to a movie, I’m glad it was The Big Short

It was a serious movie about a serious subject, and the song was used to enhance the mood instead of being a hook to entice moviegoers to watch it. Much like how The Beatles song Baby You’re a Rich Man was used at the end of The Social Network, When the Levee Breaks was used with style, class, and respect. Most importantly, it drove a metaphorical point home.

And because the decision to include the song feels like an artistic choice and not a commercial hook, I enjoy hearing it play at the end of the movie every time I see it. And, “yes,” I’ve seen it more than twice.

Led Zeppelin IV – “ZOSO” – on Spotify

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