Musical coincidences # 31

October 16, 2009

Believe it or not, this musical coincidence was the very reason I started Musical coincidences in the first place.* I have no idea why it’s taken me this long to let you know about it.

This coincidence involves, yet again, musical magpie Jimmy Page.

Here’s the opening vocal line of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song,” with singer Robert Plant wailing away:

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Please store those four notes (“Ah, ah, aaaaah, ah!“) in your memory banks.

That’s some great wailing. I must admit that “Immigrant Song” is one of my favourite Led Zeppelin tracks, as it contains one of the great rock guitar riffs (dunt, du-du-du-dunt / da-dunt, du-du-du-dunt etc). And, like all good heavy metal songs, the lyrics are wonderfully silly (they’re about Vikings).

Now, here are the first four notes of the theme to the TV comedy Get Smart:

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They’re the same four notes. They’re in a slightly different key, and with a slightly different rhythm, but they’re the same four notes. If you have trouble recognising the similarity, try playing one then the other, over and over again. However, if you do that, there is the possibility that you may end up mad – or a Viking.

Anyway, “Immigrant Song” was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. I’m presuming that Robert wrote the words and Jimmy supplied the music. According to Wikipedia, the song was written whilst Led Zeppelin was on tour in Iceland. Explaining the lyrics, Robert Plant said this:

“We weren’t being pompous … We did come from the land of the ice and snow.”

Yes, but that doesn’t make you a Viking, Robert.

As for the originality (or otherwise) of the music in “Immigrant Song,” I was going to give young Jimmy the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was just a coincidence, and he didn’t actually ‘borrow’ the Get Smart theme tune, but Wikipedia has other ideas. Wikipedia’s “Immigrant Song” article mentions that the song’s melody is “reminiscent of “Bali Ha’i“”. “Bali Ha’i” is a tune from the musical South Pacific.

If you’re not a fan of musicals (like me), you may now be wondering what “Bali Ha’i” sounds like. It sounds like this:

South Pacific – “Bali Ha’i

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And crooner Perry Como had a hit with his version of it in 1949. If you’re wondering what that sounds like, wonder no more:

Perry Como – “Bali Ha’i (1949)

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Yes, I’d go along with Wikipedia about the similarity between “Immigrant Song” and “Bali Ha’i.”

So now we have a musical coincidence involving a rock song, a TV theme tune, and now a show tune. And at the centre of it all is… Jimmy Page.

It seems to me that whenever the name of Jimmy Page is mentioned, musical coincidences fly thick and fast.

Anyway, here are the full versions of both “Immigrant Song” and the Get Smart theme:

Led Zeppelin – “Immigrant Song (1970)

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Get Smart theme (1965)

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(*That sounds like a tautology to me. For example, since when do people start things in the second place…?)

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