The Condition Led Zeppelin Had for Ben Affleck to Use a Zep Song in 'Argo'

The Condition Led Zeppelin Had for Ben Affleck to Use a Zep Song in 'Argo'

10/11/2020

You can’t blame filmmakers for imagining a Led Zeppelin song on their project’s soundtrack. When your hero enters the room for a final showdown, why not have “Kashmir” backing them? And why not use “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” to help tell your tragic love story?

It sounds great, but that doesn’t mean you can get Zeppelin on the soundtrack. For decades, it was next to impossible for film and TV productions to license Zep songs. (The Sopranos was a rare exception.) But the band has been more willing to cooperate with producers in recent years.

That’s how David O. Russell got “What Is and What Should Never Be” in Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Though Russell said the band made him work for it, the director eventually got the track in his film.

That same year, Ben Affleck found himself on the hunt for a Led Zeppelin song in his own Oscar-nominated film: Argo. In Affleck’s case, Zep didn’t just want a steep price; the band also wanted him to change a shot in the film.

Ben Affleck wanted an all-time Led Zeppelin classic in ‘Argo’

In a 2012 L.A. Times article, Affleck recalled his quest to use a Led Zeppelin song in Argo. Affleck said he was looking for a song that would play during the hostages’ final night in Tehran prior to their escape attempt. He had already shot a scene in which you see a character drop the needle on a record.

Though he considered “Hotel California” by The Eagles and Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to play at that moment, Affleck eventually set his sights on “When the Levee Breaks,” the psychedelic blues that closes out Led Zeppelin IV (1971).

Fifty years after its recording, “Levee” ranks as one of the band’s finest works. It begins with the most epic drumbeat in rock history, performed by the masterful John Bonham. From there, the harmonica of Robert Plant and fretwork of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones fill out the swampy, haunting sound.

“It’s got an ominous feeling, but it’s celebratory in a sense as well,” Affleck told the Times. “Zeppelin, to me, is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.” He knew he wanted “When the Levee Breaks,” and the surviving members of Zeppelin (most likely Page) agreed — with one change to the movie.

Led Zeppelin had Affleck rework the scene so the needle dropped on the correct spot of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’

“When the Levee Breaks” is the closer on one of rock’s greatest records. And that became an issue during the negotiations for Affleck to use the track in Argo. In the shot he’d filmed, the character drops the needle at the beginning of the record’s side (i.e., on the first song).

That didn’t work for Led Zeppelin, so they asked Affleck to change the shot so the needle goes on the last groove, where “When the Levee Breaks” would start on the vinyl. What could Affleck say? Apparently, he simply said yes.

“So not only did we have to pay for the song; we had to pay for an effects shot,” Affleck told the Times. “You have to appreciate their attention to detail.” Indeed, attention to detail is what made Zep albums (all of which Page produced) the stuff filmmakers want to use a half-century later.

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