The Ocean

Originally Performed ByLed Zeppelin
Original AlbumHouses of the Holy (1973)
Phish Debut2016-01-17
Last Played2016-01-17
Current Gap275
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2016-02-04


Considering the overwhelming number of songs in the Phish library with lyrical references of a maritime or littoral nature, there was certainly no requirement that The Boys learn something new in the coastal category in order to thematically reference the fact one more time that they were playing on a beach during their January 2016 residency at Barceló Maya. However, that is exactly what Phish chose to do when the Yucatán life aquatic was brought to a close with a surprise encore debut of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” off their classic 1973 album Houses of the Holy.

Written and recorded in 1972 by Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones, the tune was intended as an homage to the ever swelling crowds for which the band was performing at the time. In keeping with this notion of “The Ocean,” the Led Zeppelin debut (Buffalo 6/10/72) preceded the release of Houses of the Holy by nine months. During the album’s period of gestation, the song would be performed three additional times on their 1972 North American Tour (Seattle 6/19/72, Denver 6/21/72, and Inglewood 6/25/72). The Inglewood performance was one of two shows – Long Beach 6/27/72 being the other – later memorialized on the 2003 live release How The West Was Won). “The Ocean” also sailed internationally: once in Japan (Tokyo 10/3/72), twice in the United Kingdom (Cardiff 12/11/72 and Liverpool 1/14/73), and twice in Europe (Stockholm 3/6/73 and Hamburg 3/21/73). 

Led Zeppelin, “The Ocean”

During the 1973 North American Tour, following the release of Houses of the Holy, “The Ocean” was in regular rotation, appearing in 13 of 36 shows. Notable among these are the single act attendance (56,800 people) record breaking performance at Tampa Stadium on 5/5/73, and the three consecutive Madison Square Garden versions (7/27, 7/28, 7/29/73), the best of which was subsequently included in the 2007 re-release of the 1976 concert film soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same. Following MSG, “The Ocean” was iced over, not to be played again live by its songwriters until Page and Plant plunged into it at their Shoreline appearance on 10/7/95. After resurfacing at the following show in Boise, ID on 10/9/95, it once again recessed into the abyss.

While Phish had previously teased it both instrumentally (2/17/90) and vocally (10/26/91) in “You Enjoy Myself,” the song’s signature riff – deftly sampled by the Beastie Boys for their 1986 Licensed to Ill joint “She’s Crafty” – induced a palpable roar from the crowd. “The Ocean” rolled off the Barceló Maya stage and submerged the faithful in a tsunami of joy to culminate the blissful weekend. No doubt aiming to close out their working vacation in classic fashion after having already served up many of the more obvious tunes from the “Sea and Sand” song list – but unfortunately having skipped that long lost Quadrophenia track – Phish rolled out the new cover as a wonderful parting gift. 

Phish’s debut of “The Ocean” was well received, despite the vocal challenges presented to Page while attempting to emulate Robert Plant’s pipes. As evidenced by other cover versions of the song – ranging from Living Color’s instrumental take to Government Mule’s enlistment of a guest vocalist from Rose Hill Drive – Page is braver than most. I love that he is always game to try, but he just doesn’t have tight enough trousers to hit those high notes on a consistent basis. Since no known recording exists of the single time Mike and Trey had performed “The Ocean” with The Duo (during a mini-set at a private party in Toronto on 7/17/06) it is unclear if either of them would have been better suited for the vocal duties on this occasion. As per usual, Fishman crushed the skins in his recurring role as Bonzo. 

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