The Meaning Behind “Fool in the Rain” by Led Zeppelin and Why They Relented to Make It a Single

We think of Led Zeppelin as a lot of things, but a singles band isn’t one of them. The band famously avoided releasing songs from their albums for radio consumption if at all possible. But they relented late in their career with “Fool in the Rain,” a somewhat uncharacteristic song from the band that turned into a minor pop hit.

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What was the song about? How did the band put it together? And what exactly did they have against singles anyway? Let’s find out all the answers about one of the most memorable songs from what was essentially Led Zep’s last completed album.

We Don’t Do Singles

Led Zeppelin began their reign as hard rock’s standard-bearers back in 1969. As their profile grew with their second album (Led Zeppelin II), their record label decided to put out an edited version of their sledgehammering rocker “Whole Lotta Love,” and it did indeed scraped its way into the Top 5 in 1969. Songs like “Immigrant Song,” “Black Dog,” and “D’yer Mak’er” snuck out in subsequent years, but hit singles weren’t really part of the band’s master plan.

In an interview with Total Guitar, guitarist Jimmy Page explained the band’s decision-making process about singles:

“You know how it is with A&R men going, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have a single.’ We had singles in America and other places, but I wanted to stay clear of that market and keep it as an albums thing. Right in the early stages, I demanded—after having done all the Mickie Most stuff—that we didn’t want to be a band that was known for singles. It was albums that we were going to be known for. And clearly, I wanted to make each album different from the one before.”

By the time they reached the 1979 album In Through the Out Door, however, Led Zeppelin was doing many things differently. So why not a surprising hit single that stood out on the radio against the disco and New Wave all around it?

A Door Closing

In Through the Out Door is a bit of an odd duck in the Led Zeppelin catalog. They hadn’t released an album in three calendar years prior to its arrival in 1979. And they had no way of knowing it would be their last studio album of new material, but that would be the case with the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980. Unusual for them, they recorded it in a very short stretch of about three weeks. Speaking of short, the album contained only seven songs and clocked in at only 42 minutes of running time (and more than 10 minutes of those belonged to the side two opener “Carouselambra.”)

The band didn’t quite seem to have their heart in the album. Page and Bonham were both struggling with substance abuse issues, while frontman Robert Plant was still reeling from the death of his young son Karac two years earlier. As a result, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones took on a much larger role in the songwriting and song arranging, and he did a lot of the writing on “Fool in the Rain.”

Page did step in and come up with the idea of the unexpected samba section of the song that separates the verses. In addition, his guitar interludes bring a bit of moodiness to what’s otherwise a peppy song, one that benefited also from a leisurely vocal from Plant.

What is “Fool in the Rain” About?

As with a lot of Zeppelin songs, the title is a bit misleading, as the phrase “Fool in the Rain” never actually appears in the song. You might even think the title is “Light of the Love,” since that’s as close to a refrain as we get. But the title is apropos in that the song tells the tale of a fool in love who does indeed end up in the rain, both literally and figuratively, while waiting for his girl to show.

Plant seems to relish playing the lovesick sap here. Even when he compliments the girl on the light in your eyes, it’s double-edged: I hate to think I’ve been blinded, baby. He complains, You swore that you never would leave me, baby / Whatever happened to you? It feels like a false threat when he says that he’s done waiting for her: ‘Nother ten minutes, no longer / And then I’m turning around, ‘round.

In the final verse, he pretty much endures a complete physical breakdown, such is the nature of his frustrated passion. He then realizes that he deserves as much blame for his naïveté and recklessness as she does for her aloofness: The thoughts of a fool’s kind of careless / I’m just a fool waiting on the wrong block. That little comic twist plays into the lighthearted nature of “Fool in the Rain.” The song might not have sounded like typical Led Zeppelin, but it sure sounded like a hit.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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