That's The Way

Album: Led Zeppelin III (1970)


  • As pointed out in Stephen Davis's Hammer of the Gods, this song's lyrics reflected Robert Plant's views on ecology and environment. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adrian - Wilmington, DE
  • Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote this in Wales on a retreat to the Bron-y-Aur cottage, where they wrote many of the songs on the album. They took a long walk with a guitar and tape recorder (yes, they carried a tape recorder on their hikes), sat down in a ravine, and wrote this.
  • One of the most mellow Zeppelin songs, it reflects the quiet countryside in Wales where it was written. It's not typical of the Led Zeppelin sound, but the band was always evolving. "It was not all blood and thunder," Plant told Dan Rather in 2018. "There was a delicacy about it too, and a lot of great craft."
  • This was the first song Led Zeppelin authorized for use on a film soundtrack. After seeing a rough cut of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous in 2000, Page and Plant agreed to let him use some Zeppelin songs on it, but this is the only one that is on the soundtrack. Other Zeppelin songs in the movie are "Tangerine," "The Rain Song," "Bron-Y-Aur" and "Misty Mountain Hop."
  • The lyrics "I can't believe what people saying, you're gonna let your hair hang down, I'm satisfied to sit here working all day long, you're in the darker side of town" reflects the way Zeppelin was treated in their earlier days in America. In the south it was common for Zeppelin to receive death threats before concerts. When they walked into restaurants they were usually asked to leave, but not before being spit on or having a gun pointed at them for their long hair. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    John - Boca Raton, FL
  • The original title was "The Boy Next Door."
  • According to Robert Plant, this was written 30 minutes before Page's daughter Scarlet was conceived.

Comments: 77

  • Nex from AfricaSong about forbidden friendship with a 'bad' kid 'from the other side of the tracks'. Best friends, soulmates.
    Though they found meaning in everyday grind and understood it together, society, or momma, don't look kindly upon their friendship.
    Standing and watching fish dying in dirty waters is after the friendship was severed and how he asks his friend about other people and life. People who are nothing special, routine drones that now inhabit his world and seem just like fish in dirty waters, dying. Teasingly he asks if they got him hypnotised, or have his attention.
    Broken best friends and the bad boy knows a bit more about life and sings this to the boy reigned in, almost angry and provoking.
  • Johnathon from Nsw - AustraliaI thought it was about losing your childish innocence and entering adulthood and the grind of society, the mindset of a free child and the mindset of a member of the rat race speaking to each other.

    "The boy next door" is simply playing with friends as a child, Mama said it's time to grow up. "People say you're gonna let your hair hang down and being satisfied to work all day" = the way people (squares) look down on free minded adults and the transition of a childish mindset to a member of the grind. "Standing by the river (tears in your eyes) and being hypnotized by fish in dirty water, dieing" = being beat down by societies' mundaneness, but willingly joining them. "Kissing tiny flowers, born to die, nothing matters, stand and cry" = the realization of mortality. "All ears have turned away, look and look again, is that the way it ought to stay?" = The question; should we continue with this mission of society or is a more free-minded mentality the way to go?

    The way it ought to be and the way it's gonna stay. I see some others have a similar view of the song (Rachel and Kevin from NY for two), right on :)
  • Stryder from NyI'm a Zep fan from their day one. That's the way has always been one of my favorite songs. I'm older now and it's a new world but that boy next door lyric was hard to cope with way back when. I do think it's about coming out of the closet. And I'm fine with that today. I think you just need to take it literally.
  • Thomas from Roswell, NmMy favorite track from Led Zeppelin III.
  • Dolores from Willow Grove, PaI always thought this song was about a gay friend one that "he was told never to be seen with because "your gonna let your hair hang down" out of the closet Is that how it outta be meaning the price you pay for coming out is steep. Especially back then. But perhaps it is about America we are full of contradictions we were fighting for the air the environment I use to go to the park and cry the streams had huge bubbles frothing the fish were all dead. Thats not the way it ought to stay. We changed what we could and can. England sees us as little Brother perhaps its about how violent and confusing we are. Back then we put flowers in the guns of the national guard they thought we were nuts. But you could see in a way they got it America the need for tolerance and willingness to change so intense the struggle to unify not divide thats the way it ought to be..
  • Melissa from Fairborn, OhHmmm, I like this acoustic Led Zeppelin song, because I like the cool mandolin roll after the chours on this acoustic Led Zeppelin song and is good to waltz to and the same as "Going to California".
  • Amanda from Pittsburgh, Pai am so glad that some others feel that this is about a lost friend. one of best friends ever, jonathan, introduced me to zeppelin..we especially loved the III album. we used to drive around the countryside in his little beat up chevette listening to zeppelin. he died when he was 25, and i will never get over him. this song especially makes me think of him, and the part about "mama told me" means something to me, as my mother was the one who told me of his passing. he was a very spiritual and magical person...and a real zeppelin fan. they are beyond excellent.
  • Brenda from Whitman, MaHave listened to this song for 25 or more years and just realized it my be about a transgender, homosexual. He clearly says the "boy" next door, and Mother saying can't play no more would be something a mother would do at that time. But, he conts to see and think about this boy, so the ? is did he have those tendencies too but just lived as he was tought and along w/society? If so, very great, deep song about something that was "taboo" in those days. Coodos to them for seeing life as it really is and writing a song about it.
  • Collin from Rochester, MnDoes anyone else feel like the guitar goes backwards at 4:28?
  • Alex from London, United KingdomThey played it in tribute to Jimi Hendrix the day after he died in 1970. See link.
  • Hanna from Mount Vernon, Ia, IaAlso, when they toured the American South, the band was threatened with violence due to their long hair, facing sexist discrimination.
  • Hanna from Mount Vernon, Ia, IaThis probably has nothing to do with the actual meaning, but I'm big into transgender rights and was looking for a song to put on a video montage, cool web comic and this would be perfect. In concert, he changes it from "my friend the boy next door" to "the girl next door." Maybe he wanted it to sound more straight before a live audience. It sounds like some of the stuff LGBT people go through and I know from several books that Zep partied with drag queens, gays transsexuals, etc. and was cool with them. Watch the belgian film Ma vie en rose and then hedwig and the angry inch. In the latter movie's sound track there's a song called "we are freaks", subtitled "that's the way." and it almost sounds like the kid he's talking about grew up and was really loud and proud. Listen to the other song. It's delightful.
  • Lisa from Milford, CtI keep listening to this song and thinking about the Gulf oil disaster. How can it be almost 40 years after this song was written and we are still looking at "all the fish that lay in dirty water dying". Can't we learn? Why must we keep making the same mistakes. I guess the song remains the same, but does it have too?
  • Sara from Kenosha, United KingdomThis song really is quite beautiful, I listen to it all the time and it just makes me so relaxed. But it also makes me sad, the song just takes you back to a place of memories that are sad, but a quiet sad. Its like when the trees sway when its windy outside, very beautiful, but when a leaf falls, its somehow sad.
  • Jimmy from Galicia, SpainIn my opinion, Plant is trying to contrast the 'young boy', not responsible,idealistic, who cares about things thats not even matter, with the reality, WISDOM or experience represented by his mother. Those things are taught by his mother and gradually learned by his son.These 'dichotomies' or contrasts between good or bad, reality and idealism or day and night (battle of evermore) are typical in zepp songs.
    This song is great.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InBeautiful piece, and Page's subdued echo-treated guitar really adds to it so well.
    Interesting to have himself put in the background for this.
  • Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaThis is definately one of my all time favourite songs ever. Simply beautiful.
  • Mark from Worcester, MiIf I may point out the obvious to Mr Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin delivered more violence to America, then America did to Led Zeppelin, and it's not even close.
  • Mark from Worcester, MiFrom Rolling Stone: "That's the Way," which Page regarded as Plant's breakthrough as a lyric writer. Though it seemed to be about the gulf between two boyhood friends from different social backgrounds, it was in fact a song about the band's ambivalent relationship with America. The group's members were sometimes frightened and confused by what they saw or experienced in the United States--they were spit on, had guns drawn on them and were heckled at airports and on planes--and they were troubled about the violence that they had seen policemen visit upon youth who protested the war in Vietnam, as well as upon the fans at their shows. "We've been to America so much and seen so many things that we don't agree with," Plant said, "that our feelings of protest have to reflect in our music."
  • Daniel from Nashville, TnI am a HUGE Zep fan, and this is top 3 of my faves. I love every version ive heard, but specially the DVD version. " Your in the darker side of town" oh man, i can relate!!
  • John from Somewhere In, MaThis song speaks to me about a dead person's spirit talking to his friend about life
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiPlayed live from 1970-1972, and again in 1975.
  • Arta from Great Falls, VaI suggest listening to the version of this song from How the West Was Won (Disc 1). It's kicks a door open in your mind.
  • Paul from Columbia, Sci just heard this song for the first time. and its already one of my favorites. this is awesome.
  • Craig from Brisbane, AustraliaI agree with connie from il. the song is about a ghost talking to his freind whose greiving for him. "And when I'm out I see you walking, Why don't your eyes see me?" is the ghost loking at his friend, and "And yesterday I saw you kissing tiny flowers,
    But all that lives is born to die"..his friend has visited his grave or memorial with flowers and crying. anyway thata what i reckon. great funeral song!
  • Lemicro from New York City, Nyum john your clueless. he has an amazing voice dont even try to begin to diss the lead singer of Led Zeppelin.
  • Connie from Palatine, IlI've always thought of this song as the voice of someone who has recently passed and their spirit is speaking to "my friend, the boy next door". The spirit is trying to comfort the friend, saying "That's the way it's gonna be". I find it a simple message of love and comfort, with a reminder that life is short. "But now's the time to look and look again at what you see - is that the way it oughta stay?" One of Zep's best songs...
  • Melanie from Seattle, Wawow. This song is so great. Plant's voice sounds amazing. I love how Zep was so dieverse- they did crazy hard rocking pieces like Immigrant Song and then this, which is probably their most beautiful song. III really is an underrated album. The lyrics are really deep, I love how everyone has been trying to analyze them, but I guess it just means a different thing to everyone.
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiMellowest Zeppelin song of them all.
  • Kirsten from Pacific Grpve, Cai agree, mellow and relaxing at its best.
  • Joe from Palos Heights, IlThis song is so relaxing. Zeppelin's got that soft side that bands like ACDC dosn't have.(and shouln't have. ACDC should stick to what they do best-Rockin out)
    I love the live version on How The West Was Won. Robert Plant really plays with the lyrics like" let your hair hang dowowown" its really funny.
    Also- i swear this song, just like gallow's pole, gradually speeds up in tempo, because I was playing along with it on guitar and i could tell it was getting faster. O well- a classic song that any true zeppelin fan has heard
  • Ameer from La, CaThe live version on the DVD at Earl's Court is amazing and makes me love this song even more. The lyrics are about a couple who must breakup and cannot see each other anymore. Hence the lyrics: "I don't know how I'm gonna tell you
    I can't play with you no more,"
    In the live version Plant says "girl next door" while in the actual song he says "boy next door". It works both ways.
  • Rachel from New York, Nyheres me bit by bitting the song. sorry that this is a long comment. its similar to what simon from greece said.

    the narrator represents innocence and childhood. mama represents the real world.

    {{I can't believe what people sayin'
    You're gonna let your hair hang down}}- this part shows childhood trying to hold on to the person and childhood is afraid the person is going to be convinced to do what everyone else says.

    {{I'm satisfied to sit here working all day long
    You're in the darker side of town}} the childhood is saying hes willing to stay and wants to because the person needs it

    {{And when I'm out I see you walking
    Why don't your eyes see me
    Could it be you've found another game to play}}- this is when childhood realizes the person has left him behind to grow up

    then come the parts about the fish in the river and kissing tiny flowers and crying which show that the childhood has always been there wanting to comfort the person when the person found what the real world was all about.

  • Kimmee from Far Away, Canadawhat a GREAT song! one of zeppelin's best, in my opinion. i can see that others are trying to interpret the lyrics. one of the things that makes robert plant such a great lyricist is the fact that he can use words in a song that are specific enough to give a song meaning, yet general enough that the song's meaning can be interpreted personally by anyone. so this song may have a different meaning for almost everyone who hears it. that's what makes pop songs popular. that and the incredible song writing/musicianship displayed in this wonderfully powerful song. i just love the mix of acousitc guitar and mandolin with a lead electric guitar floating around the melody of plants' voice. it's just sublime! my other favourite zeppelin song is fool in the rain. again, just an amazing display of talent! there will never be another band like them.
  • Mark from Des Moines, IaI too think, and have heard this is about racial tensions between cultures. Regardless, it's an incredible song!
  • Jarod from Allen, TxThis is clearly tyring to make a point.. and that is the little things dont matter.. when robert plant says,"and all the fish that lay in dirty water dying have they got you hypnotized" That stament is just another way of saying don't be so caught up in the small things.. Who care about fish dying in dirty water but on a day to day basis we tend to get so wraped up in things that are about as important and in the end it dosent matter... Very well done zeppelin! Two thumbs up for a beautiful song.
  • Joseph from Chicago, IlWords can't explain how great this song is. They don't make songs like these anymore.
  • Ktelqueen from New Brunswick,canada, Chileheard it for the first time last week and i'm addicted.
  • Joe from Oakdale, MnThat's a very good theory and that's what I though when I first heard it. It could be true I mean the lyrics support it. I was wondering though if anyone knew that that instrument is that comes in after Plant says "My friend the boy next door" around 0:42? It doesn't really sound like a guitar, but it sounds like it has strings.
  • Ryan from Colonial Heights, TnI think the song is about two kids. One white and one black in the pre-civil rights days. They played together all their lives (before kids are old enough to realize that skin color matters). Until one day the white boy's mother sees this and forbids her son to play with blacks anymore. The little boy is confused about what he did wrong, but his mother only says, "that's the way it ought a be, that's the way it ought a stay."
    The years pass by and the two boys are now men. The white man sees his boyhood friend out walking through town. But the black man coldly refuses to recognize or acknowledge the face from his past. He's learned the rules of his society. Moved on with his life. Needs only friends of his own race now. But the white man still can't understand why he had to lose his best friend. He's never been able to replace him. The lost friend could be a person of a different religion, sexual orientation, economic class, disability or just a misfit. The song would still sound as poignant and touching.
  • Vladek from KoprivnicaAnd one more thing. Koprivnica is a city in Croatia, it's not in the usa. I made a ''lapsus'' while registering
  • Vladek from Koprivnica, United Statesthis is a really great song... it always makes me wonder about's really deep.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cawow don i was just going to suggest that. this song is just generally about not fitting in i guess. for whatever you want it to be like, as are many songs like this.
  • Don from Charlotte, NcDoes no one think this is a song about childhood friends who have trouble dealing with the fact that the community doesn't want to accept the fact that one of them is gay?
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI agree with that interpretation Kevin. People lose sight of the simple things in life sometimes. To many times in fact.
  • Taylor from Vancouver, WaOk people Thats the way is simply about how Jimmi page had a freind that was african american... There was alot of prejudec at the time and alot of hate... When he Says "your in the darker side of town..." he refers to black. "Oh my momma said my momma said thats the way it outta stay...Oh no oh oh oh oooo ooo ah ah ah ah" means his mother doesnt want him hangin out or playing with a little black boy/girl... I LOVE ZEPPELIN!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOTT
  • Merlin from Cincinnati, OhIf you're looking for some good mandolin musics, consider David Grisman. The album is Shady Grove its with Jerry Garcia. Good stuff
  • Merlin from Cincinnati, OhWow! Some of the zep songs inspired me to learn mandolin as well. Mostly Going To California but this one as well. It is a truely beautiful instrument. Has a powerful yet calm effect on their music.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cakevin i completely agree. and danny i think that sounds cool.
  • Ryan from Lakewood, OhYeah I love this song. It has inspired me to learn how to play the mandolin. Also is the perfect compliment to Tangerine when you listen to them on Led Zeppelin III.
  • Kevin from New York, NyMaybe I'm way off base but I see a completely diffrent meaning to these lyrics. The main theme deals with the character trying to become part of the "System", get a good job, etc.

    In the end the the working man feels that life is basically pointless, whereas his childhood friend still charishes the little things in life and can appreciate their beauty.

    Basically, don't loose sight of where you come from and understand that eveyone has inner beuty that should not be discarded just because it's not the popular opinion.
  • Danny from Sydney, AustraliaI mean I find the way Plant sings "Thats the way" kinda eerie. Its starts out sounding out of time, but ends up in perfect time. Zeppelin rule.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Canot to say the meaning is bad. i looooove the meaning! it makes me feel better AND worse to know that my life is meaningless if that makes any sense.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cai don't exactly find it eerie just sad. at least to me it states that our lives are all somewhat pointless. at least my form of life is. according to the song i mean. i hope its not actually pointless. although this song doesn't help me feel any better about it.
  • Danny from Sydney, AustraliaI find this song kinda eerie
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cathese are my favorite zep lyrics except for kashmir maybe. i loooooooooooove this song soooooooooooooo much! i think it deserves way more credit than it gets.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cajohn from west covina. i think the kissing of tiny flowers is like kissing them goodbye. obviously this song has some references to our polluted world like "the fish in dirty water dyin'" and i think the kissing of tiny flowers is that the boy next door wants them to live but then the singer is saying that theres not really anything we can do hence the line "but everything is born to die, and so i said to you that nothing really matters but you just stand and cry" (approx. what he said) so that is saying that we all deep down belong in nature and want to help with what we love most, but sometimes we can't. for example the singer says that "i can't believe what people saying, you're gonna let your hair hang down" as if he too wants his hair to hang down but he can't because he decides to follow society's rules unlike his friend that ends up kissing the tiny flowers in frustration that he can't do anything to help them. but thats just what i think. i'm probably waaaay off. i suck at interpreting songs.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cai was hoping there would be a led zeppelin song that somehow relates to the environment cuz i am an environmentalist! this song is good and i didn't understand it earlier cuz i suck at interpreting song lyrics but now it makes sense!
  • Isabella from Tucson, AzHTWWW > HTTP - WWW! Oh my, subliminal! Just kidding. Anyway, this song meant tons to me a while ago after I found out I was moving to another part of town, so I wouldn't be seeing my best friend much anymore (a best friend my mother hardly approved of). The whole "that's the way it oughta stay" bit also connected with my situation, as the reason for our move was so that I could go to an Advanced Placement school, which would provide better opportunitues and whatnot. I remember crying so much to this song ... it was like it was written for me ..
  • Brandon from Saskatoon, Canadarobert plant has gotta be the coolest guy ever.
    i think this is one of led zep's finest, if u read the lyrics and follow it makes you so sad
  • Steve from Troy, NyLive, Plant would say "My friend, the girl next door," not "my friend, the boy next door." That kind of makes it sound better.
  • Erica from Hampstead, NcI love this song, I can't belive someone would spit on them that is sick, they would not dare spit on a god so why spit on Zeppelin. i love all of their songs and so does my friend we both have also come to the conclusion that Jimmy Page is one very fine person!
  • Otso from Helsinki, FinlandSimon from Greece has a great point there, but I still don't completely agree with him. As always, Plant's being multi-dimensional here: a simple story evolves to be something with a greater meaning, and that's the way great lyrics oughta be... Many old blues musicians e.g. Robert Johnson, Albert King used to do this in their songs, it was the style back then in th 50's and 60's. Less is more.
  • Justin Mcshea from Columbia, MoYeah, I'll agree that the HTWWW version is superb, but the version on BBC Sessions is so much clear, and if you listen on your headphones, it seems like they are playing it right in front of you. Also, good call on the DVD. "Going to California", this song and "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp" provide for three sweet songs in a row. I highly suggest watching those.
  • Ed from Concord, CaI had once heard that this song referred to a brief affair RP had with Anne Murray. Any truth to it?N
  • Will from Mobile, AlThis Led Zeppelin song rules!!! Its also exelent on the "How the West was Won" album, hevily reccomended...also, please dont think that the south is full of rednecks because of their past....ALABAMA RULES!!!!
  • Simon from Hookeans, GreeceFrom what I understood from this piece is that...

    You are a good conformed boy...
    You're watching your neighbor and friend beeing a little more marginal and defenitly 60-70's hippie...
    And the good one understands that no one can change the world and trying to do so will just make you an unhappy person in the end + everyone has to grow up at some point ( have a familly and all)... Therefore, do what your mama tells you, go to school, work hard, find love, make kids and give them all you got...

    But now's the time to look again at what you see
    Is that the way it ought to stay?
    That's the way,oh, that's the way it ought to be

    I understood this a few days ago at a tribute concert to the band, I was completely high, and after listening to the song 1000 times, I finnally understood when the band played it... Mama's right... Thats the way it ought to stay...

    I'm so gooing back to school this September... I can't waste my life away trying to change everything... So who will be my wife? How much kids do I want? Hmmm :)

  • Michael from Greenville, Msin john's reference to people being aholes to zeppelin when they traveled in the south is true but it also happened everywhere else.. both the north and the south.. the united states was not ready for such a long haired rock band at that current time
  • Spencer from South Kingstown, Riwhen i first heard this song i thought it could be about racial discrimination in america. i still think it could be. this is definatly one of my favorites, though i find it kind of sad.
  • Jon from Chicago, IlOn HTWWW or the new DVD we get this song stripped down just like it should be, Page, Plant and Jones getting down! My favorite acoustic Zep song.
  • Janelle from New York City, NyI think we can all agree led zeppelin do the greatest acoustic pieces
  • Ac from Winnipeg, Canadakelly, recommend going to california, down by the seaside, all my love and of course stairway to those friends who dont like heavy music...led has some great blues tunes too like bron-y-aur stomp that your friends might like.
    Oh! And d'yer maker.
    I love the line in this song about the fish in dirty water dying...plant was ahead of his time.
  • John from West Covina, Cai agree with adrianit is a very beautiful song. and it's one out of only a few songs when Robert Plant's voice actually sounds kind of nice. And what's with the kissing of tiny flowers.
  • Adrian from Wilmington, DeOne of Zeppelin's most beautiful songs. The melody and vocals are soothing and uplifting
  • Nick from Wauwatosa, WiFrom what I can understand in the song, it is about losing a friend
  • Kelly from Los Angeles, Cai love this song! this is the only song my friends who think zeppelin is too heavy actually love. it crosses boundaries.
  • Seth from Butler, Paprobably my favorite Zeppelin song. Its just so mellow and relaxing
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