What Is And What Should Never Be

Album: Led Zeppelin II (1969)
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Songfacts®:

  • This very dynamic song alternates between hushed verses and an explosive chorus as Robert Plant sings about whisking a fair maiden to castle where they will join together as one.

    According to the book Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, he wrote the lyric reflecting on his affair with his wife's younger sister.
  • The production makes liberal use of stereo as the guitars pan back and forth between channels. The vocals were phased during Robert Plant's screaming part.
  • This was one of Plant's first songs recorded by the band, and also marks the first appearance of drummer John Bonham's Chinese gong, which he set up as part of his drum kit in concerts. The gong appears in the middle part among Jimmy Page's guitar riffs. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Led Zeppelin played this live from 1969 to 1972. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adrian - Wilmington, DE
  • The song was one of the first debut appearances of Jimmy Page's Gibson Les Paul guitar. The guitar is heard here hopping back and forth between stereo channels.
  • In Billy Joel's 1997 appearance in VH1's Storytellers, Joel plunks this out as part of his medley-intro to "We Didn't Start The Fire."
  • The Led Zeppelin DVD contains a live version of "What Is And What Should Never Be" performed at the Royal Albert Hall.

Comments: 63

  • Robert from Johns CreekWith a Minute to go was released in 1971. Zeppelin II in 1969.
  • Thom from Westminster MarylandI know there are influences in music and what is called plagiarism could be just honoring such influences. I found one involving an obscure but excellent rock band, Leafhound. The songs are Leafhound's, "With a minute to go" and Zeppelin's "What is and what should never be". Exact words and music. Not very long but there, " but the wind won't blow, holding up the show..."
  • Jim from Ocean Grove, NjDavis in Hammer of the Gods, p. 97 says Zep manager Cole claims that the song is about "the beginning of a long and secret liaison between Robert and his wife's younger sister." But Davis does not cite when Cole said this. Also, Cole's 1992 book Stairway to Heaven, discusses this song with no mention of Shirley.
    Maureen helped Robert survive in the early years before the success of Zep. They married in 1968, had 3 kids (one died), divorced in 1982.
    When Robert was on tour he had plenty of sex, but he tried to be the good husband/father at home. The family was close and Robert gave Shirley's husband a job on his farm (they were all in Greece August, 1975 when Maureen and Robert were hurt in the car crash).
    After divorcing Maureen in 1982, Robert got together with Shirley (who was married). They got engaged in 1983, never married, had a son Jess in 1991, then Robert broke up with Shirley.
    In 1969, Robert definitely wanted to have sex with his wife's sister and imagined going away with her, but decided "it should never be" as long as he was married to Maureen.
  • Therese from Ohio, UsaListening to this song with headphones and your eyes closed is the best -especially at the end when it pans back and forth. Lovelovelove this song!
  • Natu from Addis Ababa, EthiopiaWhat a song! Another great zeppelin song. First time i heard it surprised me every time the chourse ends and the new verse begin...this song makes you sad,angry,happy and relaxed at the same time.....THANK GOD THERE IS LED ZEPPELIN!
  • Thomas from Roswell, NmI think the guitar panning back and forth between channels is the coolest thing that Page and Zeppelin ever did to a song. A unique feature to the second track on Led Zeppelin II.
  • David from Los Angeles , CaThat first solo by Page is so smooth, simply amazing
  • Jimmy from Winnipeg, Mb, MbInstant Classic.

    Led Zeppelin, Nuff Said'
  • Bryan from Morgantown, KyOld Pink, I think you're confused about the bow. That's slide guitar. No bow.
  • Olivier from Alma, QcBetween 2:30 and 2:31 in the studio version we can hear something weird.
  • Tracy from Tulsa, OkThis isn't a weird song, it's a GROOVE then a ROCK. One of my favorites. Puts you in a mellow mood. Makes you want to... even if you never have. Use your imagination. Doesn't have to make sense. That's the beauty. You get it.
  • Oldpink from New Castle, InSpeaking as someone who tends to enjoy spooky bits, this one is a favorite.
    Really creepy effects at the beginning, and the fiddle bow Page uses is so obvious that even a novice could figure out what it is.
  • Rea from Monticello, ArActually Kris, I'm currently listening to this song and it sounds nothing like how you've described it.
  • Kris from Tallinn, --Well, Peter Griffin,
    Well i know that it's not what the lyrics say...
    but it really sounds like that
    and who knows what Robert might of thought when he wrote the lyrics...
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiThis was played live from 1969-1972.
  • Michael from Okla. City, OkWhat Is and What Should Never Be has held-up far better than Whole Lotta Love over the yrs & remains my favorite LZ song. Michael, OKC, 4-15-08
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiNO, KRISTJAN. It's "and you will be mine, by taking our time". You have it wrong.
  • Kristjan from Tallinn, Finland"That you will be mad, by taking a tab" ...


    Isn't that a reference to acid ?
  • Paul from Columbia, Scgreat song.

    my favorite zeppelin songs.
    1- the ocean. 2-since ive been lovin you 3.going to california 4. the rain song 5. stairway


    does Plant improvise the lyrics in the end?
  • Rob from Detroit , MiThis song is deeply personal for me. This year, I fell in love with my best friend, against my will, and all my friends kept telling me to get over her, because it was never going to happen. They kept telling me she saw me as a twin sister. Whenever, I got down about the whole I played this song, because it basically partained to my whole plight. I totally relate to the last line, "Everybody I know seems to know me well, but they're never gonna know, 'cause I move like hell." Everyone I know seems to think they have a handle on my whole situation, but I think I'm gonna surprise them. Anyway, excellent song, one of Zeppelin's best.
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiI disagree Melanie. He loved them both, I believe.
  • Jack from Claremont, Mni agree with jeanette, dhani and mark. it has gotta be the most relaxing song out there. i could be totally irate and hear this song and just about fall to my knees. but really, does it really matter what this song is about? it could be about his sister-in-law, his mom, his hatred of big band or whatever you want it to be. all i need to know is that this song is pure rock genius. i love it. probably my favorite zeppelin song.
  • Melanie from Seattle, WaI dont think Plant wrote it about his wife's younger sister, that would be quite weird especially since this is on the same album as "Thank You," which he wrote for his wife. Anyway, it's a great song.
  • Axl from Kilgore, TxMy top 5 favorite zeppelin songs 1. Dazed and Confused 2. Achillies Last Stand 3. Misty Mountain Hop 4. Going To California 5. Since I've Been Loving You. Then again arent all of Zeppelins songs the greatest?
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiYou gotta love the ending line, "Ev'rybody I know seems to know me well, but they're never gonna know 'cause I'm gonna move like hell!" Funny stuff.
  • Bill from Topeka, Ksgreat tune drums come in and hop out and plants whails throught out the whole sond
  • Dan from Detroit, MiThis is pretty good music right here. not my favorite, but it keeps you interested
  • Bryan from Super Zero, ScThat's really odd, that Robert Plant wrote this song about his longing for his wife's little sister! Makes sense... oh, and my top 5? Well, that would be: 5.Babe I'm Gonna Leave You 4.You Shook Me 3.What Is And What Should Never Be 2.Hey Hey What Can I Do and 1.Dazed and Confused. That's good, I think.
  • Erin from Edm, United StatesRobert Plant's vocals are just amazing in the beginning...I love it. His new stuff [The Strange Sensation] is awesome too but I have to be honest..not as good as back then. Led Zeppelin kicks all butt.
  • Pj from Okc, OkThis is the best song to listen to in your car!
    Swirling all around your head!
    It really is one of the best produced Zeppelin's songs! I luv it!



    PJ
  • Mark from Worcester, Milast lines of this song are written "Everybody I know seems to know me well
    --but does anybody know Im gonna move like hell
    --but theyre never gonna know cause I move like hell." However it really sounds to me like "but they're never gonna know what a fool I am." I take that to mean old Robbie is a fool in love. Anybody else hear it different?
  • Mark from Worcester, MiDavid Corino, Hawley, PA- I agree 100 % about the Page solo. It's so gentle. If I'm in the right mood, and take the time to really get into this song, then the Page solo can bring a tear to my eye. There is much more to Page than screaming riffs. It's a perfect solo to a really touching song. I think had the band gone on we would have heard more of this type of thing.
  • Jules from Sickelrville, Njin my opinion its about an affair but plant has never agreed or disagreed that its personal about him and his wife's sis
  • Max from Brockton, Mai dont want to say any one led zeppelin song is my favorite because they are all godly in their own way, but i'd have to say that everything about this song is so incredibly perfect and it has just about every aspect of led zep's music integrated into one song
  • Amy from Silver Spring, MdFarzad, Kelly, Jeanette, yes it's true the song was written for Shirley, Maureen's younger (by 2 years) sister. But he wasn't just lusting. Robert met Shirley first and wanted to be with her, but she couldn't deal with his rock-n-roll lifestyle (touring, philadering, etc.), so they split. He got with Maureen, had Carmen and Karac, etc. Shirley married a local blues club owner and they all hung out in the same neighborhood for years, even going on holiday together. Later he wrote "Rain Song" and "Ten Years Gone" and "Like I've Never Been Gone" and "Greatest Gift" (solos) for Shirley. He never stopped loving her. They finally got together in 1983 after he and Maureen divorced, had a child in 1991, and split shortly thereafter. I met Shirley in England when I went to visit Robert and she was wonderful. I can see why he was smitten for her. The whole thing was quite a scandel back then, but they're all friends now from what I hear from my friends in England.
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnThe inspiration for this recording must've come from some very, very faraway place. It has the trappings of a blues song, but it breaks all the rules and invents some new ones. It takes all sorts of surprise twists and turns and you have to just listen with your eyebrows raised in surprise. And then it's a blues song again... What other recording anywhere is like this? Maybe something off of Dark Side of the Moon from a few years later. This one would definitely be on my Top 5 list of Zepp tunes. I can't tell you what the other 4 would be because that would be too limiting. But somewhere on the list, there would be this one.
  • Dhani from Casselberry, FlI know what you mean, Jeanette. I really like the part when he says "So if you wake up with the sunrise". It's so oddly relaxing...
  • Alex from Cleveland, Ohthis song is about page's obsession with children think about it
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI don't think it's possible to make a top five list of Zeppelin songs. There are just too many great ones. The same goes for the Beatles.
  • Jared from Westmont, NjIs it just me or does this site tend to post opinion and not fact about the song or its meaning. Anyway, for anyone who was searching for the meaning, this song is about questioning the theory of "everything happens for a reason". The whole chorus basically leave if you wish(in reference to a girlfriend or something), but if something holds you back maybe it was meant to be.
  • BrynjÃ?lfur from Hafnarfjörður, IcelandThere is no way I can make a top 5 list of Zeppelin songs that I am completely happy with. There are just way to many choices. I could, however, make a list of 5 songs I don't like as much as the rest. It would be a hard task, of course, but if I put some real effort into it, then just maybe... ;)
  • Olivia from Perth, AustraliaMy favourites are:
    1.Stairway To Heaven
    2.Tangerine
    3.Friends
    4.The Ocean
    5.Ramble On
  • Lysistrata from Bronx, NyWhoa...i would have never guessed this song was about Maureen's little sis..but how old was she?
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cafor some reason...i LOVE the part where he says "and if i said to you tomorrow" in the beginning. and i know its about his lustings for his wifes sister or whatever but i always think of it as someone wanting to just sort of throw away their life and sort of do something crazy that they know they'll never do, in this case the whole wifes little sister thing. come on, everyones secretly wished to trash their life and do something exciting SOMETIME or other.
  • Nick from Houlton, Me1.stairway to heaven
    2.whole lotta love
    3.Kashmir
    4.what is and never should be

    those are mine how about yours
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Cao yeah and this song shows plant's genius.
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Caits about his wifes sister because its saying it would be fun to totally give up his life and go somewhere with her, but then thats totally impossible. i just don't get the last line "but does anybody know i'm gonna move like hell".
  • Jeanette from Irvine, Caweird about it being about his wife's sister. o well it makes sense i guess. well anyways i love this song!!!!!!!!!!! i wouldn't exactly put it as a FAVORITE, but i'd put it as a favorite if that makes any sense.
  • David Corino from Hawley, PaFor some strange reason, I love Pages solo in this song
  • Isa from Sthlm, SwedenGod, this song is wonderful!
    I have no idea about the meaning off the lyric either.. And I don't understand how it could be about Roberts afair with his wifes sister. That's wierd.
    Bye all you pretty people!
  • T from Göteborg, SwedenI love Led Zeppelin and i think that tis song is one off their best.It's fantastic!!
    But I don't really get what the text is about... Is it true that the lyric off this song is all about Roberts affair with his wifes sister??
    Would be happy if someone could tell me her/his thoghy about it..

    with love from sweden
  • Jane from New York City, NyI love this song! One of zeppelins originals and its mad good
  • Nate from Stockholm, SwedenI love this song! It was the first song i ever heard from led zeppelin. JImmy page does an awsome solo. It took me a while but try to hear the bass part during the solo. they first porfurmed it at royal albert hall in england.--nate waggoner
  • Dave from Oak Park, MiIt's Jazz, Man!! The first song Led Zep played using Jazz as an influence and a refernece... With Psychodelic florishes, too! My dad was wigged out hearing it comin' outta my bedroom 20 Years after it came out and when I was just getting into this band!
  • Jon from Chicago, IlAgree totally Dylan
  • Sal from Ny, Nyi looooove this song that's all there is to say
  • Dylan from Marietta, PaJones plays the bass awesome in this song one of his greatest and the lemon song
  • Ac from Winnipeg, Canadalove it love it love it. plant is great at improvising lyrics at the end of their songs. Has anyone ever seen clips of the band playing their early songs such as this? Plant and Page were sooooo cute. Ah, if only I had a time machine.
  • Pants from Calgary, Canada"The vocals were phased during Robert Plant's screaming part." Not the screaming part, but the quiet verses.
  • Adrian from Wilmington, DeYeah Kelly, Plant was attracted to his wife's underage sister. This is referenced in the line, "Take my hand child come with me." Aside from that, this is a definite Zeppelin classic.
  • Kelly from Los Angeles, Cafarzad, you're sure? i do love this song. there is no band like led zeppelin, not even close.
  • Brian from Paoli, InMan I love this song, Plant sounds as good here as he ever did.
  • Farzad from Gainesville, FlIt's actually about Plant lusting after the sister of his wife, Maureen, and seeing for himself "what is and what should never be"
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