Even for those who aren’t fans of classic ‘70s rock, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is instantly recognizable. It starts off with driving drums and rousing guitar chords that build into its iconic battle howl, “Ah-ah, ah!” Originally inspired by the band’s time in Iceland, the lyrics spin a tale of Norse mythology and viking fantasy involving great battles and the Hammer of the Gods. “Valhalla, I am coming!” wails Robert Plant.
It sounds like a perfect fit for Marvel’s blockbuster Thor movies about the hammer-wielding Norse thunder god, which is why Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi was so insistent about getting it in his film — but landing the rights was no easy feat. It took the film’s music supervisor Dave Jordan the entire length of the production to get the go-ahead from Led Zeppelin, Waititi told Business Insider.
Led Zeppelin is notoriously selective about licensing its songs for films and television, and “Immigrant Song” has only made its way into a select few, including School of Rock. (That also took some doing.)
Back in 2003, School of Rock star Jack Black recorded a heartfelt plea in front of a live audience where he begged Led Zeppelin to give its blessing. Calling them “the gods of rock” and “the greatest band of all time,” he told the musicians that “this is a movie about rock. And without that song, this movie will crumble into smithereens.” It worked, and the rights were granted.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 that Led Zeppelin’s asking fee for licensing just one of its songs was within the seven-figure ballpark. Although it’s gotten a bit easier in the past decade for filmmakers, and even fashion and video game brands, to get the rights to Led Zeppelin’s songs, the band is still extremely selective. The deals have to be lucrative, and it requires a lot of time and persistence.
Waititi’s vision for Thor: Ragnarok included “Immigrant Song” from the start, so he was willing to wait. Back in 2015, before the New Zealand director was even hired for the project, he included “Immigrant Song” in an early sizzle reel for Marvel executives. At the meeting, Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige loved it immediately, and said it would be perfect for the film.
Even so, the rights didn’t come cheap; Waititi was fortunate to have Marvel Studios’ parent company Disney foot the bill. "I have a feeling if you want to entertain that idea of using [Led Zeppelin’s] music, you have to have the money," he said. "No negotiations. Offer it to them straight up... they are worth it.”