I'll tell you about doing all the guitar overdubs to "Achilles Last Stand." There were basically two sections to the song when we rehearsed it. I know John Paul Jones didn't think I could succeed in what I was attempting to do. He said I couldn't do a scale over a certain section, that it just wouldn't work. But it did. What I planned to try and get that epic quality into it so it wouldn't just sound like two sections repeated, was to give the piece a totally new identity by orchestrating the guitars, which is something I've been into for quite some time. I knew it had to be jolly good, because the number was so long it just couldn't afford to be half-baked. It was all down to me how to do this. I had a lot of it mapped out in my mind, anyway, but to make a long story short, I did all the overdubs in one night ... I thought as far as I can value tying up that kind of emotion as a package and trying to convey it through two speakers, it was fairly successful.
It has been suggested that the title of the song was an acknowledgment of Plant's broken ankle, which he suffered as a result of his car accident. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Plant's experiences in Morocco, where he and Page travelled following Led Zeppelin's 1975 Earl's Court concerts. Plant specifically refers to Morocco's Atlas Mountains in the line: "The mighty arms of Atlas hold the heavens from the Earth". This is a double-meaning to imply the Atlas mountains in a physical sense seeming to hold up the sky, as well as the reference to the Titan Atlas and his task to hold up the sky on his shoulders and thus separate it from the Earth. Plant's lyrics were also inspired by some of the poetry he was reading at the time, which includes William Blake. "Albion remains/sleeping now to rise again" is a reference to Blake's engraving The Dance Of Albion. The following is an excerpt from the poem that goes with the song:
The line "Below the streets that steam and hiss / The devil is in his hole" refers to a Victorian tourist attraction the band visited whilst in Saint Mary, Jersey. Named "Devil's Hole", it featured a statue of a devil, in a hole.
Jimmy Page has been quoted as saying that "Achilles Last Stand" is his favorite Led Zeppelin song. Not surprisingly, it became an integral component of almost every Led Zeppelin concert from their 1977 tour of the United States onwards. Though Page initially expected that he would need to use his Gibson EDS-1275 double-necked guitar to play the song live, he realised that it was possible to use the Gibson Les Paul (or occasionally a red Telecaster). One live version, from Led Zeppelin's performance at Knebworth in 1979, is featured on disc 2 of the Led Zeppelin DVD.
Page has mentioned that this song, like several others the band recorded which involved guitar overdubs, was quite challenging to adapt for the stage:
"Achilles" is the classic one. When Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards came to hear us play, Keith said, "You ought to get another guitarist; you're rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business." Quite amusing. There are times when I'd just love to get another guitarist on, but it just wouldn't look right to the audience.
The bridge changes 4/4 time to 5/4 time, and uses triplets.