The song was written by Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and evolved out of a jam session in 1972. The lyrics were inspired by blues musician Robert Johnson's 1936 "Terraplane Blues." A Terraplane is a classic car, and the song uses car parts as metaphors for sex—"pump your gas," "rev all night," etc. The themes of these songs however differ; "Terraplane Blues" is about infidelity, while "Trampled Under Foot" is about giving in to sexual temptation.
Much rehearsal went into perfecting the relentless semi-funk riff that dominates this song. John Paul Jones has credited Stevie Wonder with the inspiration for the beat, which he played on a clavinet. While both riffs are funky with a vaguely similar pattern, they are readily distinguishable. Backed with a solid backbeat from Bonham, the song would later be sampled in dance remixes and the BBC television programme the Old Grey Whistle Test, synchronised the song with a black and white filmclip featuring dance hall girls. Guitarist Jimmy Page played wah-wah and employed backwards echo on the recording.
"Trampled Under Foot" became a standard part of Led Zeppelin concerts from 1975 onwards, being played on every tour until 1980. It was also performed at Led Zeppelin's reunion show at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007. When the song was played live, the band would often extend it with lengthy guitar and keyboard solos, and sometimes segue it into the song "Gallows Pole." Along with "No Quarter," "Trampled Under Foot" showcased Jones' skills as a keyboard player when performed on stage. A notable example is the version played at the Earls Court Arena in 1975, as featured on the Led Zeppelin DVD, which includes an extended solo by Jones on a Hohner Clavinet D6.
It is also notable that Plant rarely sang all the different verses of the song live, and sang a verse (with small alterations sometimes) twice or even three times.
"Trampled Under Foot" was frequently played on the radio when it was first released, charting at #38 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. One of Plant's favorite Led Zeppelin songs, he sang it on his 1988 Now and Zen tour, and also at his daughter Carmen's 21st birthday party in November 1989, with Jason Bonham on drums.
Led Zeppelin did not release any singles in the United Kingdom until 1997, when "Whole Lotta Love" was released 28 years after it was written. There were several pressings made of "Trampled Under Foot" as a single in 1975 in time for the band's Earl's Court concerts, but they were all shelved before being released, and are today highly sought-after collectors items.