Like many Led Zeppelin tunes written by Page, it has its origins in an old Yardbirds song, in this instance a composition entitled "Knowing That I'm Losing You". Page had in fact previously recorded the song with The Yardbirds, though this version has never been released. In the late 1990s it was announced that the song would appear on the Yardbirds compilation album Cumular Limit, but plans to release the song were canceled. The Yardbirds version features different lyrics, with the exception of the verse that begins with "Measuring a summer's day."
The track has an acoustic country flavor courtesy of the pedal-steel guitar playing of Page. The song begins with a false start, after which Page pauses to set the right tempo. Throughout its duration, the song continually changes tempo a few bars at a time whilst the lyrics fondly recall love and contentedness. This was the second-to-last Led Zeppelin song Page wrote without any input from Robert Plant. (Bron-Yr-Aur from Physical Graffiti was the last).
The song uses a simple double track vocal pattern to create a recognisable lilting feel. The song uses a standard Am G D C progression for the verses before moving on to G C D progression for the chorus.
"Tangerine" was often played live at Led Zeppelin concerts as part of the band's acoustic set from 1971 through 1972, and was revived for the Earls Court shows of 1975. At these latter performances, Page played the song on his Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck guitar. During the 1975 concert at the Earls Court, Plant said that "Tangerine" is "a song of love in its most...innocent stages".
"Tangerine" appears in the movie Almost Famous, and can be heard during the final scene of the movie.
This was the second Led Zeppelin song to be named after a fruit, the first being "The Lemon Song".