Led Zeppelin is arguably the most successful, popular and influential hard rock and heavy metal band in history. With roots firmly in the blues, folk, Arabic, Middle Earth, occult (Page was so influenced by Aleister Crowley that he would buy the mage’s Scottish home and have the occultist’s motto etched on an early release of the band’s third album), earlier musicians’ melodies and the hippie culture the quartet of singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Paul Jones translated their collective backgrounds into classics like Stairway To Heaven, Communication Breakdown, Immigrant Song, Kashmir and more thus capturing the imaginations of generations to come. The group’s music was often considered adaptations of earlier works and congruently Led Zeppelin has faced allegations of plagiarism and equal number of lawsuits – some of which the group has lost.
The band is rich in folklore and legend with its exploits – musical and otherwise – the source for eternal speculation and commentary. How much of the band’s ‘history’ is true and how much is self fulfilling prophecy or simply falsified will never be known. Safe to say, where there is fire there is passion.
Disappointed by his experience in the midst ofYardbirds’ implosion in-demand guitarist Jimmy Page – who was a famous London session player who had sessioned on records for the Who, Kinks and many others as well as produced music for Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Oldham - was looking into forming his own band in London in 1968 as The New Yardbirds. First to respond was John Paul Jones. With Robert Plant’s reputation transcending his native Birmingham Page would recruit the singer into his fledgling band after paying a visit to a show the singer was playing in the Midlands. Plant would also recommend and fetch John Bonham. The drummer and Plant had even recorded together in the past. The drummer was nicknamed Bonzo after the English cartoon dog. The band would record an album with Jimmy Page’s Yardbirds’ savings and would play at The University Of Surrey in October of 1968. The group was now named Led Zeppelin. Famously, The Who’s Keith Moon had quipped that the band would go over like a lead balloon or zeppelin. The name also matches the aesthetics of the day having both a heavy and light connotation very much like Iron Butterfly. Peter Grant would take over management and secured a recording contract for the band for the handsome sum of $200,000. Atlantic Records’ faith would not be misplaced. Epic Records, which had had Yardbirds on contract, was not amused and issued an unauthorized Jimmy Page and Yardbirds album three years later to salvage some profit.
The band would go over to America ostensibly for a few select dates. With the debut album hitting the top ten in the charts and word-of-mouth spreading the quartet would be back in 1969 for no less than three tours. The flight had begun. The band’s sound would later become pivotal in rock, hard rock and heavy metal and be reflected in Black Sabbath’s debut a year later. The group’s initial success continued to be in America. Led Zeppelin II was written whilst on tour and yielded Whole Lotta Love. The riff would make sure there would be no turning back. The group was briefly dubbed The Nobs in 1970 when its name was the subject of a lawsuit by an heir to the Hindenburg family responsible for the blimp of the same name. The said heir had actually personally confronted the band at one point. Led Zeppelin III is considered bluesier and more acoustic-oriented. The album was written in a secluded spot in Wales and was thusly influenced. The song Bron-Y-Aur Stomp pays tribute to this moment in time. It sold less than its predecessors and managed to hand the band a rare setback. Nothing mattered any longer however. The band had defined acid rock with the stage show lasting hours – or not. No song was replicated precisely and no spectator went away disappointed. Some never went away.
Led Zeppelin IV was harder and softer and featured the most played song ever. Stairway To Heaven it was called and should have been named so because of audiences’ reactions as far as anyone was concerned. Page adapted the riff from melodies in his head and Plant added his lyrics. Black Dog, which opened the album, was said to be inspired by a black dog who would walk in and out of the studio where the band was writing and recording. Going To California, ironically, was the band’s tribute to Canadian Joni Mitchell. The album is also famous for lacking and representation or titles on its cover. In fact, the title Led Zeppelin IV is indeed an unofficial one. The group had to fight Atlantic Records to get the format approved.
By now stories of debauchery, wanton behaviour, drug use and sexual escapades had reached their zenith. The band could afford it financially and benefited commercially. The band had also leased its own aircraft, dubbed Starship, from the producer of The Monkees.
Houses Of The Holy was atmospheric, while Physical Graffiti (now on the band’s own Swan Song label) was a double-LP. The band could do anything by now – sell millions of records (although Deep Purple was America’s biggest selling band in 1973), sell out stadia, put rock convention on its head, have an orgy, whatever - and still wasn’t considered a mainstream darling. Kashmir would join Whole Lotta Love and Stairway To Heaven as the band’s definitive cuts. The members cite it as one of their favourites. Inspiration? Driving in Morocco.
The band was taking time off from themselves, each other, you and me when Plant and wife had a car accident in Greece. Production for Presence took place in California with Plant sitting in a wheelchair. Presence wasn’t like the albums of the past and the band took a break, including from incessant tourism this time. Simultaneously, the band was faced with the term ‘dinosaur rock’ with punk being all the rage. Bands like Clash and The Sex Pistols were not known for their respect for their peers with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd being frequent targets. The Song Remains The Same was the band’s foray into film and had an accompanying soundtrack. It was shot and recorded at The Madison Square Garden in 1973 during the Houses Of The Holy tour. Robert Plant’s son, Karac, would die due to a virus in 1977 cancelling a US tour and sidelining the band for a while.
In Through The Outdoor was recorded in Sweden and would sell well. If Led Zeppelin was out of fashion no one had asked the audiences whether they cared. The group was in the midst of its world tour when on September 25th John Bonham was discovered dead in his bed. It was supposedly John Paul Jones and a roadie who had discovered the drummer who had been drinking and had choked on his own vomit. The band broke up on December 4th of 1980. Simple as that.
Coda was a compilation of alternative takes and released in 1982. The magic was gone and appearances at Live Aid in 1985 or Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary show were sad affairs. Either Phil Collins of Genesis or John’s son Jason Bonham had accompanied the band, but other projects would be the way forward for the members. John Paul Jones and the remaining members had not been on the best of terms, although the precise reasons have been unclear. 300 million records sold and counting Led Zeppelin needs no further introduction. The surviving members of the band reformed for a special show at London's 22,000-capacity O2 arena on Monday, November 26th as a tribute to Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who died in December of 2006. Jason Bonham, the son of the band’s original drummer John Bonham, was a part of the group. Pete Townshend, Foreigner and others would also play at the event. Much to the chagrin of ticket holders the group would postpone its show to December 10th following Jimmy Page injuring the little finger on his left hand prior to the concert. Rhino Entertainment issued a Led Zeppelin compilation called Mothership, which was a 24-track, two-CD package in November. All eight of the band's studio albums were represented. The band initially ruled out further shows, but soon seemed to warm up to the idea postponing the decision to the success of their performance. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones joined the Foo Fighters on the stage on June 7th, 2008 during the latter band’s encore at the Wembley in London, England. The duo and the Foo Fighters played the song Rock And Roll from Led Zeppelin. The year after John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl (now back on drums) banded together with Queens Of The Stone Age singer and guitarist Josh Homme to form Them Crooked Vultures. The band’s debut sold 70,000 copies to land at position number 12 in the autumn of 2009. In the meantime, Jimmy Page played an altered version of the band's song Whole Lotta Love with Leona Lewis, who was a winner of the UK reality television show The X Factor and acted as a singer at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics Games on Sunday, August 24th in Beijing. In a move of compromise, to not offend China or Ms. Lewis the lyrics were changed from “every inch of my love” to “every bit of my love!”
In November of 2008, Robert Plant let drop that he would record a new album with Alison Krauss. The remaining Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham were apparently rehearsing with potential replacements and considering a name change. Following reports that the band was auditioning singers to replace Robert Plant the latest news in early 2009 was that Led Zeppelin was definitively calling it a day. Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant performed African-style versions of the band's Black Dog and Whole Lotta Love songs on Friday, September 11th at the Rockwell charity gig at London, England's O2 arena. The charity’s earnings went towards music therapy. Robert Plant had a new solo album called Band Of Joy in 2010. The album shared a name with the band of Plant before he joined Led Zeppelin.