Led Zeppelin

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Led Zeppelin
© Photo: ledzeppelin.com
(l. to r.) Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones, ca. 1975.
Years active 1968–1980
Status Inactive
Origin London
Music genre(s) Blues rock, hard rock
Members Jimmy Page
Robert Plant
John Paul Jones
John Bonham (1968-1980)
Jason Bonham (post-1980 reunions)

Led Zeppelin were a highly rated English blues-rock group and one of the most successful rock bands of the seventies. They first formed in 1968 from the remaining members of the Yardbirds, and consisted of Jimmy Page (b. 1944, guitar), Robert Plant (b. 1948, vocals), John Paul Jones (b. 1946, bass guitar, keyboards), and John Bonham (1948-1980, drums). They are one of the most influential bands in the world, becoming closely associated with the album-oriented rock (AOR) format and one of the progenitors of a style of rock music called 'heavy metal', although the band's musical output transcended heaviness,[1] with a strong blues, folk, psychedelic, classical, Celtic, and world music flavour in their recordings and acoustic live performances. The band eschewed traditional promotional avenues in the industry, focusing on albums and concerts, without reliance on singles or television performances. The interaction of all four musicians on stage gave their live performances a visual counterpoint to voluminous intertwined harmonic and rhythmic structures of their compositions. Led Zeppelin remains one of the most popular bands of all time, having sold close to 300 million records,[2][3][4][5] and millions of concert tickets worldwide. In the United States of America, Led Zeppelin has achieved 111.5 million certified unit sales,[6] with all of their studio albums reaching the Billboard top ten. Since 1985, the band has had several reunions with different drummers, most notably Jason Bonham (b. 1966), son of John Bonham.

Band history


Their foundation lay in the legendary R&B outfit the Yardbirds, which guitarist Jimmy Page had joined in June 1966,[7] after initially turning down a previous invitation in February 1965. Just before joining the Yardbirds and during a break in that band's touring, Page was invited by Jeff Beck to consider the possibility of forming a 'supergroup' based around a twin-lead guitar attack which included himself on 12-string with his friend Beck, and a rhythm section featuring bass player John Paul Jones and drummer Keith Moon with the addition of keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. Jones pulled out at the last minute to be replaced by John Entwistle, but the project encountered problems over the vocal spot with both Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott all being unavailable.[8] The project recorded the Page composition 'Beck's Bolero' and a cover 'Louie, Louie' at London's IBC Studios on 16 May, before Entwistle and Moon left believing the project would go over 'like a lead zeppelin.'[9] Page finally joined the Yardbirds with Beck, but he kept the idea of a supergroup and the sarcastic phrase for future use. Along the way John Paul Jones (who was also a session musician) did string arrangements for the Yardbirds' album Little Games. In April of 1968, Page played on Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man album (with Jones arranging). Jones asked to be part of any new group Page may be forming.

The New Yardbirds

See also: The Yardbirds

By June 1968, the Yardbirds were drifting apart over musical direction. After a tour of the United States, on 22 June 1968, it was announced that Keith Relf and Jim McCarty were leaving the Yardbirds, with a final gig at the Luton College of Technology, on 7 July 1968,[10] members Page, bass player Chris Dreja, and manager Peter Grant resolved to continue as a blues-rock combo, initially to play out a previously booked 10-day tour of Scandinavia, dubbed by the media as the New Yardbirds. With the line-up unsettled, session drummers Clem Cattini, Aynsley Dunbar, and singer Steve Marriott were considered for auditions and Page also briefly toyed with the idea of inviting back original Yardbird Anthony 'Top' Topham on rhythm guitar.[11] On 12 July, Dreja contacted session drummer Paul Francis, but he was about to leave London for Germany and could not commit to the new line-up. Session man, arranger, bass player and keyboardist John Paul Jones then offered his services to the new group after seeing an article in Disc magazine on the Yardbird's future plans, which Page kept in mind after a phone call he received on 19 July 1968.[12]

Filling the vocal and drummer spots was more of a dilemma. Due to contractual impasses Terry Reid (previously managed by Grant, now managed by Mickie Most) and B.J. Wilson (of Procol Harum) declined the respective positions, but Reid recommended an acquaintance of his, 19-year-old Midlands-born ex-Band of Joy vocalist Robert Plant. Page, Dreja and Grant went to see Plant perform live with a band called Obs-Tweedle at the Birmingham Teacher Training College on 20 July 1968, and were duly impressed. He was invited back to Page's Pangbourne boathouse to discuss joining the new group and discovered he shared similar musical tastes with Page.[13] Plant signed up and in turn recommended his former Band of Joy colleague John Bonham, who was drumming for both Chris Farlowe and Tim Rose. Page and Grant travelled to the Country Club at Hampstead, North London, on 31 July, to watch Bonham perform and both agreed he was ideal for the band, and following over 30 invitational telegrams sent by Grant to persuade him, Bonham joined.[14]

Dreja decided to pursue a career in photography, eventually setting up a freelance studio in New York,[15] leaving Page to find a new bass player by August 4. Page promptly recruited John Paul Jones, whom he'd known for years in session work, having last worked together on the Yardbird's Little Games album in 1967. Also in Jones' favour were his additional keyboard and arranging abilities, and valuable studio experience.

All four musicians then met for a rehearsal at a basement studio, located below a record store in Gerrard Street, London on 12 August 1968 and musically gelled as a unit immediately. Their first song attempted was the Yardbirds standard 'Train Kept a-Rollinˈ' followed by a run through a Band of Joy favourite, Garnet Mimms 'As Long as I Have You', 'I Can't Quit You Baby', and a version of Chester Burnett's (alias Howlin' Wolf's) 'Smokestack Lightning'. Jones later said 'As soon as I heard John Bonham play, I knew this was going to be great ... We locked together as a team immediately'.[16] Within days the group entered Lansdowne Recording Studios in Bayswater, London to record 'Jim's Blues' and 'Merry Hopkins Never Had Days Like These' with Texan-born singer P. J. Proby,[17] from an arranging session pre-booked by Jones. Page told manager Grant how well things had gone, and that he wanted to get the band doing some live performances. Grant pulled out the remaining Yardbirds contracts, made some calls, and within a short while had arranged the band's first minitour.

Early years

This new outfit completed the Yardbirds' final contractual obligations in Scandinavia, with their first gig at the Teen Clubs - Box 45, Gladsaxe in Denmark on 7 September 1968, at 7.30 pm,[18] followed by a second show at the Brøndby Pop Club in Copenhagen. With the tour concluded on 16 September, the band then entered Olympic Studios in Barnes, West London recording their own eponymous debut album within 30 hours on a budget of only £1750 (including artwork), with sessions starting on 27 September, assisted by engineer Glyn Johns.[19] The first two compositions recorded were 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' and 'I Can't Quit You Baby', on 4-track tape. Although originally booked in the studio as the Yardbirds, the album eventually released as Led Zeppelin, and produced by Page, showcased their brand of folk, eastern and blues-rock fusion with Plant's powerful vocal style and Page's accomplished guitar work being tight and urgent. Page wanted the sound as close as possible to those early live shows; he didn't want anything that couldn't be reproduced live effectively with just the four of them. Part of the astonishing presence and depth of those recordings came from the way he placed microphones in the room, to get varying sounds of vibrancy and decay. 'Distance is depth', was Page’s maxim. The tracks recorded also displayed Page's musical credence in 'light and shade' – music punctuated with both quieter and heavier dynamics,[20] and two in particular - 'Communication Breakdown' and 'Dazed and Confused' – have served as templates for much subsequent rock music. With the recordings concluded they then performed a series of gigs in the United Kingdom, beginning with the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle on 4 October, and other bookings subsequently followed such as the Marquee on 18 October 1968 and Liverpool University on 19 October,[21] before changing their name permanently to Led Zeppelin, based on a humorous idiom of Keith Moon as far back as May 1966.[22] Moon had often used the phrase 'go over like a lead zeppelin', which Page liked and Grant promoted with a dropped 'a' to preclude any mispronunciation.[23] On October 22, Grant and Page then registered the band's own publishing company under the tongue-in-cheek name of Superhype Music, Inc. to ensure all songwriting royalties would accrue independently.[24] The first public appearance under their new moniker was at Surrey University on 25 October 1968. On 28 October, Led Zeppelin was signed to Atlantic Records by label Executive Vice-President Jerry Wexler in New York,[25] at the recommendation of Dusty Springfield and producer Bert Burns for a then record negotiated advance of US$200,000 - an unprecedented amount for a new group whose first album nobody had yet heard.[26] Wexler's decision was also assisted by Page's and Jones' session reputations as well as the announced dissolution of label supergroup Cream, preceding November 1968. Page had particularly sought out Atlantic Records because of its strong historical background with blues, soul and jazz artists, as opposed to other rock acts during the 1960s that were being signed to Elektra (originally a folk label) and Atco (Atlantic's subsidiary pop label).

Even more important, though, were the contract terms that Grant secured: essentially, Led Zeppelin held control of key clauses. They alone would decide when they would release albums and tour, and they had final say over the contents and design of each album. They also would decide how much they would do to promote each release (not that much beyond tours, though those would be extensive) and which tracks to select as singles (Grant and the band insisted none, despite the label's many unauthorized attempts).[27] A major band would be working for itself, not for a company or for management (Led Zeppelin had no formal contract with Grant). With the album now in the hands of Atlantic Records, Grant resolved that they should focus on the US market (albums were usually released and promoted first in the US before the UK), and after a few appearances, Grant also concluded that formulaic television programmes were not the best medium to highlight the band’s musical dynamics. This inevitably led to a lack of airplay in their early days, but in the longer term created the sense of mystique that was to sustain them over the coming decade. Grant's promotional philosophy was that if a person wanted to see or hear the band, they had to go to their concert and experience them. Consequently, the only connection the audience had with the band was through the records and the concerts. The band's skill at extending and improvising on their studio record repertoire elevated their live shows to something very different from playing their albums. This had the effect of making fans feel like they were members of an exclusive club.[28] Performances would also extend out to four hours whereas most concerts by other artists during the 1960s would typically only average 45 minutes. The unwillingness by the band to play by standard industry rules also meant an uneasy relationship with the press, which later resulted in the eventual employment of a full-time publicist and only select interviews given by group members.

Led Zeppelin were originally scheduled to appear on The Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus TV special filmed at Intertel Studios in December; however, Mick Jagger felt their sound was too competitive for the line-up after hearing a demo tape of their first album, and replaced them at the last minute with Jethro Tull. That was when Grant turned his attention to America. He arranged for Led Zeppelin to perform in various places in America during Christmas. At first the band members felt troubled at the thought of being away from their families during Christmas, but Grant felt that this tour would do wonders for the band's success. On 26 December 1968, they began their first US tour with a concert at the Denver Auditorium in Denver, Colorado, before launching into a cross-country tour of venues handpicked by Grant from his experiences road-managing the Jeff Beck Group - five nights at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, four at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, three at the Boston Tea Party, supporting the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Alice Cooper,[29], and the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. Grant gave local FM radio stations white label copies of their debut album in advance for rotation before the tour reached each city, ensuring promotion at a listener level. They were an immediate sensation and midway through that first US tour, on 12 January, the group's debut album Led Zeppelin with its trademark Hindenburg cover art, was released in the US, and it ascended to number ten on the Billboard charts. British underground counter-culture newspaper, OZ, enthused, 'it was one of those rare LPs that so defy immediate classification or description, simply because [they are] so obviously a turning point in rock'.[30] They performed frequently, initially in clubs and ballrooms, then in larger auditoriums and eventually stadiums as their popularity strengthened. At the Fillmore East on 31 January, Led Zeppelin's performance was so intense, and the audience reaction so fanatical, that the headliners Iron Butterfly delayed its own onstage arrival by 45 minutes in the hope that the crowd would calm down. Led Zeppelin never went out as a support group again.[31]

On 21 March 1969, they made their only live UK TV appearance on a pilot BBC rock show, How Late It Is,[32] followed by a performance of 'Dazed and Confused' on Supershow in Staines, London on 25 March. As the group began its second US tour on 18 April, this time at the New York University Jazz festival, 'Good Times Bad Times' made the US Billboard charts at number 80. On 10 May, Led Zeppelin made its belated UK debut and rose to a peak of number six on the charts.[33] Over the summer of 1969 they played a number of prestigious gigs – the London Playhouse Theatre for BBC Radio's In Concert show (27 June), the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music (28 June), the Pop Proms (29 June)[34] and the Newport Jazz and Blues Festival in the US during July.[35] Throughout this time they also played many BBC sessions, later compiled and released as the BBC Sessions double CD set.[36] These show them to have a repertoire not only rooted in the blues, but effortlessly able to incorporate influences from folk, jazz and world music. On 12 October, the band appeared at a 'Sunday Lyceum' concert promoted by entrepreneur Tony Stratton-Smith, and received the then highest fee ever paid to a UK band for a one-off concert.[37]

Led Zeppelin II, recorded in various locations[38] as they criss-crossed the US during 1969, was the album which firmly established them as one of the world's biggest rock bands. Advance orders for the album alone topped 400,000 units and when it was released it became Atlantic Records’ fastest selling album at 100,000 copies a week.[39] Symbolically dislodging the Beatles' Abbey Road from the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic,[40] it remained in the US charts for 138 weeks and cemented their reputation as the world's most successful hard-rock artists. Its finest moment was arguably 'Whole Lotta Love', with its timeless opening riff and experimental midsection. The song itself became a rock anthem and also appeared as a single in the US, where it rose to number four despite the group's reservations.[41] Practically all of 1969 and the first few months of 1970 were spent touring. They played the Royal Albert Hall on 9 January. On 28 February, they changed their name to the tongue-in-cheek title of the Nobs after Eva von Zeppelin threatened litigation for using her family's surname, if they performed in Denmark.[42] She never followed through with her threat in any subsequent tours. Upon their arrival for their concert at Mid South Coliseum on 17 April, Mayor Henry Loeb of Memphis, Tennessee bestowed members of the band honorary citizenship of the city.[43]

Before recording their next album, Page and Plant spent a few idyllic weeks in 1970 writing in a rustic remote Welsh cottage named Bron-Yr-Aur, later immortalized in two song titles. Led Zeppelin III was more folk-based than its predecessors, but still had a high quota of hard rock songs such as 'Immigrant Song' and 'Out on the Tiles'. 'Immigrant Song' was released as a single in the US, where it ascended to number 16.[44] The album also contained some superb acoustic material, and appeared in a variegated sleeve featuring an inner rotating disc.[45] Though some music critic reviews were typically indifferent, sales were again outstanding and it topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Debut performances for the new songs came with a brace of Icelandic shows before Led Zeppelin headlined the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music on 27 June, with an audience of over 150,000 in attendance.[46] By now, with the Beatles having split and the Rolling Stones in tax exile, Led Zeppelin was indisputably the world's top rock group. This was confirmed on 16 September, when the band was voted Top Group in the annual Melody Maker poll, ending the Beatles' unbroken eight year reign with that magazine.[47]

Peak years

© Image: Atlantic Records
Four symbols as appeared on the album Led Zeppelin IV, representing (l. to r.) Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Robert Plant.

On 5 March 1971, Led Zeppelin began a series of 'thank you' club shows for its British fans in response to their support during the band's early performances in 1968. They agreed to play for the original admission fee for that year.[48] The tour started with the band's first concert in Ireland and in Belfast fans were given the honour of being the first to hear 'Stairway to Heaven' performed live. Their tour of Italy was interrupted when a police-instigated riot on 5 July, prematurely ended a concert at Vigorelli Stadium in Milan.[49] The untitled fourth album, known unofficially as Led Zeppelin IV and also as Four Symbols (Zoso.png) or Untitled, was released that year and continued the practice of coupling hard rock songs like 'Black Dog' and 'Rock and Roll' (which climbed to numbers 15 and 47 respectively on the US charts) with subtler material such as 'The Battle of Evermore', which featured Sandy Denny and reflected Plant's ongoing preoccupation with Celtic folklore,[50] and the ethereal 'Going to California'. The album also contained the band's eight-minute-and-one-second magnum opus, 'Stairway to Heaven', with its ballad-like verses and scorching lead break becoming the group's most identifiable anthem, which would populate 'all time' song polls and radio airwaves for decades even though it was never officially released as a single. 'Stairway to Heaven' is often quoted as being the most requested FM radio song of all time, and as a musical statement it encapsulated all the group's styles into one unified package. Led Zeppelin IV topped the album charts in the UK, but only reached number two in the US, perhaps because of the radical decision not to list the band's name anywhere on the packaging.[51] The band not only wanted the album to be untitled, but wanted nothing written on it; no credits or any text anywhere on the album, on its inside or outside sleeves. They released the album with no indication of who they were in order to prove that their music was the sole focal point.[52] They were eventually talked out of it by Atlantic Records and there were credits added to the inside paper sleeve, but still, nothing was written on the front cover to identify the album or who put it out, and the album was left untitled by the band.

From late 1971 to all of 1972, the band spent months touring the world. Led Zeppelin played a charity concert at Hiroshima's Shiei Taiikukan on 27 September 1971, for victims of the Second World War atomic bombing and were awarded Peace Medals and the Civil Charter by the city.[53] The band used Japan to try out as yet uncommitted to vinyl plus some unexpected cover versions. On 14 February, they were refused admission to Singapore because of their long hair which the band refused to cut.[54] They began their first and so-far only Australasian tour on 16 February, culminating on a return trip to Bombay, India, to record with local orchestras.[55] A planned concert at London's Waterloo train station had to be cancelled in July due to logistical problems involving conflicting train running times.[56] Before the band commences their 1972 summer tour of the US, Grant initiated the 90/10 policy on gate receipts with promoters and agents which becomes a standard percentage in the music industry, with almost no opposition due to the audience drawing power the band now had.[57] The drawing power was further confirmed when all 110,000 tickets for their 24-date December 1972-January 1973 UK tour sold out in just four hours.[58]

© Photo: ledzeppelin.com
Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden, July 1973, for the film The Song Remains the Same.

Houses of the Holy was released in April 1973 and again topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic the same month. This was arguably their most diverse album, with tracks ranging from high energy rock to reggae, funk and folky ballads. It went further with experimentation than previous releases, with expanded tracks and versatile use of synthesisers and Mellotron orchestration. Highlights of the album include the Gothic 'No Quarter' and the ballad 'The Rain Song'. The striking orange gatefold album cover of Houses of the Holy featured images of children climbing up the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, based upon Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End.[59] Again the band's name was absent from the front cover. It also marked the band's inaugural artwork with design company Hipgnosis. The month after its release, Led Zeppelin opened at the Braves Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on 4 May, performing to over 49,236 people, the largest audience in that state's history. The following day, Led Zeppelin's concert at Tampa Stadium (now Houlihan's Stadium), Florida, on 5 May, broke the US box office record, previously held by the Beatles for their 1965 Shea Stadium appearance. 56,800 people attended grossing for the band US$309,000.[60]

For the first time and on subsequent US tours, the group avoided long trips to interstate venues by road, by leasing a full-sized Boeing 720B jet, nicknamed The Starship.[61] 'It's like a floating palace,' remarked Plant on his first Starship flight. In line with an expanded stage show, the band's image also changed as members began to wear elaborate, flamboyant clothing. In July 1973 a series of performances at New York's Madison Square Garden was filmed for possible inclusion in a future motion picture. Film-maker Joe Massot and his crew recorded the band's performances and some offstage and backstage shots. Sometime later, they also filmed a 'fantasy scene' for each of the band members, scenes supposedly derived from each of the band members' thoughts and fantasies. During the final night's Garden performance, US$203,000 of the band's money from gate receipts went missing from a safety deposit box at the Drake Hotel. Tour manager Richard Cole had stored the band's cash in the box, but when he later went to check on it, the money was gone. It was the single highest theft from a deposit box in Manhattan's history and was never recovered.[62] Over a million people saw their 34-date American tour, grossing over US$3 million. The band had begun work on a film during this tour and the extended 12-month break afterwards, at which time Robert Plant had minor vocal cord surgery and John Paul Jones considered leaving over the heavy touring schedule, but was persuaded to remain by Grant.[63]

Page and Grant both felt it would be more financially and creatively rewarding if they went ahead and materialized their own label. As their five-year deal with Atlantic Records was about to expire, on 10 May 1974, the band and their manager launched their own Swan Song Records label and secured a distribution deal via Atlantic, signing artists including Bad Company, the Pretty Things, Maggie Bell, Midnight Flyer, Dave Edmunds, Sad Café and Wildlife.[64] Swan Song also assisted in sponsoring the production of Monty Python's film The Holy Grail. The record label's logo lettering used two stylised white swans, was set with a painting called Evening: Fall of Day (1869) by William Rimmer, featuring a winged Apollo rising from the earth at sunset.[65] Extravagant launch parties were thrown at Chislehurst Caves in Kent (31 October), at New York's Four Seasons Hotel, and the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles[66] and then, in March 1975, a lavish die-cut packaged double album was released entitled Physical Graffiti. Containing tracks stretching back to the start of the decade alongside new material recorded at Headley Grange, this again exhibited their eclectic abilities, containing many fine songs, particularly the eastern inspired epic 'Kashmir' and the funky 'Trampled Under Foot', which climbed to number 38 in the US. At one point Physical Graffiti, which topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic, was selling at the rate of 500 copies per hour in one New York store alone, and on 25 March all six Led Zeppelin albums were on the Billboard Top 200 album charts.[67] Led Zeppelin again toured the US in early 1975 and then in April, 51,000 tickets for three concerts at London's Earls Court sold out in two hours.[68] They ended up playing five four-hour shows there the following month accompanied by a display of laser beams, neon signs, coloured light show, dry ice, Ediphor screen and a 70,000 watt PA system not previously seen or heard on their previous UK tours.[69] The concerts would become legendary, and tapings of the shows were included in the Led Zeppelin DVD nearly thirty years later.

Later years

By now though, their monetary success was becoming almost counter-productive and in June they were forced into tax exile in Switzerland.[70] After Earls Court, the band began a short overseas holiday with Page had flying to Marrakesh to meet up with Plant, who was travelling with his wife Maureen and family. Veering off the tourist paths, Page and Plant rented a Range Rover and drove deep into Morocco. The mission was to discover street music, to soak up the experiences that might enhance the next album. They travelled through Ovazazatte, Zagora, Tagora, Tafraoute, the Atlas Mountains, moving north through Casablanca and Tangier, with a plan to meet up with the rest of the band in Montreux, Switzerland, for rehearsals for a projected tour of the United States. While on the return journey Page detoured to visit southern Italy while Plant and his family continued the holiday in Greece. However, a serious car crash on a Greek island mountainside in which Robert Plant and his wife were badly injured, on 4 August 1975, prevented any live appearances in the second half of the year. Maureen Plant was driving her husband, their children, and Page's daughter Scarlet in a rented Austin Mini sedan on Rhodes, Greece, when the car veered off the road and crashed. All tours were cancelled and Plant spent the rest of the year recuperating from his shattered elbow and ankle, going first to the Channel Islands and then to Switzerland. Unable to return and stay at any length in the UK, the band reconvened in Malibu, California (U.S. state), where the forced hiatus allowed much of the material for their next album, Presence, to be composed. It was recorded within eighteen days in November, at Musicland Studios in Munich, with Plant restricted to singing in a wheelchair, but they again topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic on its release in April 1976.[71] The sound gravitated towards more straightforward, guitar-based arrangements, departing from the acoustic ballads and intricate keyboard work featured on their previous albums. Though it eventually did not sell as many units in total as the previous band releases, it contains two bona fide classics in the epic shapes of 'Nobody's Fault but Mine' and 'Achilles Last Stand'. Jimmy Page in later interviews has cited Presence as his favourite album.[72]

Their long-awaited film The Song Remains the Same was given a charity premiere at the Ritz Theatre in Manhattan on 20 October 1976, with proceeds going to the Save the Children Fund. Directed by Peter Clifton, it featured lengthy live footage alongside individual fantasy sequences: John Bonham raced a dragster, Robert Plant rescued a fair maiden, John Paul Jones appeared as a masked night rider, while Page climbed a Scottish mountain on the shores of Loch Ness in search of Father Time. A double soundtrack album featuring live versions of 'Rock and Roll', 'Dazed and Confused' and 'Stairway to Heaven', was released the same month and predictably topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic,[73] despite being far from the best recorded testament to their onstage talents circa 1973. Preparations began at Manticore Studios in January 1977, for their eleventh tour of the US which started on 1 April, at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium in Texas, and was slated to extend for forty-nine concerts across America, for an estimated 1.3 million ticket holders. It was the tour in which Robert Plant felt he had something to prove to the fans after his accident. Due to aircraft engine problems, the Starship was replaced by a Boeing 707 dubbed Caesar's Chariot for all flights between cities. The tour included an extended acoustic set, and 'Battle of Evermore' was performed for the first time live with John Paul Jones singing Sandy Denny's original parts. The band played before a crowd of over 76,229 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan on 30 April, breaking Led Zeppelin’s own attendance record set in 1973,[74] followed by a six-night stint at Madison Square Garden in June. Led Zeppelin were awarded an Ivor Novello Award for 'Outstanding Contribution to British Music' on 12 May, but by late 1977 despite continuing to win awards the band had lost ground in the media spotlight particularly in the UK, having been unable to tour for over two years. Following a performance at the 'Day on the Green' festival in Oakland, Plant was informed while in New Orleans of the tragic death of his seven-year-old son Karac on 26 July from a respiratory infection.[75] Grief-stricken, Plant flew back to England and the rest of the tour was cancelled, forcing the band to take further unscheduled time off the road. Grant eventually persuaded Plant to rejoin the band, at a meeting at London's Royal Garden Hotel in April 1978, and in May 1978 they had reunited to rehearse together at Clearwell Castle, in the Forest of Dean. They then played a pair of warm-up shows in Copenhagen, followed by their last UK dates (their first since 1975) which took place on 4 and 11 August 1979, when they attracted over 380,000 people to the Knebworth festivals in Hertfordshire, with a 23-song set.[76] The concerts were a huge success. Page, feeling renewed after the concerts, said, 'We can still reach our fans without the wear and tear on our own bodies and psyches.'

© Photo: ledzeppelin.com
Hipgnosis publicity still of Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, June 1979.

Their penultimate studio album, In Through the Out Door, recorded at Polar Studios in Stockholm during December 1978, was very different in style to its predecessors, being heavily influenced by Jones' songwriting and use of synthesisers. The standout tracks were 'In the Evening', 'Carouselambra', 'I'm Gonna Crawl' and the balladic tribute to Plant's son, 'All My Love'. The album was released packaged in a plain brown paper bag, with one of six different sleeves inside,[77] and debuted at number one on the UK and US charts. As a result, Led Zeppelin's entire catalogue made the Billboard Top 200 album chart between the weeks of October 27 and November 3, outdoing the band's similar previous feat in 1975.[78] In December 1979, Jones, Bonham, and Plant all performed at a London benefit charity for the United Nations, Concert for the People of Kampuchea. The band picked up eight awards at the annual Melody Maker Reader's Poll in December before commencing rehearsals at the Rainbow Theatre in April, for a brief low-key European 14-day tour performing in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Austria, undertaken in June and July 1980 with new tour manager Phil Carlo. The band adopted a playful and generous spirit about the tour, with Page even handling some of the stage introductions himself. Featuring a redolent back-to-basics set which opened with 'Train Kept a-Rollinˈ', and culminating at the Berlin Eissporthalle on July 7, 1980, where they concluded their set with a longer-than-usual version of 'Whole Lotta Love'.[79] It was coincidentally twelve years to the day after the Yardbirds' (with Relf and McCarty) final show. On 24 September 1980, Led Zeppelin met at Bray Studios to begin rehearsals for an upcoming 19-date North American tour, promoted as 'Led Zeppelin - The 80s: Part One', which included new songs added to the set such as 'Carouselambra'. The band's plan also included a return to the US West Coast in early 1981 and a UK tour in the spring, and the recording of a new, riff-intense album. Their career was however brought to an abrupt end when John Bonham accidentally asphyxiated in his sleep after a prolonged drinking session during rehearsals which ended at Page's Old Mill House, Windsor, property on 25 September 1980.[80] Widely acclaimed as the greatest rock drummer ever, Bonham's unique sound would have been difficult to replace and the remaining members, having met at London's Savoy Hotel to discuss future plans, eventually announced the band's dissolution and the cancellation of a US tour, on 4 December 1980: 'We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.'[81] To fulfil contractual commitments, the remaining members of the band decided to drop the option of a chronologically ordered live anthology in favour of a career-spanning out-takes collection called Coda, which appeared in December 1982. It included two tracks taken from the band's performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970, one each from the Led Zeppelin III and Houses of the Holy sessions, and three from the In Through the Out Door sessions. It also featured a 1976 John Bonham percussion instrumental with electronic embellishments added by Jimmy Page, called 'Bonzo's Montreux'. With no working band to promote, and Peter Grant in semi-retirement from the music industry, Swan Song Records was eventually wound up in late 1983.

Solo years and reunions

After the split, Plant, Page and Jones concentrated on developing their solo and production careers, though rumours of and actual reunions were never distant. In 1981, there were plans for both Page and Plant to team up with Alan White and Chris Squire of Yes to form XYZ (ex-Yes Zeppelin), but conflicting issues on who should manage the supergroup (Peter Grant or Brian Lane) and Plant's decision not to proceed, ended the project prematurely after a number of demos were recorded.[82]

On 13 July 1985, the three remaining members of Zeppelin, along with Paul Martinez (from Plant's band) on bass, Tony Thompson (of Chic) on drums, and Phil Collins (who had to fly over after his performance at Wembley) on drums, appeared at the Live Aid festival at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. They played a 20-minute set and performed 'Rock and Roll', 'Whole Lotta Love', and 'Stairway to Heaven'. Plant was hoarse from four consecutive nights of singing and a morning rehearsal, the others were under-rehearsed and plagued by a lack of foldback.[83] Plans for a projected reunion and world tour in January 1986, were cancelled after replacement drummer Tony Thompson broke his arm in a motorway accident on his way to Real World Studios, near Bath, on the second day of rehearsals.[84] Plant handled bass chores while Jones played keyboards.

In 1988, Page also contributed to Plant's Now and Zen track 'Tall Cool One', which featured a medley of Led Zeppelin samples. On 17 April 1988, at the Hammersmith Odeon, Page joined Plant's tour for a blistering encore featuring 'Trampled Underfoot', 'Gambler's Blues'/'I Can't Quit You Baby'/'Since I've Been Loving You', 'Misty Mountain Hop', and 'Rock and Roll'. There were also subsequent one-off reunions at the Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden (14 May 1988),[85] with Jason Bonham filling his father's shoes on drums. A 12-hour tribute concert for Atlantic Records, which came to a climax with Zeppelin's performance, Jason Bonham played well, but the night is generally considered very ordinary. The rehearsal was (reportedly) brilliant. The evening arrived with the band better-rehearsed than they had been at Live Aid; but the concert ran late, upsetting fragile nerves. The sound feed for the TV broadcast completely lost the keyboards, which made 'Kashmir' sound rather thin. The set list was: 'Kashmir', 'Heartbreaker'/'Whole Lotta Love' (the Knebworth 1979 arrangement), 'Misty Mountain Hop', and 'Stairway to Heaven'.

In November 1989, the band played at Carmen Plant's 21st birthday Party, once again with Jason on drums. The set list was 'Trampled Underfoot', 'Misty Mountain Hop', and 'Rock and Roll'. The band also reformed for Jason Bonham's wedding reception (28 April 1990), playing 'Bring It On Home', 'Rock and Roll', 'Sick Again', 'Custard Pie', and Jerry Lee Lewis' 'It'll Be Me'.[86] Both this and the previous performance were said to be outstanding. On 30 June 1990, Page joined Plant onstage at Knebworth Park for the Silver Clef winners charity concert (despite rumours and even the official promotion announcing Led Zeppelin's presence, Jones was nowhere to be found), performing 'Misty Mountain Hop', the first-ever Page-led performance of 'Wearing and Tearing', and 'Rock and Roll'. Page had stood on the side of the stage earlier as Plant's band covered 'Immigrant Song' and 'Going to California'.

As producer, Page spent most of the 1990s remastering the entire Led Zeppelin back catalogue including the two-volume Led Zeppelin box set and three-disc Remasters set.[87] The Box Set also included four previously unreleased tracks, including the song 'Travelling Riverside Blues', with an accompanying video resulting in heavy rotation on MTV. In January 1991, the members of Zeppelin met with Peter Grant to discuss a reunion tour to promote these new compilation releases. Lighting and sound companies were contacted, and stadiums were quietly reserved, with a potential involvement with drummer Mike 'Puffy' Bordin. After badgering Plant in public and private about the reunion, Page thought he had finally convinced him to go along with it. Both Page and Jones had expressed varying degrees of enthusiasm for the idea. But Plant, after agreeing to the tour and breaking for lunch, came back one hour later and said no. Plant was not ready to commit.[88]

Page, Plant, Charlie Jones, and Michael Lee performed on 17 April 1994 at the Alexis Korner Blues Show in Buxton, England. The set list: 'Baby Please Don't Go', 'I Can't Quit You Baby', 'I've Been Down So Long', 'That's Why I Love You', and 'Train Kept a-Rollin'. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant then took this one step further by participating in two invitation-only MTV Unplugged concerts on 25 and 26 August 1994,[89] later released as No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. The success of the venture later prompted the pair to undertake a year-long world tour with a Middle Eastern orchestra, comprising 115 concerts, reinterpreting the band's songs.[90] Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995[91] and received a Liftetime Achievement Award at the 42nd Annual Ivor Novello Awards in May 1997.[92] After many years away from the public spotlight, former manager Peter Grant died on 21 November 1995.[93] In 1998, Steve Albini produced an album of new Page-Plant compositions, Walking Into Clarksdale, released with an intentional low-fidelity production, to mixed reviews.[94] Plant parted company with Page during 1999 to concentrate on his solo career, going back to his earlier R&B and West Coast roots.[95] In October 1999, Page performed a series of shows with the Black Crowes, recording an double album's worth of Led Zeppelin covers. Page has never ruled out reforming Led Zeppelin.

(CC) Photo: Robbie Fowler
A reunited Led Zeppelin for the Ahmet Ertegun charity tribute show at The O2 in London, December 2007.

The RIAA announced, on 29 November 1999, that the band were only the third act in music history to achieve four or more certified Diamond albums.[96] VH1 named the group the number one 'Greatest Artist of Hard Rock'.[97] A lavish four-hour retrospective double DVD of Led Zeppelin was issued in 2003, and swiftly became the best-selling music DVD of all time. At the same time a triple live CD, How the West Was Won, a set recorded in 1972 that is superior in performance to The Song Remains the Same, was released. It opens with the powerful 'Immigrant Song' and contains a superb 24-minute version of 'Whole Lotta Love' and many other classics from their first three albums. In February 2005, Led Zeppelin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award[98] and in 2006 was awarded the Polar Music Prize.[99] Led Zeppelin were formally inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in September 2006.[100] On 10 December 2007 the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited (along with former drummer John Bonham's son Jason) for the Ahmet Ertegun charity tribute show at The O2 in London.[101] The 16-song set was part of a benefit concert for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, which provides scholarships for gifted children. According to Tixdaq, the Led Zeppelin reunion produced the highest average resale price (£707·97) for any concert ticket in 2007.[102] Rumours persist of a future world tour, with millions of dollars from promoters on offer. Led Zeppelin became the first band inducted into the people's choice Hall of Fame at WNCX in Cleveland, Ohio, on 3 March.[103]

On 7 June 2008, Page and Jones joined Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins onstage at Wembley Stadium to perform two Led Zeppelin tracks, 'Rock and Roll' preceded by 'Ramble On'. Dave Grohl has been a long-time Led Zeppelin fan.[104]. The BBC reported on 26 August 2008, that Page, Jones, and Jason Bonham have been recording material which may become a new 'Led Zeppelin' project, although Plant has not been mentioned.[105] It was later revealed that a number of singers, including Creed vocalist Scott Stapp and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, were auditioned but declined - Plant having decided to record another album with Alison Krauss. In 2013, Page announced that the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue would be reissued with previously unreleased tracks in 2014.

2014 saw the release of the remastered Led Zeppelin catalogue with bonus tracks in multiple CD, vinyl, and digital formats, including limited edition Super Deluxe Boxed Sets. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III were issued on 3 June 2014,[106] with Led Zeppelin IV, and Houses of the Holy released on 27 October 2014. The remaining albums Physical Graffiti, Presence, In Through the Out Door, and Coda were made available throughout 2015.

Cultural impact

Despite the public's ever changing tastes in musical styles, Led Zeppelin has managed to retain its popularity. The concert film The Song Remains the Same is still a staple of midnight cinema screenings, and tunes like 'Stairway to Heaven', 'Kashmir', 'Black Dog', 'Whole Lotta Love' and 'Rock and Roll' are still in heavy rotation on classic rock broadcast playlists. In February 1989, Los Angeles radio station KLOS began an hour long regular broadcast of Led Zeppelin songs every night. On 1 January 1990, an FM radio station in St. Petersburg, Florida, WKRL, began broadcasting 'Stairway to Heaven' for twenty-four hours as a prelude to an all Led Zeppelin format.[107] In 2005, the magazine Guitar World conducted a readers poll in which 'Stairway to Heaven' was voted as having the greatest guitar solo of all time.[108] XM Satellite Radio launched XM LED on 8 November 2007, an artist-exclusive channel dedicated to Led Zeppelin (within 12 months it would be renamed Led Zeppelin Radio). After much delay, Led Zeppelin's entire back catalogue was available for digital download via iTunes on 13 November 2007. Led Zeppelin has been the subject of many tribute CDs, notably Enconium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin released by Atlantic Records in 1995. There have also been classical, reggae, jazz, heavy metal, and rockabilly artists who have also released tribute albums, and an all-'Stairway to Heaven' tribute CD by Australian ABC television programme The Money or the Gun. Studio band Far Corporation released their version of 'Stairway to Heaven' which reached number eight on the UK singles chart, in 1985. Led Zeppelin has also been the subject of numerous cover bands, such as Lez Zeppelin, an all-girl tribute act.

The music of Led Zeppelin has been used on soundtracks, although the band has consistently been protective of issuing blanket licences. The first song to appear in any film was 'How Many More Times', used in the Vietnam War-era movie Homer (1970), directed by John Trent.[109] 'Immigrant Song' has been the most widely used track, appearing in School of Rock, Shrek the Third and One Day in September. Others include 'Communication Breakdown' in Small Soldiers and 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' in the television series One Tree Hill. Two films which have used the most number of Led Zeppelin tracks have been Dogtown and Z-Boys with 'Achilles Last Stand', 'Nobody's Fault but Mine', and 'Hots on for Nowhere' and the Cameron Crowe cinematic release Almost Famous with 'That's the Way', 'Tangerine', 'Misty Mountain Hop', and 'The Rain Song'. The theme song of long running British music television programme Top of the Pops used a cover of 'Whole Lotta Love' by Collective Consciousness Society (CCS), which featured Alexis Korner.


  1. That Led Zeppelin is called one of the progenitors of this genre is true but ignores the stylistic diversity catalogue as a whole. Plant has commented that it is unfair for people to typecast the band as heavy metal, since about a third of their recorded output was acoustic. This position is supported by numerous sources eg. Fast, Susan (2001) In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 8. ISBN 0-19514-723-5.
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