Here is Led Zeppelin singing "Stairway to Heaven" (Live Earls Court, 1975).
Some critics may have hated them, but the fans stayed loyal to Led Zeppelin for the twelve years that they were together. Led Zeppelin was a highly innovative band that created a new sound, which has come to be known as heavy metal or hard rock by combining three elements; acoustic folk, hippie mysticism, and power chords with high volume and distortion. They have earned their place as one of the best rock bands in rock history.
Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968 after the Yardbirds split up. British guitarist, Jimmy Page (1944) played the lead guitar for the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton left the band. Expected to finish the tour dates of the group without much of a band, Jimmy Page began a search for talented musicians. Impressed with Robert Plant (1948), lead singer of a San Francisco sounding, British band called Hobbstweedle, Page immediately hired him as the front man of his new band called the New Yardbirds.
Robert Plant recommended that John Bonham (1948-1980) become the drummer. However, it took some time to persuade Bonham to join the group. In the meantime, Jimmy Page contacted bass and keyboard player John Paul Jones (1946) who agreed to join the band to begin recording original music. The newly formed group finished the obligatory concert schedule of the Yardbirds, but then went on to record their first self-titled debut album under their new name, Led Zeppelin.
The name came from a comment made by Keith Moon of The Who, who once said the band would go down like a lead balloon. This is not the first name that the group toyed with before settling on Led Zeppelin. Legend has it that they considered first the name "The Mad Dogs" and then "Whoopee Cushion" before settling on Led Zeppelin, supposedly on Ringo Starr's advice. The group signed on with the prestigious, Atlantic Records within a year with a six-album contract.
After the completion of their first album, Led Zeppelin embarked on a short tour in England. The group received a negative reception in their home country. However, as their first album hit the shelves in America, they became rock and roll royalty as the album climbed to number six on the charts. Their popularity immediately took off as they set out for a five-month tour. Their new sound of heavy, psychedelic rock satisfied their many fans, who were eager for a new intensity in rock.
The new album contained such memorable songs such as, "Dazed and Confused," and "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" which held a dynamic balance of Plant's expressive roar with Page's innovative dexterity on the guitar. While touring, Led Zeppelin recorded their second album, "Led Zeppelin II, which turned out to be a true sensation hitting the No.1 spot for seven weeks knocking the Beatles, Abbey Road out of the way.
For a moment, they seemed bigger than the Beatles. The album incorporated a wonderful transition of acoustic, gentle beginnings to an angry, electric finish. The single, "Whole Lotta Love" on the album brought its own success as it reached #4 on the pop charts. Again, Led Zeppelin traveled on another endless journey of concert dates. They would play unbelievably long sets, some lasting three hours or more.
After their 2nd tour, the group decided to focus more on the mystical elements of British folk music for their third album, Led Zeppelin III, which came out in October 1970. The album did not achieve the popularity of their second album because of its large amount of acoustic material. The acoustic songs "Tangerine" and "The Immigrant Song" are considered the most memorable cuts from this album. Though attempting to attain a true folk spirit, the group would not reach it until their fourth album, also known as Four Symbols or Zoso was produced in November 1971. This album is judged by many as their masterpiece including their most popular classic songs, such as "Stairway to Heaven," "Rock and Roll," and "When the Levee Breaks," an innovative, Bonham drumming sensation. The album serves as a great example of what defines Led Zeppelin, a gradual building of raging, electric, fury upon a sweet, acoustic melody. This album became their greatest seller with more than 20 million copies sold.
In 1973, their fifth album, Houses of the Holy was released. This album was lighter than the previous one with experimentation with funk and reggae incorporated into the rock and folk sound. This album also went to No.1 and America and England as they went on tour. While on tour, Led Zeppelin shot footage at the New York Madison Square Garden which would later be produced as their 1976 documentary, "The Song Remains the Same."
In 1974, Led Zeppelin formed their own recording label, Swan Song. Zeppelin would record all their albums on Swan Song from this point on, including the double album, Physical Graffiti in 1975. The album received very positive reviews as it went to number 1. Led Zeppelin then went on a successful tour in America and sold out five nights at Earls Court in London.
The year ended in disappointment as Robert Plant and his wife were involved a car accident leaving Plant on crutches and the band in a hiatus for a year. In March 1976, the album, Presence was released with negative reviews. The rage characteristic of the group seemed to be missing. The following year also brought other misfortunes as Plant's five-year-old son, Karac died of a stomach infection while the band was on a successful tour in the US.
The band would not regroup until November 1978 to begin work on their next album, In Through The Outdoor. That May, they announced that they were going to play at the Knebworth Festival in August. Their performance there was a true success and their show lasted over three hours with four encores.
Just a week after the Knebworth Festival, their In through the Outdoor album was released. The reception was enormous around the world among fans as well as critics. Everything seemed to be going great for the band again. Then unfortunately, as Led Zeppelin began to rehearse for a North American tour, John Bonham was found dead in his bed after chocking on his own vomit following an all day vodka and orange drinking binge. Bonham, who was considered one of the most creative and hard-hitting drummers in the rock idiom at the time, was an essential member of the band. In December of that same year, the surviving members announced that without Bonham, Led Zeppelin could not be a band and the group broke up.
Led Zeppelin is recognized as one of the most influential bands of the rock era and their collection continues to provide inspiration to successive generations of musicians.
Page author: L.C.