Led Zeppelin ruled the hard rock landscape of the 1970s. Critics didn’t like them and they didn’t like the press. They sold tons of records and their concerts were instant sellouts. They spawned a lot of bad imitators in their wake. By 1975 things started to go wrong for the band and soon by the start of the new decade they were done.
Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 while Jimmy Page was still with the Yardbirds but with only bass player Chris Dreja and he still left in the group. To fill other gig obligations Page formed the New Yardbirds with Robert Plant and his recommendation for drummer John Bonham. Chris Dreja dropped out so studio bassist John Paul Jones filled the bass position.
After a change of name, they were off and running. They made their first self-titled album and signed a huge deal with Atlantic Records. The album had bad reviews but sold very well. The band made their reputation off of live performances.
Their manager at this point was Peter Grant and with him made their mark on the industry. Peter made sure his band made money and no one would stand in the way. He told promoters the band was to get 90 percent of the gate…which was unheard of at the time. The promoters gave in because they would rather have ten percent of that than 100 percent of nothing.
The musicians were great. Robert Plant could sing and wail like no other. John Bonham was a groove extraordinaire who had his own style. John Paul Jones was a great underrated bass and keyboard player. Jimmy Page was one of the best studio guitarists there was at the time. Similar to The Who…it was like a Rock All-Star lineup.
Zeppelin’s first three albums were building up to the fourth. You can see it build with the first and second album’s electric hard edge to the third where the acoustic is introduced more and a more folk side is shown. It all peaked with the classic 1971 Led Zeppelin IV with the perfect combination of the two.
Songs that came off that album are classics like Stairway to Heaven, Black Dog, Four Sticks, Rock and Roll, Going to California, When the Levee Breaks, The Battle of Evermore, and my favorite Misty Mountain Hop. This album and the Who’s Who’s Next came out within months of each other and both of these albums are the foundation of classic rock radio.
More great albums were to follow like Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti though none would match the fourth album. After Physical Graffiti things started to go south for Zeppelin.
Their reputation kept growing and it was not all about their music. Wild stories about groupies, Peter Grant stopping at nothing if he perceived an injustice toward his band and there was the Jimmy Page strong occult interest that followed the band like a dark cloud. John Bonham was described as a nice family man until he started to drink. When drunk he would turn into “The Beast” (as bandmates called him) and could terrorize anyone near the band. They did a series of concerts in 1975 at Earl’s Court and after that The Zeppelin started to descend.
In 1975 Robert Plant and his wife were in a serious car wreck and it would take Plant a few months to recuperate and soon the band would record the album Presence with Plant still not able to walk without assistance. The band would not tour in 1976 because of Plants injuries but started an American tour beginning in April 1977.
When Zeppelin started in 1968 critics didn’t like them and Zeppelin didn’t trust the press. Critics thought their first two albums were the work of blues-ripoff artists. Led Zeppelin never forgot that. This was one set of rules in 1977 shared with the press covering the band.
1. Never talk to anyone in the band unless they first talk to you.
1a. Do not make any sort of eye contact with John Bonham. This is for your own safety.
2. Do not talk to Peter Grant or [Tour Manager] Richard Cole — for any reason.
3. Keep your cassette player turned off at all times unless conducting an interview.
4. Never ask questions about anything other than music.
5. Most importantly, understand this — the band will read what is written about them.
The tour was beset with problems with rowdy crowds, Pages increasing heroin intake, and Bonham’s drinking. Peter Grant had hired a British gangster named John Bindon to handle security. Zeppelin’s security crew and John Bonham attacked one of promoter’s Bill Graham’s staff after Grants 11-year-old son was pushed down… After that incident in Oakland, they flew to New Orleans for the next show and Plant received a phone call from back home informing him that his five-year-old son Karac died from a stomach infection. The entire tour was immediately canceled as Plant flew home to be with his family. The last Oakland concert was the last time they played in America.
In 1979 they would get back together and release “In Through the Out Door“, a softer more synthesizer-based album. Plant and Jones did the majority of the writing on the album. Zeppelin did two great shows at Knebworth in 1979 and a short European tour in 1980. While rehearsing for the American tour John Bonham died of asphyxiation in his sleep after a night of heavy drinking in Page’s home on September 25, 1980. Unlike the Who, who continued on without their one of a kind drummer, Led Zeppelin was no more.
The band regrouped three times for one-off concerts. Once in 1985 for Live Aid with two drummers (Phil Collins and Tony Thompson )and in 1988 for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary with Jason Bonham on drums. Neither of those turned out too well.
They did regroup in 2007 for a concert with Jason Bonham drumming. This time they sounded comparable to their younger days and their fans clamored for a reunion and tour…Plant all but ruled that out.
I like most of their albums and consider them one of the biggest rock bands ever…They have made some of the best albums in Rock history. I just never got into them like The Who, Beatles, Stones, Cream, and Kinks. The more I learn about them the more distant they get. Their mystique and image became larger than their music at times.
I’m going to attempt to rank 10 of Led Zeppelin’s albums coming up this week.