Led Zeppelin’s Ascent and Descent

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.

Led Zeppelin 02.jpg

 

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

19 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin’s Ascent and Descent”

  1. Well written summary…and thanks for the link! I think I’m perhaps just a bit too young to have been swept up by Zep. when they were really big, I was under 10 and listening to AM hit radio. My older brother liked them a lot and Iseem to recall saw them play least once. “Kashmir” has become one of my favorite “album rock” tracks around though

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    1. No problem! I was 12 in 79 and that is the year I heard IV and In Through the Out Door… I love some of their music but I never really got into them like the other bands.

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      1. I just don’t see The Beatles in the Heavy Metal groups that followed…but I do see Zeppelin. The Beatles inspired some to play in the first place no doubt…but which one do they resemble the most?

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  2. Yeah I know the amount of influence was more towards Zeppelin but to me, they were just hard rock. At first heavy metal was like Sammy Hagar then it went off the deep end. Black Sabbath I think was the first real heavy metal band.

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    1. I liked Black Sabbath’s second album…after that I didn’t follow them. I liked Zeppelin best when they combined the light and heavy.
      There are only two albums I don’t like by them too much… Presence and The Song Remains The Same. Many Zeppelin fans don’t like In Through The Out Door…I’ve always liked it…not my favorite but not terrible.

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  3. I was 0 when led ZEPPELIN broke up. And honestly. you could hear in the later years that they were done. Those last couple years playing live together was a joke. Im glad that they were smart enough to call it quits after Bonzo died. Side note. I never really got into presence until I got older. And I am not old

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    1. For me the last Zeppelin album that was great was Physical Graffiti. The personal problems started to take over from there.

      There were moments on In Through the Out Door I liked…In The Evening was good but they were not as consistent after the mid-seventies.

      I do agree that they were smart not to replace Bonzo… The Who should have never carried on without Keith Moon…in my opinion. Those were two members you could not replace…their respective bands sounds relied heavily on them.

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  4. I got into them in ’68 or ’69 when I was at college (will probably write about this properly sometime on my other blog, but don’t know when) and I ended up going to three of their gigs in London, one at the Lyceum, two at the Royal Albert Hall (one of which was the Pop Proms, which also had Blodwyn Pig and Liverpool Scene). I was absolutely potty (crazy) about them! Years later, I knew Howard Mylett who wrote quite a lot of books about Zep, and he told me that he’d had a huge number of press cuttings and photos that Peter Grant, upon visiting him one time, asked to see – and that Grant then took them away and never returned them! Lovely guy, Grant (not).

    They had a very different reaction here in the UK from music fans, than from the critics. I don’t know about in the States but in the UK, critics – particularly in those days – slammed most bands and made their lives very difficult. Even the music press wasn’t overly supportive;I think they had favourites, and just stuck to those.

    I hated the third album when it first came out, til I pushed myself past the ‘not all hard rock anymore’ barrier that I kept hitting. My favourite albums of theirs are 1st, 2nd and Physical Graffiti. (Which other half and I refer to as ‘Physical Giraffe’!!)

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    1. Oh you got to see one of the best bands ever. I do like them…especially Bonham and Jimmy’s guitar playing. The critics at Rolling Stone hated them with a passion until they saw the public reaction was so good that they had to give them credit.

      I remember hearing Blodwyn Pig also…I’m going to look them up on youtube.

      I just read a book about Grant. He was crazy over anything about them. He tried to control way too much. I will say one good thing about him. He did get artists paid at a much higher rate at concerts. 90% of the take instead of 10%. He was more like a mobster than manager.

      Physical…Giraffe’ (I like that)! is a great album. I call it Led Zeppelin’s White Album. A big variety of music on that double album.

      The album I didn’t like by them was Presence. I’ve tried but I just cannot get into that album as a whole.

      The Royal Albert Hall looks like the coolest place ever to watch a show. The Lyceum I have heard of but never read about. John Lennon and Yoko appeared there. I remember seeing that.

      I know I’ve read a book by Howard Mylett. I know that name.

      There is a question I would like to ask. How would you compare the sound of those concerts…or any around that time to the most modern one you have gone to?

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      1. Blodwyn Pig were great. Here’s the album ‘Ahead Rings Out’ – my faves from this album are ‘Dear Jill’ (which is a bit like early Fleetwood Mac) and ‘Aint ya comin home, babe’.

        I had the Zep Lyceum gig on cassette years ago, but it’s not how I remember it – very sedate applause on the tape, and that’s really not how it was! You asked about the sound then compared to more recent times… do you mean acoustically or emotionally? Acoustically they were louder and more raw, and at most venues (at least in the UK) people could get close up to the stage as not all the venues had seating, so it felt more personal somehow. I’ll think about this some more and see if I can come up with a way to compare the two that makes more sense, as it’s late here at the moment and I’m not really thinking clearly!

        Oh yes, Grant was much more like a mobster than a manager. But I think a lot of managers of that time probably were. You know about Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s dad)? If not, look him up on wikipedia.

        The R.A.H. has interesting acoustics, that’s for sure! But there it’s important to get a good seat or it’s impossible to see anything!

        There are really only 2 tracks I like on Presence, and those are Achilles Last Stand, and Tea for One.

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      2. I like their sound a lot. The singer has an excellent blues voice…they mix it really well. My guess is they were an album band. ‘Dear Jill’ I may feature soon…that is great.

        “louder and more raw” that answers my question. With sound…they haven’t improved on guitar or bass amps. That is why many artists will go and get the 60s and 70s amps. The PA they have improved on.

        I’ve read about the Small Faces and Don Arden managing them. He ripped them off really bad. I’ve said the Beatles were very lucky to get Epstein as manager…someone who was actually honest.

        Talking about Led Zeppelin albums. I can’t imagine a world where The Who releases “Who’s Next” and Led Zeppelin releases “Zoso” or whatever you want to call it a few months later. Those albums…classic rock stations have made their living off of those two.

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