ed Zeppelin was probably the most popular metal band of the 1970s; they were also probably the first heavy metal band to form in the era of heavy metal. They were formed by British guitar player Jimmy Page in October of 1968; exactly 1 month after the heavy metal's suspected birth date. After a short while the line-up settled with Jimmy Page (ex-The Yardbirds; guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), John Bonham (drums) and John Paul Jones (bass/keyboards) (who had quickly replaced original member Chris Dreja). The group was first known as the New Yardbirds,but soon after chose Led Zeppelin after hearing a remark by the Who's Keith Moon who said that they "would go down like a lead Zeppelin", when asked to rate their prospects.
Armed with a recording contract by 'Atlantic Records', they marched off to a US tour and a first release, Led Zeppelin (1969), which included the hits Dazed And Confused and Communication Breakdown; its blues and hard rock influences shining through. It charted top 10 on both sides of the pond. By Led Zeppelin II (1969), they were a headlining act achieving another chart maker, and the Whole Lotta Love track certainly assisted in that goal. The group's lust for musical fire didn't wane on the following Led Zeppelin III (1970) with hits like The Gallows Pole. This album was a bit of a departure for the group, however, by featuring less hard rock and more acoustic folk inspired numbers. Instrumentally they were more than able and with a deep attachment to the hippie culture they managed to attract as many female followers as well as male, which is an accomplishment on its own due to the fact that heavy metal usually only attracts the attention of males.
Led Zeppelin IV, Four Symbols (1971) or the Runes Album (whatever name you wish to call it as it had no official title except four cryptic symbols), was once again a classic. It featured the hit Stairway To Heaven; a track which became a guitar anthem and over the years guitar shops had to ban its performance in stores due to its over use by would-be novice guitar purchasers. Houses Of The Holy (1973) saw their musical repertoire expanded with folk ballads, soul and reggae, and the subsequent tour broke all attendance records. The proceeds funded a 1976 in-concert film called The Song Remains The Same and the formation of their own record label, 'Swan Song', a label that would also host Pretty Things, Bad Company and Maggie Bell as signers. The follow-up 1975 double set Physical Graffiti allowed them to express their full diversity on that new label.
The 1976 Presence album received platinum status in advance orders alone, with the 10 minute opus Achilles Last Stand coming through loud and strong. The album, however, mostly sold on the band's reputation, as the remainder of it was competent but nothing special. The record was still considered to be weaker in its sales then past ones, especially in the UK and was quickly followed-up with the equally unimportant The Song Remains The Same (1976).
In Through The Out Door (1979) was a satisfying effort for them also but it almost didn't happen for, in 1977, their tour was cut short when Plant's six year old son Karac, died of a viral infection. The following album, 1982's Coda was a collection of outtakes, which saw John Paul Jones shine as the unifying factor. It was published posthumously, as was 1990s Re-masters, a compilation of their material on CD.
Punk's stripped down no frills style, influenced the 1979 European tour that followed. Plans were in the work for a US tour of the same but it was called off. Tragedy struck in September of 1980 when Bonham was found dead after a drinking binge just before they were to embark on another US tour after finishing a show at Berlin. The cause of death was asphyxiation from vomit; an autopsy found no other drugs in his body. Bonham was cremated on 10 October 1980, and his ashes were buried at Rushock Parish Church in Droitwich, Worcestershire. A verdict of accidental death was returned at an inquest held on 27 October. The band decided not to continue and disbanded on December 4th of that same year.
Following the dissolution of Led Zeppelin, the first significant project for the band members was the Honeydrippers, which Plant formed in 1981. The group featured Page on lead guitar, along with studio musicians and friends of Plant and Page, including Jeff Beck, Paul Shaffer, and Nile Rodgers. Plant focused the band in a different direction from Led Zeppelin, playing standards and in a more R&B style, highlighted by their cover of Sea of Love, which peaked at number three on the Billboard charts in early 1985.
Led Zeppelin had such an impact that years after their breakup fans who had never seen them play still demand reunions of them as often as possible. In 1994 Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reunited for the Unleaded project and tour, not to mention 1985's Live Aid benefit concert. There was rumors of the coming of a new age of Led Zeppelin but nothing came of it except memories and the pair of them working together again, if only for a short time.
The first Led Zeppelin box set, featuring tracks remastered under Page's supervision, was released in 1990 and bolstered the band's reputation, leading to abortive discussions among members about a reunion. This set included four previously unreleased tracks, including a version of Robert Johnson's Travelling Riverside Blues. The song peaked at number seven on the Billboard Album rock Tracks chart. 1992 saw the release of the Immigrant Song/Hey Hey What Can I Do (the original B-side) as a CD single in the US. Led Zeppelin Boxed Set 2 was released in 1993; the two box sets together containing all known studio recordings, as well as some rare live tracks.
In 1994, Page and Plant reunited for a 90-minute UnLedded MTV project. They later released an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, which featured some reworked Led Zeppelin songs, and embarked on a world tour the following year. This is said to be the beginning of a rift between the band members, as Jones was not even told of the reunion.
In 1995, Led Zeppelin were inducted into the United States rock and roll Hall of Fame by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.
At the turn of the millennium Led Zeppelin's memory was dying hard with the release of a double compilation set Early Days: The Best Of Led Zeppelin Vol. 1 and Later Days: The Best Of Led Zeppelin Vol. 2 (1999 & 2000) with a brief unification of Page and Plant in 2003 with How The West Was Won, a massive classic live set of audio and video. On December 10, 2007 Led Zeppelin reunited for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London, with Jason Bonham again taking his late father's place on drums. According to Guinness World Records 2009, Led Zeppelin set the world record for the "Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert" as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online.
Led Zeppelin offered more to Metal than just good music and popularity; they also offered an advancement that would be the engine for the genre for the rest of the decade and indeed, the century; they taught future generations of Metal fans and performers how this music was meant to be played. The plan was as follows: The group would play as a cohesive unit, bass guitars and drums would play together, the singer would be heard clearly, the lead guitar would not be expected to fill in every space, sax and keyboard players would take a back seat or disappear; couple this with a strong rhythm in the form of the drummer - a technique that to this point had not been used consistently by predecessors and was thought revolutionary for its time. The formula worked well for every album Led Zeppelin published charted, many at #1, with the lowest at 87.
Since the disintegration of Led Zeppelin, the members went on to successful careers outside of the act. Jimmy Page was probably the most prolific by involving himself in several projects, starting with his self-titled act involving Chris Farlowe (vocals), Dave Lawson and David Sinclair Whittaker and Gordon Edwards (piano), Dave Patton (bass) and Dave Mattacks (drums) on the Deathwish II soundtrack album (1982) with several other joint projects and soundtracks following until he recruited a new line-up of John Miles, Robert Plant, Chris Farlowe, Jason Bonham (drums),Durban Leverde (bass), Felix Krish, Tony Franklin and Barrymore Barlow (drums) for Outrider (1988), and a collaboration with the Black Crowes for the live effort Live At The Greek (2000). Page would also be a founding member of The Firm, an act consisting of himself on guitar with Paul Rodgers (ex-Free/ex-Bad Company; vocals), Tony Franklin (bass/keyboards), Chris Slade (ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band; drums) to release The Firm (1985) and Mean Business (1986), not to mention his collaboration with David Coverdale for the one-off Coverdale - Page album in 1993.Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were reunited on the same titled project in 1994 for the No Quarter release, the best of their careers since leaving 'Zep. getting a 4 US/7 UK position. Featuring Charlie Jones (bass/percussion), Porl Thompson (guitar/banjo), Michael Lee (drums/percussion), Najma Akhtar (vocals), Joe Sutherland (mandolin/bodhran), Nigel Easton (hurdy gurdy), Ed Shearmur (orchestra, Hammond organ and other "large" arrangements). Walking Into Clarksdale (1998) also fared well, now reduced to Page & Plant with Charlie Jones and Michael Lee.
John Paul Jones got back into action in 1999 with his Zooma (1999) album while Robert Plant had invested time in his self-named act with Bobbie Blunt (guitar), Jezz Woodruff (keyboards), Paul Martinez (bass), Cozy Powell (drums) and Phil Collins as guest on drums. His solo debut Pictures At Eleven (1982) made 5 US/2 UK while the follow-up The Principle Of Moments (1983) with Ritchie Hayward (ex-Little Feat) took over all the drum duties while Bob Mayo was added on guitar and keyboards. The album fared well at 8 US/7 UK with Shaken 'N' Stirred (1985) making top 20 on both charts as well. Now And Zen (1988) was a market success also and featured a new band line-up of Doug Boyle (guitar), Phil Skagg (bass), Phil Johnstone (keyboard/co-writer), Jimmy Page (guitar), Chris Blackwell (drums), Marie Pierre, Toni Halliday and Kirsty MacColl (backing vocals). Shortly later Pat Thorpe took over on drums after Blackwell took ill, but by the next album, Manic Nirvana (1990), the membership had been reduced to Blackwell, Charlie Jones, Johnstone and Boyle. All went silent after Fate Of Nations (1993), however, with the new band membership Kevin Scott MacMichael (guitar), Phil Johnstone (electric piano), Charlie Jones (bass), Michael Lee (drums), Chris Hughes (drums) with guests Francis Dunnery, Marie Brennan, Nigel Kennedy and Richard Thompson. During the mid 1980s Plant had also toyed with an act called the Honey Dippers but after a set of singles and an EP it was closed.
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Led Zeppelin perform at Chicago Stadium in January 1975, a few weeks before the release of Physical Graffiti. Photo by: Tony Morelli.
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