Led Zeppelin – One of the Pioneers of Heavy Metal and Classic Rock

English classic rock group Led Zeppelin are considered one of the most critically and commercially successful iconic bands of the 20thcentury, led by vocalist/songwriter Robert Plant and his henchmen – guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham (died in 1980).

One of the biggest bands during the 1970s, they are viewed by many as the pioneers of the hard rock and heavy metal music. However, the band derived a lot of diverse influences. Such one example is the folk-tinged, anthemic song “Stairway To Heaven”, esteemed by fans and hailed by critics alike as one of the greatest works in modern rock history.

Hindenburg disaster
A 1937 photograph of the burning LZ 129 Hindenburg taken by news photographer Sam Shere used on the cover of the bands debut album and extensively on later merchandise

The group raked in huge fortunes from their successful albums and sold-out concerts in front of legions of fans, and for this they are known to have lived in excessive indulgence. Led Zeppelin disbanded after Bonham’s untimely death in 1980, and each of the surviving members pursued solo careers. They reunited in 2007 for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in London, held in memory for the head of the Atlantic Records, the group’s first label. Led Zeppelin was inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995.

Led Zeppelin has several iconic songs that are considered top hits, and some of their most well known tracks include:

  1. “Stairway to Heaven” (1971): Perhaps their most famous song, it’s known for its distinctive progression from a gentle, acoustic beginning to a powerful, electrified climax.
  2. “Whole Lotta Love” (1969): A standout track from their second album, it features a memorable guitar riff and was one of their biggest hits.
  3. “Kashmir” (1975): From their sixth album “Physical Graffiti,” this song is celebrated for its unique blend of rock and Middle Eastern influences.
  4. “Black Dog” (1971): Known for its riff and call-and-response vocals, it’s a classic example of the band’s hard rock style.
  5. “Rock and Roll” (1971): A high-energy track that pays homage to the rock and roll of the 1950s.
  6. “Immigrant Song” (1970): Opening their third album, it’s notable for its driving rhythm and Robert Plant’s wailing vocals, inspired by Norse mythology.
  7. “Dazed and Confused” (1969): Originally from their debut album, this song became famous for its live performances and extended solos.
  8. “Ramble On” (1969): This track from “Led Zeppelin II” is noted for its folk-influenced sound and fantasy-inspired lyrics.
  9. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (1970): A bluesy track from “Led Zeppelin III,” showcasing the band’s blues rock abilities.
  10. “When the Levee Breaks” (1971): Famous for its distinctive drum beat by John Bonham, it’s a powerful closing track to their fourth album.

Led Zeppelin’s music has had a lasting impact on rock music, and their songs continue to be celebrated for their innovation, powerful musicianship, and dynamic range.

Led Zeppelin Band Members

Led Zeppelin consisted of four talented members, each contributing uniquely to the band’s distinctive sound:

Robert Plant (Vocals): Serving as the lead vocalist, Plant was known for his powerful and wide vocal range, along with a charismatic stage presence. His ability to convey emotion through his voice was a key element of Led Zeppelin’s sound.

Jimmy Page (Guitar): As the lead guitarist and one of the band’s primary songwriters, Page was renowned for his innovative guitar playing techniques, including the use of a bow on the guitar. His expertise in producing and arranging music played a significant role in shaping the band’s diverse musical style.

John Paul Jones (Bass, Keyboards): Playing bass guitar, keyboards, and other instruments, Jones was the multi-instrumentalist of the group. His versatile musical skills contributed to the band’s complex arrangements and added depth to their sound. While he’s probably the most underrated member of the band, he sure did contribute a lot to their success. Learn more about him in our post, Who is John Paul Jones in the World of Classic Rock?”

John Bonham (Drums): Known as “Bonzo,” Bonham was celebrated for his powerful and inventive drumming. His distinctive style and use of rhythm and groove were foundational to Led Zeppelin’s music and influenced many drummers that followed.  He passed away on September 25, 1980. His untimely death was a significant loss to the music world and led to the eventual disbandment of Led Zeppelin, as the remaining members decided they could not continue without him.

Together, these four members created a sound that was a unique blend of blues, rock, folk, and other musical genres. The synergy between Plant’s vocals, Page’s guitar work, Jones’ musicianship, and Bonham’s drumming was at the heart of Led Zeppelin’s success and enduring legacy in rock music.

From the New Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin

Considered one of the most successful and innovative rock groups of all time, Led Zeppelin is one of the earliest groups to establish the heavy metal sound, as well as the concept of AOR (album-oriented rock), refusing to release famous singles such as their trademark song “Stairway To Heaven.” The band was composed of Jimmy Page (guitars), Robert Plant (vocals), John Paul Jones (bass, keyboards) and John Bonham (drums).

They were formed in London, England in 1966 as the New Yardbirds – a more recent update of the Yardbirds. Jimmy Page had joined in the band’s final days when they recorded their album Little Games in 1967, where he played lead guitar; it also featured John Paul Jones who played bass and conducted orchestral arrangements. During much of 1967, the New Yardbirds was fairly idle, while Page and Jones were engaged in session work.

In mid-1968, Keif Reif and James McCarthy left the band, leaving Page and bassist Chris Dreja fully authorized to use the name “Yardbirds” as well as to fulfill the commitments in playing concerts in Scandinavia. Page was looking for a replacement drummer and vocalist, and he considered Terry Reid. Reid declined, though he suggested to Page that he hire Robert Plant instead. Plant had been singing for the bands Band Of Joy and Hobbstweedle.

As soon as Plant joined the band, Dreja also quit the band to focus on photography; Jones then replaced Dreja as the band’s new bassist. Bonham, who had been a bandmate of Plant during their Band Of Joy Days, joined. The completed lineup was now called the New Yardbirds, who went on to finish the Yardbird’s Scandinavian tour in September 1968. The following month, they recorded an album in just a matter of hours, and it would be their first album under the name Led Zeppelin. The band inked a contract with Atlantic Records to released their eponymous debut album early in 1969.

First Taste of Success

The self-titled first album gradually climbed in the charts, eventually ending up peaking at #10 on the Billboard 200 album chart, which was more than just a great news for the upstarting band. Led Zeppelin found themselves busily touring in both the UK and US; along the way, they started to record their second album Led Zeppelin II.

International Stars

Led Zeppelin II was a huge success, even bettering Led Zeppelin by topping the Billboard 200 in the latter part of 1969. It spawned the now classic hit “Whole Lotta Love” which went to #4 on the Hot 100 that year. The album made the band into international stars, especially desired as a major concert attraction. Led Zeppelin then found themselves on seemingly endless tours.”Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin’s signature song and one of the classic non-singles of all time

Their third album, Led Zeppelin III (1970) saw the maturity in the band’s sound, adding warm acoustic sounds to their usual hard rock repertoire, showing their ability to branch outside their comfort zone. This style would continue with their fourth untitled album in 1971, which was called Led Zeppelin IV. The album has been sometimes called Untitled, Zoso, Four Symbols or Runes. One of the songs on the album, “Stairway To Heaven” would become the band’s signature song. Ironically, it wasn’t released as a single because the band had already been refusing to issue a lot of singles. Nevertheless, it was the most-requested item by radio listeners, and those requests escalated by the day. The success of the non-single “Stairway To Heaven” contributed to Led Zeppelin IV’s success. It sold 37 million copies, including 23 million the US alone – so it was 23 times platinum. It also went to platinum in other countries, and even diamond status in Canada. However, they did release singles off that album: “Rock and Roll,” “Immigrant Song,” and another now-classic song, “Black Dog.”

Best-Selling Albums and Record-Breaking Tours

Led Zeppelin’s fifth LP Houses Of The Holy was released in March 1973 and later sold 11 million copies in the United States alone. It featured the band’s foray into funk and reggae. The success of the album instigated another major American tour, which broke their previous ticket sales numbers. Their record-breaking tours and commercial success led them to lives of excess and indulgence.

In 1974 the band decided to spend quiet time out of the limelight for a while; along the way they launched their own label Swan Song. They appeared in the public again in 1975, releasing Physical Graffiti, their first under Swan Song. It topped the Billboard 200 album chart, selling 16 million units; despite the commercial triumph, critics were less than enthusiastic about the album. In 1977, the band embarked on another record-breaking tour in America, held at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. Guinness Book Of World Records once proclaimed the tour as the largest attendance to attend a single live performance.

However, the band encountered tragedies such as Plant’s son’s death from a stomach virus, leading to the cancellation of their future tours. This provoked speculation from fans and critics over Led Zeppelin’s future. But the band came back during the summer of 1978 with a series of European tours, as well as recording for their next album. In August 1979 Led Zeppelin had their last British performance with two big concerts at Knebworth; around the same time the band released their much-delayed eighth studio LP In Through The Out Door, which topped both the UK and US charts.

Death of Drummer John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s Breakup, Projects of Individual Members and One-Off Reunions

Another tragedy struck the band, however. In October 1980 their drummer John Bonham died of asphyxiation from vomiting while he was asleep. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t die of drugs but it was believed that he had fallen asleep after an all-day drinking spree. Despite having many prospects to take Bonham’s place behind the drum set, Led Zeppelin decided that they would disband, since they couldn’t go on without him.

After the breakup, the surviving members went on with their own musical projects, including a new band formed by Plant and Page, The Honeydrippers, which had their biggest hit through their cover of a Phil Philips song “Sea Of Love.” It went to #3 on the Hot 100 in 1984. Plant and Page also worked on several other projects, including the Live Aid concert. They also officially formed a duo, simply called Page and Plant, releasing three albums to their name; they also released singles that became hits

Since their disbandment, Led Zeppelin has held several one-off reunion shows, although they haven’t gotten back together officially yet on a regular basis. They have held one-off reunion concerts in 1985, 1988, 1995 and 2007, to date. The band also featured the late Bonham’s son Jason who played the drums in their reunion shows. They also released their ninth and final studio album Coda which was comprised of unused tracks from various sessions during the band’s halcyon days.

The band issued their latest release, Celebration Day, in 2012, as a companion album to their concert film of the same title. The album received generally positive reviews and debuted at #9 on the Billboard 200.

Controversies and Challenges

Led Zeppelin, while celebrated for their groundbreaking music, also faced several controversies during their career:

Plagiarism Accusations: One of the most significant controversies surrounding Led Zeppelin involves accusations of plagiarism. The band was accused of borrowing heavily from blues and folk music without proper attribution or credit. Several lawsuits were filed against them, alleging that they had lifted melodies and lyrics from older blues songs. Notable cases include the songs “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song,” and “Stairway to Heaven,” among others.

Offstage Behavior and Lifestyle: Led Zeppelin’s offstage antics and lifestyle, particularly during tours, were sources of controversy. Stories of their wild behavior, including trashing hotel rooms, excessive partying, and other forms of debauchery, added to their infamous reputation. Their behavior was often cited as an example of rock and roll excess.

Drug Use: The band members, especially John Bonham and Jimmy Page, were known for their heavy drug use. This addiction not only affected their health but also their performances and relationships. Bonham’s alcoholism was particularly severe and ultimately led to his death in 1980.

Mysticism and Occult Allegations: Jimmy Page’s interest in Aleister Crowley and the occult led to rumors and controversies about the band’s involvement in mysticism and black magic. These allegations were fueled by Page’s ownership of Crowley’s former home and his use of symbols and imagery associated with the occult.

Managerial Tactics: Their manager, Peter Grant, was known for his aggressive management style. He fiercely protected the band’s interests, sometimes using intimidation tactics, which led to a controversial reputation within the music industry.

Treatment of Women and Groupies: Accounts of the band’s treatment of women, particularly groupies, have been a subject of criticism. Some stories from their tours depict a questionable and disrespectful attitude towards women, which has been criticized in more recent years in the context of changing social attitudes towards gender relations and consent.

Sound Recording Techniques: Although not a controversy in a traditional sense, Led Zeppelin’s approach to recording their albums, particularly their aversion to releasing singles and focusing on albums, was unconventional at the time. This approach sometimes put them at odds with record labels and industry standards.

Despite these controversies, Led Zeppelin’s musical legacy remains influential. They are widely regarded as one of the most successful, innovative, and influential rock bands in history. However, the various controversies that surrounded them have also become a part of their enduring story in the history of rock music.

Barack Obama speaks to Led Zeppelin

The Legacy of the One of the World’s Greatest and Most Bankable Rock Groups of All Time

Led Zeppelin’s influence on popular culture extends far beyond their groundbreaking music, permeating various aspects of entertainment including TV, movies, literature, and fashion. Their impact has been profound and enduring, illustrating the band’s significant role in shaping modern pop culture.

Movies and Documentaries: Led Zeppelin’s music has been featured in numerous films, enhancing their dramatic impact. For example, “Immigrant Song” was notably used in “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017), fitting seamlessly into the film’s energetic and colorful aesthetic. The band’s story and music have also been the subject of several documentaries, providing insight into their influence and legacy.

Television: Their music has been used in TV shows to evoke a certain era or mood. The HBO series “Sharp Objects” featured “Thank You,” while “The Rain Song” appeared in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Their songs have been used in various genres, from drama to comedy, showcasing their versatility and widespread appeal.

Advertising: Led Zeppelin was initially reluctant to allow their music to be used in commercials. However, in recent years, their songs have been featured in ads, with “Rock and Roll” being used by Cadillac, illustrating the band’s continued relevance and appeal.

Video Games: Their music has made its way into video games as well. For example, “Rock and Roll” is featured in the popular game “Guitar Hero,” allowing a new generation of fans to engage with their music interactively.

Literature: The band has inspired numerous books, both non-fiction and fiction. References to their music and mystique appear in various novels and stories, sometimes as a symbol of a particular time or as an influence on characters’ lives.

Fashion: The band’s image, especially during the 1970s, with their distinctive bohemian and flamboyant style, has influenced fashion trends. Their look, characterized by tight jeans, flowing shirts, and long hair, has been emulated and adapted in various fashion contexts.

Music Covers and Samples: Numerous artists across genres have covered or sampled Led Zeppelin’s music, a testament to their enduring influence on musicians. The band’s songs have been reinterpreted in rock, pop, hip-hop, and even classical music.

Cultural References: Led Zeppelin has been referenced in pop culture, from “The Simpsons” to “Almost Famous,” where their music and persona are used to evoke the rock and roll spirit of the 1970s.

Tribute Bands and Cultural Events: The existence of numerous Led Zeppelin tribute bands and dedicated events around the world speaks to their lasting impact on popular culture. These bands and events help keep their legacy alive, introducing their music to new audiences.

Impact on Filmmaking and Storytelling: Filmmakers and storytellers often use Led Zeppelin’s music to capture the essence of the 1970s rock scene or to convey themes of rebellion, freedom, and epic storytelling.

Led Zeppelin’s inestimable contributions have been rewarded with numerous awards and citations. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005; several of their recordings have been chosen for the Grammy Hall of Fame. Led Zeppelin’s commercial success is demonstrated by the 111.5 million records that they’ve sold, leading them to become the best selling band in the US, only next to – you guessed it – The Beatles. Their unique, dynamic and eclectic style has won them many fans across the globe, as well as influenced several artists of the following generations.