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.
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.
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.
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
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.