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Sunday Old School: Led Zeppelin

Photo of Led Zeppelin

Band Photo: Led Zeppelin (?)

When will it all end? Today the Sunday Old School column celebrates its 400th edition, having covered bands from the "proto metal" era such as Blue Cheer and Budgie to the more extreme acts of the 90s and 00s. To celebrate such a landmark, today we'll be looking at one of the most titanic bands in the history of music, one which helped spark heavy metal and influence bands from every spectrum of the metal genre. The one and only; Led Zeppelin.

Despite often being credited as a Birmingham band like fellow heavy music pioneers Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, none of the members were from the city. The seeds of the band were sewn by Middlesex native Jimmy Page, a session guitarist based in London, joined The Yardbirds in 1966, which at the time also included Jeff Beck. His time with the group didn't last long as following the departure of Beck later that year, The Yardbirds slowly dissolved. Page was eager to continue working with Beck however and initially tried to put together a supergroup with his former bandmate and The Who rhythm section, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon. Page, Beck and Moon did record one song together, with session bassist John Paul Jones, but nothing more came of the project.

By 1968, The Yardbirds were eager to stop but a contractual obligation for scheduled live shows meant the band were to forced to appear in Scandinavia. Unwilling to go, drummer Jim McCarty and vocalist Keith Relf allowed Page and bassist Chris Dreja to use the band's name, that way The Yardbirds would still be appearing. The guitarist began searching for new members, initially approaching singer Terry Reid about the project, but not wanting to take focus away from his solo career, he instead suggested Robert Plant from Band of Joy, who eventually agreed to the offer and brought drummer John Bonham with him. Before they could head to Scandinavia, Chris Dreja left the group and John Paul Jones enquired about the position, reuniting with Page.

The quartet successfully completed their Scandinavian tour under the name The New Yardbirds, performing live together for the first time in Denmark. They began recording their first album together shortly after returning home and were offered a deal with Atlantic Records, who also ponied up an advance of over a hundred and forty thousand dollars. Before they could release the album however, Chris Dreja issued a cease and desist order over the name of the band, claiming that Page was only allowed to use the New Yardbirds name for the tour. They still used the moniker for their first British tour in 1968, but eventually adopted their now legendary name, which was reportedly inspired by something Keith Moon said to Page when discussing a supergroup between the guitarist and Jeff Beck.

Their eponymous debut was released in North America in January 1969, with a British release coming two months later. The record featured a number of Led Zeppelin staples such as the opening track, "Good Times Bad Times," as well as "Communication Breakdown," "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Dazed And Confused." Initially, the album received many negative reviews, including a scathing write up from Rolling Stone, where they were compared unfavourably to the Jeff Beck Group and Rod Stewart. Nevertheless, the album cracked the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and saw them embark on no less than four tours of Great Britain and the United States.

It was while touring in North America that the band stopped in various studios to record new material, resulting in their sophomore album, appropriately named, "Led Zeppelin II." It was released in October 1969 and topped the charts in both America and Britain, as well as including, "Whole Lotta Love," which makes a strong claim as their best known or most popular song (though several other songs make an equally credible case.) The album itself has been cited as a vital component of the heavy metal genres beginnings.

Following more extensive tours, Page and Plant retreated to a cottage in Gwynedd, Wales, which had neither electricity or running water. Perhaps because of this surrounding, the next album, "Led Zeppelin III," featured a style more inspired by Celtic and folk music, with an emphasis on acoustic guitars, though it also contained some outstanding rockers such as "Immigrant Song," which could well be one of their first outright heavy metal songs, as well as "Celebration Day" and "Out on the Tiles." It was another successful album, propelling them to such a height that they bought their own private jet and rented out entire sections of hotels and earning them the tag of "the biggest band in the world."

Somehow, their popularity grew even bigger the next year when they released their fourth album, most commonly known as "Led Zeppelin IV," though no title appears on the packaging of the record. Once again, it contained some of their most beloved songs, such as "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll" and the anthem, "Stairway to Heaven," which has been cited as the most requested rock song in radio. They promoted the record by touring heavily for the next two years, performing in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia, while the album continued to sell, eventually shifting over thirty seven million copies.

In 1973, the band released their fifth album, "Houses of the Holy," though once more, neither their name nor the title appeared on the cover, which was controversial in itself for featuring naked children (shown from behind) at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. The tours in support of the album were massive, breaking attendance records worldwide and included a three night residency at Madison Square Garden, which was filmed for a movie, "The Song Remains the Same," which wasn't released until 1976. It was while performing these shows in New York that over $180,000 was stolen from them at a hotel from the safe deposit box.

Seeking further independence, Led Zeppelin then formed their own label Swan Song, which not only promoted and released their own music, but also signed such bands as Bad Company and co-funded the classic comedy movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Their first album through the company was the 1975 double album, "Physical Graffiti," which featured a number of outtakes from previous albums, including the title track from, "Houses of the Holy," which didn't make it to that record. As was basically custom by now, the release was a huge success and as part of the planned massive touring, the band performed for five nights at Earl's Court Arena, then the biggest venue in Britain.

Touring was cut short however when, while on holiday in Greece, Robert Plant was involved in a serious car accident, which broke his ankle and almost killed his wife Maureen, who was saved by a blood transfusion. While away from the stage and recovering, the group began putting together new material, first on the island of Jersey and then in Malibu, California. The result was "Presence," which sold well but received a mixed reaction from fans and critics, as it shed many of the acoustic elements and was more of a straight forward rock album, though it has become more appreciated with time.

The release of the long awaited concert film, "The Song Remains the Same" also met a mild reception and their fan base in Britain had become frustrated with and felt somewhat betrayed by the band, as they had been refusing to play there due to their tax exile status. Such behaviour from Led Zeppelin and other big British bands is what fired up the punk movement to "take music back" from the arenas and deliver it to the people.

Things continued to get worse for the band, as their huge tour of the United States was beset by problems off stage, including riots, arrests and most tragically, the death of Robert Plant's five year old son from a stomach virus. He received the news when the band checked into a Louisiana hotel, two days after performing what ultimately proved to be their final American show in Oakland. The tour was immediately cancelled and the band flew back to Europe. Despite the sever personal blow to Plant, the band began working on new music in Sweden, eventually being released in the summer 1979 under the title, "In Through the Out Door."

"In Through the Out Door" was to be their final record of all new music. They promoted it with two low key gigs in Copenhagen before returning to the United Kingdom to perform at Knebworth in two legendary sets. They then embarked on a stripped down, more intimate tour of Europe, during which John Bonham collapsed at a show in Nuremberg, Germany, which was blamed on overeating by the band. They returned to Britain and began rehearsing for their first North American tour in three years, which unfortunately, was not to be. On the 24th of September, after being picked up by the band's assistant, John Bonham asked to stop for breakfast, which consisted of four quadruple vodkas and one ham roll. After arriving at the rehearsal studios, Bonham continued to drink heavily and once the band finished, they retired to Page's house in Windsor, where Bonham was carried to bed and placed on his side after falling asleep. The following afternoon, John Paul Jones and the band's new tour manager, Benji LeFevre went to check on the drummer, but found him dead, the cause of which was revealed to be choking on vomit.

Although there was some speculation that they would continue to the tour without Bonham, with names such as Cozy Powell, Bev Bevan and Carmine Appice being suggested as replacements, the trek was cancelled and the band announced that they would not continue without Bonham. From then on, the members continued their musical endeavours with a number of avenues, most notably the Page & Plant project, while one more album, consisting of outtakes from previous sessions, entitled, "Coda" was released in 1982. Page and Plant returned as Led Zeppelin for the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, which featured Phil Collins and Chic member Tony Thompson on drums and bass player Paul Martinez filling in for the absent John Paul Jones. The band had barely if any rehearsal time with the drummers and the performance was labelled an atrocity by Page himself, so much so that they band blocked it being shown on future Live Aid releases.

Another one off reunion in 1988, this time featuring John Bonham's son Jason on drums, also fared poorly, as Plant and Page had an argument beforehand as to whether or not they should play "Stairway to Heaven" and Jones's keyboards were practically inaudible on television broadcasts. The trio and Jason Bonham would perform together again in 1995 when being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, which was made awkward when during his acceptance speech, Jones thanked Page and Plant for "remembering my phone number."

All was quiet on the Led Zeppelin front for quite a while after this, save for compilation albums and DVD releases until the four returned for a full length concert at London's 02 Arena at a show to honour the memory of Turkish businessman Ahmet Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records. The show was a big success and was eventually released on DVD as "Celebration Day." Though this naturally sparked up rumours that Led Zeppelin would return, ten years later they still have not performed again.

In a career that lasted a run of twelve years, save for a handful of sporadic performances, Led Zeppelin changed the face of music, becoming not only of the most popular bands in the world, but one of the most influential, frequently being cited alongside Black Sabbath and Deep Purple as one of the three bands that kicked off heavy metal. We may never see another show from the band, but perhaps this is for the best, as it adds to the intrigue and mystique when one isn't able to see something for themselves and in some way, becomes part of a legend of Led Zeppelin that only older rock fans can tell the younger ones about, much in the same way folk tales have been passed down for centuries.

Led Zeppelin - "Dazed and Confused"

Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love"

Led Zeppelin - "Immigrant Song"

Led Zeppelin - "Rock and Roll"

Led Zeppelin - "No Quarter"

Led Zeppelin - "Kashmir"

Led Zeppelin - "Achilles' Last Stand"

Led Zeppelin - "South Bound Suarez"

This article is dedicated to the memory of Gary "Godlike" Snyder.
Still missed.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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5 Comments on "Sunday Old School 400: Led Zeppelin"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Joe1909 writes:

Led Zeppelin sucks yes I said it

# Jul 30, 2017 @ 12:00 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. albert from croatia writes:

Lisen song called "ocean" and say sucks again???

# Jul 30, 2017 @ 2:34 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
3. Rich 1861 writes:

Just FYI, John Paul Jones did play at that abomination that was Live Aid.

# Jul 31, 2017 @ 8:28 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar


4. hellrat writes:

Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest musical conglomerates to have ever existed...definitely instrumental (no pun) to the formation of what would become known as "metal"

HEAVY motherfvckers \m/

NP---When the Levee Breaks---Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie, as recorded by the Zep ship

# Jul 31, 2017 @ 11:13 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
5. Timmytime writes:

Yep the greatest/best rock band their ever was and will ever be .Their is only one LED ZEPPELIN.

# Aug 1, 2017 @ 3:52 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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