Rock Through the Ages: Led Zeppelin 1968-1980

"And it's whispered that soon if we all call a tune, then the Piper will lead us to reason. And a new day will dawn for those who stand long, and the forests will echo with laughter. Does anybody remember laughter?” Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin has a whole lotta loveLed Zeppelin combined the visceral power and intensity of hard rock with the finesse and delicacy of British folk music. In so doing, they helped redefine the direction that rock music took in the Seventies. Since their breakup in 1980, Led Zeppelin seems in retrospect to have been the most significant rock group of the post-Beatles era. Their impact extends to classic and alternative rockers alike. Led Zeppelin were an English rock band formed in 1968 by guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist, Robert Plant, bass guitarist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. With their heavy, guitar-driven sound, Led Zeppelin are regarded as one of the first heavy metal bands. Almost 30 years after disbanding following Bonham's death in 1980, the band continues to be held in high regard for their artistic achievements, commercial success and broad influence. The band have sold more than 300 million albums worldwide, and are ranked number one on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Rolling Stone magazine has described Led Zeppelin as "the heaviest band of all time" and "the biggest band of the '70s".

The group Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 from the ashes of the Yardbirds, for which guitarist Jimmy Page had served as lead guitarist after Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Following the departure of Beck from the group in October 1966, The Yardbirds, tired from constant touring and recording, were beginning to wind down. Page wanted to form a supergroup with himself and Beck on guitars, The Who's rhythm section drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle. Vocalists Donovan, Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Page, Beck and Moon did record a song together in 1966.After Page’s attempt at forming a supergroup failed, Page filled the band with vocalist Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and long-time friend and fellow London recording session player John Paul Jones. After some concerts with this new line-up billed variously as the New Yardbirds, or sometimes simply The Yardbirds, the band’s name was changed to Led Zeppelin, their name having been suggested as a joke by Who drummer Keith Moon. He was quoted saying that the band would go down faster than a “lead zeppelin”. The group adopted the name, deliberately misspelling the first part to prevent fans from pronouncing it as “leed.”

Led Zepelin on a stairway to heavenPage described Led Zeppelin in a press release for their first album with these words: “I can’t put a tag to our music. Every one of us has been influenced by the blues, but it’s one’s interpretation of it and how you utilize it. I wish someone would invent an expression, but the closest I can get is contemporary blues.” Integrating Delta blues and U.K. folk influences with a modern rock approach, Led Zeppelin’s symbiosis gave rise to hard rock, which flourished in the Seventies under their expert tutelage. Such classics as “Whole Lotta Love” were built around Page’s heavyweight guitar riffs, Plant’s raw, half-screamed vocals, and the rhythm section’s deep, walloping assaults – all hallmarks of a new approach to rock that combined heaviness and delicacy. In Jimmy Page’s words, the band aimed for “a kind of construction in light and shade.”

The members of Led Zeppelin were musical sponges, often traveling the world –literally traipsing about foreign lands and figuratively exploring the cultural landscape via their record collections – in search of fresh input to trigger their muse. “The very thing Zeppelin was about was that there were absolutely no limits,” explained bassist Jones. “We all had ideas, and we’d use everything we came across, whether it was folk, country music, blues, Indian, Arabic.” Led Zeppelin aimed itself at the album market, eschewing the AM-radio singles orientation of the previous decade. Their self-titled first album found them elongating blues forms with extended solos and psychedelic effects, most notably on the agonized “Dazed and Confused,” and launching pithy hard-rock rave-ups like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown.” Led Zeppelin II found them further tightening up and modernizing their blues-rock approach on such tracks as “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker” and “Ramble On.” Led Zeppelin III took a more acoustic, folk-oriented approach on such numbers as Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole” and their own “Tangerine,” yet they also rocked furiously on “Immigrant Song” and offered a lengthy electric blues, “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”  The album's rich acoustic sound initially received mixed reactions, with many critics and fans surprised at the turn taken away from the primarily electric compositions of the first two albums. Over time, however, its reputation has recovered and Led Zeppelin III is now generally praised.

Led Zeppelin's fourth album was released on 8 November 1971. There was no indication of a title or a band name on the original cover, but on the LP label four symbols were printed—. The band were motivated to undertake this initiative by their disdain for the media, which labeled them as hyped and overrated. In response, they released the album with no indication of who they were in order to prove that the music could sell itself. The album is variously referred to as Four Symbols and The Fourth Album (both titles were used in the Atlantic Records catalogue), and also IV, Untitled, Zoso, Runes, Sticks, Man With Sticks, and Four. It is still officially untitled and most commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2005, Plant said that it is simply called The Fourth Album. The track "Stairway to Heaven", although never released as a single because of its length, is sometimes quoted as being the most requested and most played album-oriented rock FM radio song. Led Zeppelin’s sold-out concert tours became rituals of high-energy rock and roll theater. The Song Remains the Same, a film documentary and double-album soundtrack from 1976, attests to the group’s powerful and somewhat saturnalian appeal at the height of their popularity.

The darker side of Led Zeppelin, their reputation as one of the most hedonistic and indulgent of all rock bands, is an undeniable facet of the band’s history. Presence, released in March 1976, marked a change in the Led Zeppelin sound towards more straightforward, guitar-based jams, departing from the acoustic ballads and intricate arrangements featured on their previous albums. Though it was a platinum seller, Presence received mixed responses from critics and fans and some speculated the band's legendary excesses may have caught up with them. The recording of Presence coincided with the beginning of Page's heroin use, which may have interfered with Led Zeppelin's later live shows and studio recordings, although Page has denied this. After the death of drummer Bonham on September 25, 1980, due to asphyxiation following excessive alcohol consumption, Led Zeppelin disbanded to pursue solo careers. Something of the old power was rekindled in 1995 when Page and Plant reunited to record an album (No Quarter) and tour with a large and diverse ensemble of musicians. Meanwhile, the lingering appeal of Led Zeppelin is perhaps best summed up by guitarist Page: "Passion is the word....It was a very passionate band, and that's really what comes through."
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Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin combined the visceral power and intensity of hard rock with the finesse and delicacy of British folk music. In so doing, they helped redefine the direction that rock music took in the Seventies.