411 Music Hall Of Fame Class Of 2008: Led Zeppelin
LED ZEPPELIN’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
• First band to ever chart six albums at once.
• Their Led Zeppelin box set is the best selling box set in history.
• Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (1995).
• Their untitled album (Led Zeppelin IV) is one of the Top 5 best selling albums ever.
• With over 100 million albums sold in the US (and 300 million worldwide), they’re one of the Top 5 selling recording acts to ever live.
• The biggest band of the 70’s and the heaviest band of all time.
One of the most inspired and troubled bands of all time, Led Zeppelin’s ten-year career made a massive impact on the music world. Today Led Zeppelin joins 411’s Music Hall Of Fame.
The Led Zeppelin story begins with one James Patrick “Jimmy” Page. Page hailed from London’s West-end and began his musical career busking. He quickly got himself noticed and joined a band called The Crusaders. After a successful stint with the band, Page fell ill and could not continue with the tour schedule. During this period Jimmy focused on other aspects of his life including art.
Fortunately his musical exodus did not last long. Page began to get his name out there and became well respected amongst local musicians, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Alexis Korner. His reputation was well earned and Page began working sessions laying down guitar tacks for many acts of the time. His work extended as far as The Who, The Kinks, Marianne Faithful, Van Morrison and even the Rolling Stones. Page was getting paid very well for his troubles.
The young guitarist’s fledgling career continued when he was offered Eric Clapton’s place in The Yardbirds. However Page turned it down, instead suggesting Jeff Beck for the role. It was around this time that Jimmy Pages idea of putting together a super group first emerged. The quartet consisted of Page and Beck, along with The Who’s John Entwistle and Keith Moon. The project didn’t last long as the band couldn’t settle on a vocalist. Keith Moon seemingly wasn’t upset, as he predicted the band would “go down like a lead zeppelin.”
In early 1966 Jimmy Page would finally join The Yardbirds, with Chris Dreja switching to bass in order to accommodate Jimmy. At this point, though, the band was on their last legs. There were a lot of internal problems and The Yardbirds were not doing as well as hoped. In October 1966, Jeff Beck quit the band, forcing them to continue as a quartet. Eventually both Keith Relf and Jim McCarty followed suit, and decided to call it a day. However, The Yardbirds still had a series of tour dates left in Scandinavia. Relf and McCarty agreed to hand the dates over to Page and Dreja who began creating the “New Yardbirds”.
Page initially contacted Terry Reid to become the band’s vocalist. Reid rejected (he later rejected Deep Purple as well) and suggested a young brummie by the name of Robert Plant. Plant also brought with him a well-known local drummer called John Bonham. The band was all set until Chris Dreja pulled out at the last minute. Page would replace him with John Paul Jones – a talented multi-instrumentalist he knew from his session days.
The new band originally performed under the name of the New Yardbirds until Peter Grant suggested changing their name to Led Zeppelin in honor of Keith Moon’s humorous quote. (Grant thought it best to remove the “a” to avoid confusion over pronunciation). Led Zeppelin was born.
After completing their tour dates, Led Zeppelin signed a contract with American blues and soul label Atlantic Records for a down payment of $200,000; an amount unheard of for a new band. This deal was thanks to their charismatic manager Peter Grant – A 300 lb. ex-wrestler. Grant would be the captain of the Led Zeppelin ship over the years, steadying it when things went wrong and changing the way the industry paid musicians which would revolutionize the business.
In 1969 the band released their first album. Incredibly, the record took only 35 hours to record, mix and master according to Jimmy Page. This self-titled album would become a classic, and is often seen as a defining moment for the genre of heavy metal. In reality the album, contained a mix of rock, blues and acoustic with songs such as “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” a mix of all three. The record was released during the band’s first tour of the U.S.
That was just the beginning for Zeppelin. 1969 proved to be a busy year for the supergroup as they crammed in three more tours – including Britain twice and once more around the States. It was during this second U.S tour that the band recorded their follow up album – the cunningly entitled Led Zeppelin II. This record immediately found success, hitting the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic (No pun intended). The band was earning a reputation for their dramatic live performances and their “rock ‘n’ roll” antics, including “The Mudshark Incident”. The Led Zeppelin name was growing.
1970 saw the band relocate to a quiet rural part of Wales, renting a small cottage called ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’. It was during this time that they penned most of the songs for their next album, Led Zeppelin III, which would be a much more acoustic and folk based record. Although now highly regarded, the album originally received some criticism for its unconventional style. More touring and debauchery followed.
Led Zeppelin was growing by the minute. Suddenly the band would find themselves playing stadiums across the world and being paid huge sums of money thanks to Grant’s entrepreneurial abilities. Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world, and they knew it. They would travel the world in their own personal jet, and rewrite the rulebook of “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Zeppelin’s off-stage antics would reach new levels, and the band became famed for their hedonistic ways.
Not only did Led Zeppelin attract an army of groupies, they created some of the biggest rock clichés known today. The band rented out entire hotel floors and threw TV sets out of windows. John Bonham reportedly rode a Harley Davidson around the hallways of a hotel. Robert Plant had groupies chained to his bed. Tour manager Richard Cole would keep the group entertained with a constant stream of women and alcohol, and even the conservative John Paul Jones allegedly took a male groupie in drag to his room by mistake. Add to this Page’s growing interest in the black arts and Alistair Crowley, and Led Zeppelin was becoming legendary.
The band took their new attitude and status into the studio and produced their untitled fourth album. The album, in accordance to Peter Grant’s wishes, contained no reference to the band at all. There was no name, just four strange symbols; one for each band member. The premise of the record was that the band could shift albums based purely on the musical content. This idea seemed to work, as Led Zeppelin have sold over twenty million copies to date. Arguably their best work, “Four symbols” contained the infamous, and ever controversial epic “Stairway to Heaven”.
Led Zeppelin entered 1973 at the height of their fame. They managed to break several records, including The Beatles’ record for an attendance at a single gig, when as they packed out The Tampa stadium with just short of 57,000 fans. This year would also see the release of their fifth studio album, Houses of the Holy. This record was an experimental piece which featured naked children on the cover, causing the album to be banned in particularly religious areas of the world. This would be the last record released on Atlantic Records.
In 1974, Led Zeppelin left Atlantic after becoming disillusioned with the American label. Atlantic had released two singles without the band’s permission (Peter Grant did not believe in releasing singles as he preferred fans to buy albums). The label was also not happy about the controversy surrounding the last two releases, and repeatedly tried to force Zeppelin into public appearances, which again Grant disapproved of. By 1974, Led Zeppelin were big enough, and more importantly rich enough to go it alone, and they set up their own label – Swan Song.
The first release on the Swan Song label would be the historic Physical Graffiti in 1975, which would set the standard for double albums in the future. This record would be a massive success for the band, particularly financially, and was the last big record for Led Zeppelin. Although they were still breaking records across the world, and grossing unheard amounts for their tours, the band were becoming worn out.
Jimmy Page’s obsession with the occult had led him to purchase one of Alistair Crowley’s old houses. Page was on the edge; he was a heroin addict and was flirting with insanity. Many within the band felt his dabbling in black magic was “cursing” the other members. This theory was strengthened in 1975 when Robert Plant and his wife narrowly escaped death after a car accident in Greece. Led Zeppelin was forced to cancel their remaining tour dates as Plant suffered a broken leg. This also delayed work on their seventh album, Presence, which was eventually released in 1976. Presence received mixed reviews as the band moved away from their complex and experimental style.
Unfortunately, this was just the start of the band’s bad luck. 1977 saw the beginning of Zeppelin’s downfall. Despite another record-breaking tour of America, problems away from the music made this tour their last in the U.S. Page was struggling with his drug addictions, and John Bonham’s alcoholism was worsening. On top of this, bassist John Paul Jones had grown tired of the band’s antics and refused to be on the same hotel floor as the other members. At one gig a riot broke out, and there were problems backstage when Peter Grant and John Bonham viciously beat a promoter.
However, the “curse” would reach new levels with the tragic news that Robert Plant’s young son Karac had died of a stomach infection. This disaster would change Plant’s outlook on music (The song “All of my Love” was written in memory of Plant’s son). After this, Led Zeppelin would switch to a more riff-driven style of progressive rock. It was in this latter period that John Paul Jones became more involved in songwriting, which was another factor in the change of style for the band.
1979 saw the release of the bands final studio release, In Through the Out Door, which despite mixed reviews hit the #1 spot in the UK and the US within two weeks of its release. The band began gigging again, including playing two successful shows at Knebworth. However, John Bonham’s alcoholism was affecting him onstage. During a gig in Scandinavia the drummer collapsed mid-set forcing the show to end. Although he recovered, the Led Zeppelin “curse” was about to strike for the final time.
After a short break from music, Zeppelin decided to tour the States for the first time in three years. On his way to a rehearsal, Bonham stopped for breakfast at a local pub, unfortunately his idea of “breakfast” was sixteen measures of vodka and a ham sandwich. The binging continued throughout rehearsals and deep into the night. After he passed out at Jimmy Page’s home, he was moved to bed and left on his side. He was found dead on the morning of September 25th at the tender age of 32.
The Led Zeppelin rollercoaster ride had come to an end. Perhaps the band’s years of hedonism and wild behavior had finally caught up with them, maybe it was the fabled “Led Zeppelin Curse”, or maybe a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the band could not go on:
“We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”
Why Led Zeppelin Was Selected:
Led Zeppelin did not just live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Led Zeppelin was rock ‘n’ roll. They had it all: controversy, curses, drug addictions, women, record-breaking gigs and more money than you could shake a stick at. They were icons. Led Zeppelin changed the music industry forever. Add to this the fact they produced some of the greatest music of all time, and you have a worthy entrant to the 411 Music Hall of Fame.