I feel that a band like Led Zeppelin deserves to have a full biography on E2. So, without further ado...
Jimmy Page had been guitarist for The Yardbirds, but when the group split up, he began looking for new bandmates. John Paul Jones called him up, and Page, being well familiar with Jones' work, got together with him. Page and Jones first wanted Terry Reid from Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers on vocals, and B.J. Wilson from Procol Harum on drums. Neither were available, but Reid recommended a young singer named Robert Plant, who was toiling for the Band Of Joy. In turn, Plant recommended John Bonham. Bonham almost didn't make it into Led Zeppelin, as he was being wooed by Joe Cocker, and since his house had no telephone, the rest of Zep had to communicate by telegram. Eventually, though, the four got together.
The band originally started out as The New Yardbirds, but soon changed their name to Led Zeppelin. There is a bit of controversy surrounding the name - the popular notion is that Keith Moon told the band that they'd go over like a lead balloon. Not quite true. It WAS Moon who came up with the name. However, it was the name he and John Entwistle had come up with while they were pondering quitting The Who. They never quit, however, and Moon eventually gave the name to Page. Entwistle says that he was "a bit pissed off about it, but later on I didn't care that much." Led Zeppelin debuted before the world at Surrey University on October 15, 1968. Soon the band signed a deal with Atlantic records and were paid $200,000 in advance, the largest deal of its kind for a new band.
The band recorded their debut album, Led Zeppelin, in under 30 hours and released it in January of 1969. The album is heavily blues-based, covering two Willie Dixon songs and borrowing heavily from several blues legends. The album reached #6 in the U.K. and #10 in the U.S. It has sold 8 million copies to date.
Later that year, the band released Led Zeppelin II, known as the Brown Bomber for its cover. Again the band goes deep to its blues roots for songs like Bring It On Home and Heartbreaker. The album also features Moby Dick, the instrumental that was to become John Bonham's concert showpiece, and a new innovation of Jimmy Page's called the reverse echo, which is found near the end of Whole Lotta Love. By this time Led Zeppelin were worldwide headliners.
The band released Led Zeppelin III a year later to mixed success. The album still hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K., but the hard rocking of the previous two albums was missing. The seven minute, blues-tinged Since I've Been Loving You is the centerpiece of the album, surrounded by loads of folk songs featuring acoustic guitar, most notably Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and Gallows Pole. The album's jacket featured a spinning wheel in between the cover and the record that could be rotated to reveal a number of different pictures.
On reknowned devil worshipper Aleister Crowley's birthday in 1971, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album was released. The album's cover features a photo of old man carrying sticks tacked up against a wall. The only writing that can be found on the outside of the album is a set of runes. The band chose to release the album this way because they wanted the music itself and not the band's name to sell the album. Fans called it Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso, after the letters that Page's rune seemed to spell out. The album features the landmark Stairway To Heaven, as well as Black Dog, Rock & Roll, When The Levee Breaks, and the Lord Of The Rings tribute The Battle Of Evermore, featuring folk singer Sandy Denny. The album never reached #1 in America, remaining stuck behind Carole King's "Tapestry", but it is the fourth best-selling album of all time.
By now, the band had gotten quite a reputation for being quite malicious on the road... throwing televisions out windows, riding motorcycles down hotel hallways, and cavorting with women of loose morals. Manager Peter Grant introduced himself to Bob Dylan at a party as Led Zeppelin's manager, and Dylan responded, "I don't come to you with my problems, do I?"
In 1972, Page and Plant were taken to a hotel to meet The King, Elvis Presley. Presley asked him if the band's reputation was true. Page explained that the stories were false, that they were family men. Then he did his best Elvis impersonation: "Treat me like a foooool..." Elvis laughed hysterically. The King entertained his guests for another two hours and listened to their records for the first time. Upon leaving, Elvis poked his head out the door and shouted down the hallway: "Treat me like a foooool..."
1973 saw the release of Houses Of The Holy, another rock album that strayed from the blues of their earlier work. Eight songs in all, featuring the synth string ballad The Rain Song, the pulse-pounding The Song Remains The Same, the trippy keyboard-heavy No Quarter, and the beat-poet-on-crack mentality of The Crunge. The album's cover features several naked children on a rock formation. The weird sky colors were not intentional, but rather an ink problem at the workshop of Hipgnosis, the album's designer.
In 1975 the band released the double-album Physical Graffiti, the first album on their new label Swan Song. In keeping with the weird album cover motif, this album pictured a building (97 St. Mark's Place, in New York City), with various people looking out each window. Record one featured Kashmir, which the band feels is their most defining work, as well as keyboard driven Trampled Under Foot and the 11 minute epic In My Time Of Dying. Record two features a number of the standard four minute rocks songs, with the exceptions being the near nine minute acid trip In The Light, the acoustic Bron-Yr-Aur, and Ten Years Gone. The band also jams with Ian Stewart on Boogie With Stu, a Old West saloon style piano romp.
Shortly after recording Physical Graffiti, Plant was seriously injured in a car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes. While Plant recovered, the band released the double-live The Song Remains The Same album, the recording of which are worse than a large percentage of Zeppelin bootlegs. A concert film of the same name followed, featuring one of their Madison Square Garden performances, with fantasy clips interspersed: Bonham goes on a gangster mission with a tommy gun, Jones plays keyboard on a monstrous pipe organ, Page grows into an old wizard and then becomes young again, and Plant faces evil and saves a fair maiden.
With his leg still ailing, the band recorded Presence, one of their most ambitious works. With the epic Achilles Last Stand and bluesy Nobody's Fault But Mine as the centerpieces, the album also featured For You Life, a song about cocaine addition, and Royal Orleans, which tells the story of an incident between John Paul Jones and a New Orleans transvestite. The album featured a strange, miniature twisted monolith in a variety of scenes, such as on a sailboat or a dinner table.
Fortunately, Plant regained full use of his leg, and the band began touring again. The 1977 tour was one of epic, record-breaking proportions. Bonham routinely dove into thirty minute drum solos (which had less to do with his amazing ability and more with the amount of drugs that the rest of the band consumed backstage), and the band rocked packed arenas with twenty minute renditions of Dazed And Confused, The Song Remains The Same, and Kashmir. Tragically, Plant's son Karac died of a viral infection near the end of tour. Plant spiraled into a depression that the rest of the band was unsure he would come out of.
He did, in fact, come out of it, and with a renewed fervor for recording. The band released In Through The Out Door in 1979. Each album was packaged in a brown paper bag wrapper, and featured one of six angles of a man in a white suit at a bar. The inner sleeve changes color when dampened as well. The album is distinctly different from any of their other efforts, starting out with a theremin-laced In The Evening, followed by piano and synthesizer based tunes, including Carouselambra, a sequel to The Battle Of Evermore which clocked in at 10:32. With a renewed focus and a top selling album, the band launched the Zeppelin Over Europe 80 tour. Shortly after announcing their American tour dates, John Bonham was found dead by an associate of the band on September 25, 1980. He had been drinking heavily and had turned the wrong way while sleeping.
There was never any thought of hiring a new drummer - the band broke up immediately. They released an album of older material called Coda in 1982. The surviving members played with Jason Bonham and Phil Collins on a few occasions, most notably Live Aid in 1985, and worked on solo projects. Page played with an unremarkable band called "The Firm". Plant had a somewhat successful solo career, with minor hits including "In The Mood" and "Tall Cool One". Jones stayed quiet for a time, working as a studio musician and producer, and releasing "No Introduction Necessary" with Page and Albert Lee.
A number of boxed sets were released in the early nineties, culiminating with the release of the Complete Studio Recordings. A BBC Sessions disc followed, and in 1994, Page and Plant got together to release No Quarter, featuring remakes of old Zeppelin classics as well as some new songs. Page and Plant did an MTV Unplugged special (called "Unledded") and went on tour with a huge supporting cast. A second album, Walking Into Clarksdale followed in 1998, as well as another tour, this one stripped down, with Page and Plant playing mostly new material, but still reverting to old classics.
John Paul Jones is reportedly bitter with Page and Plant for not inviting him to play on the tour. Page reportedly said that Jones was not invited because having all three together would force comparisons to the old Led Zeppelin, which they did not want. In the wake of his exclusion, he toured with Diamanda Galas, and released his own album, Zooma.
LED ZEPPELIN DISCOGRAPHY
Album Name Peak Pos. # Albums Sold
Led Zeppelin 6 10 10 million
Led Zeppelin II 1 1 12 million
Led Zeppelin III 1 1 6 million
(untitled) 1 2 23 million
Houses Of The Holy 1 1 11 million
Physical Graffiti 1 1 16 million
Presence 1 1 3 million
In Through The Out Door 1 1 6 million
Coda 4 6 1 million
LIVE ALBUMS + COMPILATIONS
The Song Remains The Same 1 2 4 million
BBC Sessions - - 2 million
Complete Studio Recordings - - 2 million
Remasters 10 - 2 million
Boxed Set I 48 18 7 million
Boxed Set II - - ???
Early Days - - 1 million
Latter Days - - 1 million
How The West Was Won - - 1 million