Led Zeppelin was a happy accident that gave us one of the most commercially and critically successful bands of the 20th century (in truth, initial reviews of Zeppelin’s albums were tepid at best, but the critics warmed eventually).
In the late 1960s Jimmy Page, a British session guitarist and last man standing for the many iterations of the Yardbirds, had several gigs booked in Scandinavia as the New Yardbirds. Unfortunately he did not have a band to perform with at the venues. The original plan was to have Jeff Beck join him on guitar, with The Who’s John Entwistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums. That didn’t pan out. Robert Plant was suggested to Page as a vocalist and Plant brought his bandmate, John Bonham, as the drummer. When Yardbirds’ bassist Chris Dreja quit Page enlisted fellow British music sessions veteran and multi-instrumentalist, John Paul Jones, to round out the rhythm section and the group began rehearsals to prepare for the dates.
In addition to dominating the charts for a decade and offering phenomenal live shows, Zeppelin changed the way bands worked with their record companies and tour promotors.In their first contract with Atlantic Records Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham maintained artistic control over their releases, something unheard of at the time. They handled production, determined which songs were included on the album, which songs were released as singles, they chose album artwork and had final say on promotional efforts. The band and their manager Peter Grant, changed the way concert tours were handled in regard to touring conditions for the band & crew, how much the bands were paid and they were the first to get a decent share of the merchandising contracts. They were trailblazers.
For the band’s first four studio albums Jimmy Page wrote the lion’s share of the music and Robert Plant wrote the lion’s share of the lyrics, although both borrowed liberally from nearly every American Blues musician they heard as early teens on Radio Luxemburg and the BBC. Page handled the production and arrangements for the songs, crafting that huge Zeppelin sound. As the band prepared for their 5th studio album, Houses of the Holy, John Paul Jones took a more active role in production, composition and arrangement due to Page’s increased heroin use. Most fans will notice a change in Zeppelin’s sound from that period forward.
Sadly, the band broke up following John Bonham’s death in the fall of 1980.
While all of the band’s recordings are stellar, I’ve listed my favorites below.
Written and recorded over eight months in the midst of a European and US tour, this is hands down, my favorite Zeppelin recording! Every single track is solid capturing the colossal sound that influenced a generation of Heavy Metal guitarists! My track picks; What Is and What Should Never Be, The Lemon Song and Ramble On
Possibly the band’s most underrated album, but it showed Zeppelin’s talent, that they could do more than loud, hot and sweaty tunes. The band spent the previous two years touring incessantly. Page and Plant retired to a cottage in Wales to write and record songs. They embraced their love for Folk music and acoustic Blues giving us a wonderfully varied selection of tunes. My track picks; Since I’ve Been Loving You, That’s the Way and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.
Many refer to this as one of the best albums in Rock history. The album was untitled and does not feature the band’s name. This was, partially, in response to the lukewarm reception Led Zeppelin III received from fans and critics alike. Led Zeppelin features the rock anthem Stairway to Heaven which usually ends up number one on the countdown list of best songs for most Classic Rock radio stations. My track picks; When the Levee Breaks, The Battle of Evermore and Going to California.
So head on down to your local branch, checkout a couple of CDs and get the Led out!