Led Zeppelin at their peak. From left to right: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page.
"Oh pilot of the storm who leaves no trace
Like thoughts inside a dream
Who hid the path that led me to that place
Of yellow desert screen.
My shangri-la beneath the summer moon
I will return again.
Sure as the dust that floats high in June
When movin' through Kashmir"
— "Kashmir", 4:37 through 5:13
"Thank you for making us the world's number one band."
— Melody Maker advertisement for the release of Led Zeppelin III
The one, the only, the hammer of the Gods.Long story short: Led Zeppelin formed in 1968 after The Yardbirds disintegrated and Jimmy Page recruited three other lads to satisfy contractual obligations for The Yardbirds, naming themselves The New Yardbirds. The band was originally to be a Supergroup consisting of Page, Jeff Beck, Nicky Hopkins on piano, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, and possibly with Donovan as lead vocalist. They actually recorded one song (but with John Paul Jones on bass instead, because Entwistle couldn't make the session) called "Beck's Bolero" which made its way onto Jeff Beck Group's Truth. The group never amounted to more, as Entwistle and Moon allegedly said it would go over "like a lead balloon". After Chris Dreja threatened legal action, Page - remembering Moon and Entwistle's quote - changed the name from The New Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin. They went on to release many albums, tour heavily, become one of the most successful and famous bands in Rock & Roll, help pioneer Heavy Metal and generally rock so hard as to blow people's minds and inspire them to form bands of their own. They broke up in 1980 after drummer John Bonham asphyxiated on vomit after a day of binge alcoholism. They were famously trashed at first by critics in The Seventies but gained a huge fanbase, and those critics (particularly Rolling Stone magazine) have since reversed themselves and realised that, hey, Led Zeppelin are awesome after all.The band have written their fair share of famous, classic hard rock songs that sometimes get overplayed like hell on AOR/"classic rock" radio for new generations to get annoyed, such as: "Dazed And Confused" (totalcover!), "Whole Lotta Love" (coveras well!), "Heartbreaker"/"Living Loving Maid", "Immigrant Song", "Black Dog", "Rock And Roll", "Stairway To Heaven" (the intro belonged to an earlier song!), "When the Levee Breaks" (cover too!), "Kashmir" and "Trampled Under Foot". Don't really peg them as simple noise-merchants though, because their discography's really varied and sometimes experimental, ranging from Blues Rock and acoustic Folk Rock to Eastern-influenced material, Funk, Progressive Rock and weirder material. They're widely respected for their superior musical abilities, eclectic tastes, legendary concerts and well-known for their infamous exploits (such as the ''shark episode''), among others. Also, pretty much any rock and metal band formed since owes them at least a bit, whether they admit to it or not.But as with every mega-successful and influential band, there are downsides. Negative marks on their record include Plant's habit of lifting lyrics from old blues songs without credit (which led to the occasional lawsuits), his occasionally embarassing lyrics (they referenced Lord of the Rings about thirty years before the movies made it cool to do that), the band inevitably allowing success to go to their heads and descending into overblown excess post-1975, and the infamous 1976 Rockumentary film The Song Remains the Same, commonly cited as one of the worst concert films ever, thanks to the sub-par performances and self-indulgent fantasy sequences. Also to be mentioned is their continued refusal to allow their songs into rhythm games, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Although if you're going to risk severely cramping your hand attempting a Jimmy Page solo, you might as well play the real notes on an actual guitar.
Principal Members (Founding members in bold):
John Bonham - drums, percussion, backing vocals (1968-1980, died 1980)
John Paul Jones - bass, keyboards, mandolin, ukulele, guitars, sitar, cello, recorder, backing vocals (1968-1980, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2007)
While classic rock radio plays large chunks of I, II, IV and Houses of the Holy, for some strange reason, they don't play much from III, outside of "Immigrant Song" and the sadly excluded B-side "Hey Hey, What Can I Do?". Maybe "Gallows Pole", if you're lucky.
Also, radio stations rarely ever play anything off of Presence, save for "Nobody's Fault But Mine". This could be because the album's two best songs are each over nine minutes long, though.
Careful With That Axe: Robert Plant, when he gets excited, tends to do this. One of the best recorded examples is his emotionally-charged scream near the end of "I'm Gonna Crawl". Most of the time, however, it's just an Immodest Orgasm.
The Drifter: Song-wise, Plant has often mentioned that he has to leave his girlfriend or some town or whatever because he has to "ramble on" or something like that, for example: "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", "Ramble On", "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp", "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Going to California".
Echoing Acoustics: Led Zeppelin IV was famously recorded in an old mansion, and has a massive, echoing sound as a result. This is especially noticeable with the huge drum sound on "When the Levee Breaks", which had its drum part recorded at the bottom of a stairwell with microphones positioned on the third floor landing.
Epic Rocking: They have three songs that go over the ten-minute mark, and dozens of others that are at least five. Also, on their live album, The Song Remains The Same, except for the first few, every song is at least ten minutes long, including a version of "Dazed And Confused" that clocks in at twenty-seven minutes. One recording of "Dazed and Confused" sits at forty-five minutes. "Moby Dick", Bonham's face-melting drum solo, appears as a twenty minute piece on How The West Was Won, though it was known to go on longer. "Whole Lotta Love" often extended well past the ten-minute mark in concert as well, often as a blues/rockabilly medley.
Greatest Hits Album: They avoided releasing one for many years, finally breaking down in 1990 with the self-titled, Page-sequenced 4-CD box set. The ensuing two decades have seen several other compilation discs and sets.
Green Aesop: Some songs have subtle or not-so-subtle environmentalist themes, such as "The Rover" and "That's the Way".
Grief Song: "All My Love" — which was written on the death of Robert Plant's son, Karac.
Hope Spot: The 1980 tour of Europe. Three years after their doomed 1977 tour the band was on the road again and were rejuvenated by punk, which motivated them to cut down on the outrageous solos, jamming, clothing and effects for a more stripped down approach reminiscent of their earlier tours. Even better, Bonham was pulling himself out of his downward spiral of heroin and the band was looking forward to touring America again. Then Bonham had too much to drink and died in his sleep.
Insistent Terminology: Although music historians believe Led Zeppelin to be a major influence on early Heavy Metal bands, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant hate it when people refer to their music as heavy metal. They once even refused to speak to a film crew that was making a documentary about the history of heavy metal because they didn't want to be associated with the term.
In The Style Of: "Trampled Underfoot" is a Led Zeppelin song in the style of Stevie Wonder (specifically, "Superstition"). "D'yer Maker" is a reggae song, and "The Crunge" is a funk song in the style of James Brown.
It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: There are apostrophes in "D'yer Mak'er" for a reason - it's not "Dire maker", it's "Jamaica". Jimmy says the title comes from a bad joke:
Jerk Ass: The executioner in "Gallows Pole" accepts monetary and sexual bribes from a condemned prisoner's family and then goes on to execute him anyway. Notably, this is a change from the traditional ending of the song, in which the prisoner was released at the end. Could be considered An Aesop against capital punishment, although it's not clear if the band intended it this way.
Last Note Nightmare: the abbreviated, crashing guitar squall of "When the Levee Breaks", the freakout section in the middle of "Whole Lotta Love".
Live Album: Four of them. The first, the soundtrack to the concert film The Song Remains the Same was the only one released while the band was still together. It was heavily truncated, and didn't have many of the songs featured in the film. In 2007, an expanded version featuring every song in the film plus a few extra from the same tour was released, and the original is out of print.
The second, BBC Sessions, was released in 1997. Notably, it has songs not featured on any studio albums, like "The Girl I Love She Has Long Black Wavy Hair," "Something Else," and "Travelling Riverside Blues."
The third, How the West Was Won, was released in 2003 but was taken from their 1972 tour of the United States. Jimmy Page called this one of their best tours and a high watermark for the band.
The fourth, Celebration Day, is taken from their reunion show in December 2007, and was released in 2012, accompanied by a limited theatrical run of the concert.
Loudness War: Averted on all issues of their albums to date. Jimmy Page is very perfectionistic about sound quality and won't release something that's brickwalled. While original vinyl editions are often highly prized for obvious reasons, Page recently remastered their entire catalogue himself and it sounds great. George Marino's remasterings from The Nineties sound good too.
Lucky Charms Title: Technically, the name of Led Zeppelin IV is the symbols on the spine. It's just easier to say Untitled.
Mind Screw: Many of Zeppelin's songs are strange. "Stairway To Heaven" is their most famous example. "Dancing Days", a song about taking a girl on a date, contains the line, I saw a lion/He was standing along/With a tadpole in a jar.
2 - In Through the Out Door, "Going to California"
3 - "Stairway to Heaven"
4 - Songs that contrast light and heavy, such as "What Is and What Should Never Be" and "Over the Hills and Far Away", as well as "Kashmir"
5 - Most of Led Zeppelin IV, "Out on the Tiles", "Immigrant Song"
6 - Most of Presence could go this high
7 - "Wearing and Tearing" from Coda
New Sound Album: Basically, each album had a slightly different style from the previous — but probably the most note-worthy is with Led Zeppelin III, where the band has actually experienced critical backlash for deviating from their blues-rock sound. Also, Houses of the Holy has a less raw sound from their previous albums. Then you have Presence and In Through The Out Door, which generally receive lower reviews than the rest of their catalogue.
Non-Appearing Title: "Immigrant Song", "Out on the Tiles", "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp", "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper", "Black Dog", "The Battle of Evermore", "Four Sticks" "Over the Hills and Far Away", "The Crunge", "D'yer Mak'er", "The Rover", "Trampled Under Foot", "Boogie With Stu", "Black Country Woman", "Sick Again", "Candy Store Rock", "Hots on for Nowhere", "Tea for One", "Fool in the Rain," "Carouselambra", "Ozone Baby" and "Wearing and Tearing".
For all their instrumental skills, Led Zeppelin plagiarized other songs on occasion without bothering to credit the original songwriters, which later resulted in either lawsuits ("Whole Lotta Love", "Bring It On Home", "The Lemon Song", "Boogie With Stu" had their song credits altered as a result of them) or corrections ("Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was mistakenly assumed by Page to be a traditional song but was contacted by its writer Anne Bredon, leading him to change the credits).
"Bring It On Home", due to the intro and outro being an homage to Sonny Boy Williamson's song while the middle was actually an original Page/Plant composition, had to be split in two for How the West Was Won, with the middle part separated into its own song and renamed "Bring It On Back".
Arguably the most notable bit of plagiarism was "Lemon Song", a song ripped off note for note from Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor". What makes this one particularly jarring is that, by the time it was recorded for Led Zeppelin II, the song was already a hit amongst the rock community, with it being covered by other famous acts of the period like Albert King, Electric Flag and Jimi Hendrix, with the latter using it to open his famous set at the Monterey International Pop Festival. It didn't help that the band even referred to the song by its original title at various points before recording it. Chess Records sued in the early seventies and reached a settlement that saw Wolf's name added to the writing credits.
"Dazed and Confused" was a folk rock song by Jake Holmes, who opened for the Yardbirds. Jimmy Page stole the song and reworked it significantly, keeping only the basic melody, but changing all the lyrics. The song appeared without credit to Jake Holmes on all album releases until Celebration Day in 2012, when he was credited for inspiring the song. This was due to an out-of-court settlement between Page and Holmes.
Page never bothered to acknowledge the fact that "Stairway to Heaven"'s opening guitar melody was taken from Spirit's "Taurus". (This is presently - as of late 2014 - a subject of a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, and Page has denied the plagiarism. There's been at least one analysis done that asserts that it's not necessarily plagiarism but the courts haven't decided yet.)
Premature Encapsulation: Houses of the Holy, whose title track had to be held until their next release, Physical Graffiti.
The Presence object, according to the band members, was an artistic depiction of the 2001 monoliths.
In an example of a literalShout-Out, Plant can be heard saying "Joni!" (Mitchell) on the live version of "Going to California" from How the West was Won. Fitting, considering the song was basically about how the band were big fans of Joni Mitchell.
The Something Song: "The Lemon Song", "Immigrant Song", "The Rain Song", and "The Wanton Song"
Song Style Shift: "Over the Hills and Far Away" starts out as an acoustic guitar folk ballad, and then it abruptly transitions into a faced-paced hard rock tune (with the acoustic guitar providing the rhythm), and then slows down into an echo-y finish.
"Stairway to Heaven" does something similar, starting off quite wistful, folksy, and gently lilting (even including recorders), becoming increasingly blunt, bold, and vigorous, and eventually turning into all-out harsh, wild hard rock in the last verse.
Spell My Name with an "S": They have two songs named after the Bron-Yr-Aur cottage where they recorded. One of them gets it right ("Bron-Yr-Aur"), but the other spells it wrong ("Bron-Y-Aur Stomp").
Appropriated Appellation: Led Zeppelin got their name when Keith Moon and John Entwistle suggested that a supergroup with them, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, would "go down like a lead balloon".
Artistic License - Geography: The scenery described in Kashmir has nothing to do with the region in India. According to Robert Plant, the lyrics were inspired by a drive through the deserts of Southern Morocco. Kashmir was merely an attractive far-off place he wanted to visit.
Author Vocabulary Calendar: If you had a dollar for every single time Robert Plant says "baby", you would never have to work another day.
Batman Gambit: Jimmy Page had the length of "How Many More Times" erroneously listed as 3:23 on the back cover of their first album (it's actually 8:26) in order to trick radio stations into playing it.
Control Freak: Almost everybody in or near the band, to various degrees...
Jimmy, for being sole producer and even admitting he changed engineers for the first three albums just to make it clear he was the architect of the band's sound. A good example of this would be the recording of "You Shook Me" as described by Jimmy:
Later, when we recorded "You Shook Me", I told the engineer, Glyn Johns, that I wanted to use backwards echo on the end. He said, "Jimmy, it can't be done". I said "Yes, it can. I've already done it." Then he began arguing, so I said, "Look, I'm the producer. I'm going to tell you what to do, and just do it." So he grudgingly did everything I told him to, and when we were finished he started refusing to push the fader up so I could hear the result. Finally, I had to scream, "Push the bloody fader up!" And lo and behold, the effect worked perfectly.
Manager Peter Grant, the big intimidating former wrestler who travelled with the band at all times, remained in charge through the chaos of touring, negotiated their contract with Atlantic Records, had complete faith in them and personally made sure that most of the profits from live performances went to the band - bootleggers and unauthorised photographers were lucky to get off with a stern talking-to. His most famous appearance was in the concert movie The Song Remains the Same, where he deployed a Cluster F-Bomb against a concert promoter who failed to stop illegal poster sales, and he was depicted in a fantasy sequence as a hitman alongside tour manager Richard Cole.
The surviving band members were famous for rarely licensing their stuff for movies and TV shows (unless it involved Cameron Crowe, who was the only music journalist to ever give them positive reviews in Rolling Stone), and never for videogames (Page at least in the latter case; Jones seems to be okay with it, as we know from the Them Crooked Vultures songs in Rock Band, and one of Plant's solo songs is in Grand Theft Auto V - which is not a rhythm game, but it's still a game for which a song by a Led member is licensed).
Cool Old Guy: Robert, John and Jimmy on Celebration Day. Two guys in their sixties and one nearly sixty and they proved they could rock as hard as anybody out there today.
Cosplay: John Bonham famously donned Alex DeLarge's gang attire during some shows of the band's 1975 North American tour.
Dead Guy Junior: Jason Bonham took his father's place in the band for the few occasions they still play together.
Follow the Leader: Try to name the number of rock bands (and noodling bedroom guitarists) this band hasn't inspired.
I Am the Band: Subverted. Jimmy Page started the band, hired the other three members, wrote the bulk of the music and produced all of the albums and from an outside perspective it could have been seen as Jimmy starting a solo career after The Yardbirds. In truth the four members were equals and when Bonham died they chose to disband rather than replace their fallen friend.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Aside from the title of "D'yer Mak'er", the cover of Led Zeppelin II manages to have an Incredibly LameVisual Pun. The story goes like this: designer David Juniper, asked to just come up with something "interesting", took a photo of Manfred "The Red Baron" von Richthofen and his Flying Circus from the First World War, filtered it and airbrushed the band members' heads onto the bodies. All good. He then put in manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole's heads. So far so good. But then, you notice there's a woman on the cover too, namely actress Glynis Johns. You may ask what she has to do with Led Zeppelin. The answer is: bugger all. She was just thrown on there because she has a similar name to Glyn Johns, who engineered the band's first album. One wonders why Juniper even bothered since Glyn's brother Andy replaced him as engineer for II.
Insult Backfire: Responding to a derisive remark that only potheads listened to Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page once famously said "That's a relief, we were afraid the music would be too loud for stoned people."
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dorian Red Gloria, the fabulously gay art thief from From Eroica with Love, was physically modeled after Robert Plant. (Three of his subordinates in the Eroica gang are also modeled after other Zeppelin band members.)
Noodle Incident: The mudshark incident. Depending on who you ask, during the band's stay at Seattle's Edgewater Hotel in 1969, one or more members of the band and/or crew sodomized one or more groupies with one or more fish or mudsharks, living or dead, which the band had just caught while fishing off their balcony.
Painted-On Pants: Plant's trademark usual attire. Little wonder that his 'girly whine' is his other trademark...
Self Plagiarism: Jimmy Page took many late Yardbirds songs and reworked them. "Tangerine" is an almost note-by-note copy of "Knowing That I'm Losing You," an unreleased Yardbirds track from just before they broke up.
Spinning Paper: In the band's movie The Song Remains the Same; "Led Zeppelin Robbed of $203k".
Stage Name: The real name of John Paul Jones is John Baldwin.
Two Faced Aside: Led Zeppelin's early albums featured quite a few songs where they basically copied lyrics and riffs from older blues songs. Then Jimmy Page sued rapper Schoolly D for doing the same thing with "Kashmir". Then Page and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello recorded the same riffs for Puff Daddy's Godzilla (1998) single "Come With Me".
Villain Song: "Immigrant Song" is sung from the perspective of Viking invaders doing what they do best. Featuring the famous "battle cry" intro.
So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.
The Walrus Was Paul: When Page and Plant were in concert one night, after Zeppelin broke up, someone in the audience shouted, "What does your symbol mean, Jimmy?" To which Plant replied, "Frying tonight!"