Led Zeppelin
1968 † December 04, 1980
United Kingdom
Music group
This pivotal heavy rock quartet was formed in October 1968 by British guitarist Jimmy Page (born as James Patrick Page) following the demise of his former band, the Yardbirds. Bass player John Paul Jones (born as John Baldwin), a respected arranger and session musician, replaced original member Chris Dreja, but hoped to incorporate vocalist Terry Reid floundered on a contractual impasse. The singer unselfishly recommended Robert Plant, then frontman of struggling Midlands act Hobbstweedle, who in turn introduced drummer John Bonham (1948, Birmingham), when first choice B.J. Wilson opted to remain with Procol Harum.

The quartet gelled immediately and having completed outstanding commitments under the name "New Yardbirds", became Led Zeppelin following a quip by the Who's Keith Moon, who, when assessing their prospects, remarked that they would probably "go down like a lead Zeppelin".

They were guided and managed by Peter Grant. He was best known as the heavyweight manager of all UK rock groups, both in size and stature. Armed with a prestigious contract with Atlantic Records, the group toured the USA supporting Vanilla Fudge prior to the release of their explosive debut, Led Zeppelin, which included several exceptional original songs, including "Good Times, Bad Times", "Communication Breakdown", "Dazed And Confused' - a hangover from the Yardbirds" era - and skilled interpretations of R&B standards "How Many More Times?" and "You Shook Me".

The set vied with Jeff Beck's Truth as the definitive statement of English heavy blues/rock, but Page's meticulous production showed a greater grasp of basic pop dynamics, resulting in a clarity redolent of 50s rock 'n' roll. His staggering dexterity was matched by Plant's expressive, beseeching voice, a combination that flourished on Led Zeppelin II.

The group was already a headline act, drawing sell-out crowds across the USA, when this propulsive collection confirmed an almost peerless position. The introductory track, "Whole Lotta Love", a thinly veiled rewrite of Willie Dixon's "You Need Love", has since become a classic, while "Livin' Lovin' Maid (She's Just A Woman)" and "Moby Dick", Bonham's exhibition piece, were a staple part of the quartet's early repertoire. Elsewhere, "Thank You" and "What Is And What Should Never Be" revealed a greater subtlety, a factor emphasized more fully on Led Zeppelin III. Preparation for this set had been undertaken at Bron-Y-Aur cottage in Snowdonia (immortalized in "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp"), and a resultant pastoral atmosphere permeated the acoustic-based selections "That's The Way" and "Tangerine". "The Immigrant Song" and "Gallows Pole" reasserted the group's traditional fire and the album's release confirmed Led Zeppelin's position as one of the world's leading attractions. In concert, Plant's sexuality and Adonis-like persona provided the perfect foil to Page's more mercurial character, yet both individuals took full command of the stage, the guitarist's versatility matched by his singer's unfettered roar.

Confirmation of the group's ever-burgeoning strengths appeared on Led Zeppelin IV, also known as "Four Symbols", the "Runes Album" or "Zoso", in deference to the fact that the set bore no official title. It included "Stairway To Heaven", a group tour de force. Arguably the definitive heavy-rock song, it continues to win polls, and the memorable introduction remains every guitar novice's first hurdle. The approbation granted this ambitious piece initially obscured other tracks, but the energetic "When The Levee Breaks" is now also lauded as a masterpiece, particularly for Bonham's drumming. "Black Dog" and "Rock 'N' Roll" saw Zeppelin at their immediate best, while "The Battle Of Evermore" was marked by a vocal contribution from Sandy Denny. IV was certified as having sold 16 million copies in the USA by March 1996. However, the effusive praise this album generated was notably more muted for Houses Of The Holy. Critics queried its musically diverse selection - the set embraced folk ballads, reggae and soul - yet when the accustomed power was unleashed, notably on "No Quarter", the effect was inspiring. A concurrent US tour broke all previous attendance records, the proceeds from which helped to finance an in-concert film, issued in 1976 as The Song Remains The Same, and the formation of the group's own record label, Swan Song.

Bad Company, the Pretty Things and Maggie Bell were also signed to the company, which served to provide Led Zeppelin with total creative freedom. Physical Graffiti, a double set, gave full rein to the quartet's diverse interests, with material ranging from compulsive hard rock ("Custard Pie" and "Sick Again") to pseudo-mystical experimentation ("Kashmir"). The irrepressible "Trampled Under Foot" joined an ever-growing lexicon of peerless performances, while "In My Time Of Dying" showed an undiminished grasp of progressive blues. Sell-out appearances in the UK followed the release, but rehearsals for a projected world tour were abandoned in August 1975 when Plant sustained multiple injuries in a car crash. A new album was prepared during his period of convalescence, although problems over artwork delayed its release. Advance orders alone assured Presence platinum status, yet the set was regarded as a disappointment and UK sales were noticeably weaker. The 10-minute maelstrom "Achilles Last Stand" was indeed a remarkable performance, but the remaining tracks were competent rather than fiery and lacked the accustomed sense of grandeur. In 1977 Led Zeppelin began its rescheduled US tour, but on 26 July news reached Robert Plant that his six-year-old son, Karac, had died of a viral infection. The remaining dates were cancelled amid speculation that the group would break up.

They remained largely inactive for over a year, but late in 1978 they flew to Abba's Polar recording complex in Stockholm. Although lacking the definition of earlier work, In Through The Out Door was a strong collection on which John Paul Jones emerged as the unifying factor. Two concerts at Britain's Knebworth Festival were the prelude to a short European tour on which the group unveiled a stripped-down act, inspired, in part, by the punk explosion. Rehearsals were then undertaken for another US tour, but in September 1980, Bonham was found dead following a lengthy drinking bout. On 4 December, Swan Song announced that the group had officially retired, although a collection of archive material, Coda, was subsequently issued.

Jones went on to become a successful producer, notably with the Mission, while Plant embarked on a highly successful solo career, launched with Pictures At Eleven. Page scored the movie Death Wish 2 and, after a brief reunion with Plant and the Honeydrippers project in 1984, he inaugurated the short-lived Firm with Paul Rodgers. He then formed the Jimmy Page Band with John Bonham's son, Jason, who in turn drummed with Led Zeppelin on their appearance at Atlantic Records' 25th Anniversary Concert in 1988. Despite renewed interest in the band's career, particularly in the wake of the retrospective Remasters, entreaties to make this a permanent reunion were resisted. However, in 1994 Page and Plant went two-thirds of the way to a re-formation with their ironically titled Unledded project, though John Paul Jones was conspicuous by his absence (for want of an invitation). The duo cemented the relationship with an album of new Page And Plant material in 1998.

The discovery and release of live tapes and video footage in 2002 carried the Led Zeppelin phenomenon over into the new millennium. Decades after their demise, the triple-live CD How The West Was Won entered the Billboard chart at No 1 in June 2003. Although their commercial success is unquestionable, Led Zeppelin are now rightly recognized as one of the most influential bands of the rock era and their catalogue continues to provide inspiration to successive generations of musicians.

(Source: VH1.com)
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