Who are Led Zeppelin?
Led Zeppelin was a British rock band that was active from 1968-1980 and known for their innovative songwriting that has become a staple of classic rock. The four-man band gained worldwide fame in the 1970s and have become one of the most popular bands of all time.
Ushering in an era of album rock, their heavy sound carried a unique undercurrent of several genres including heavy metal, hard rock, folk and blues. While they rarely released any singles, songs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, “Immigrant Song”, “Ramble On”, and “Black Dog” have received an abundance of radio play. Their most iconic song, “Stairway of Heaven”, is one of the most popular rock songs of all time.
In 1980, Led Zeppelin disbanded following the death of their longtime drummer John Bonham. Post break-up, the band continued to release numerous compilation and live albums and are one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with an estimated 200-300 million units sold worldwide.
What is the Origin of Led Zeppelin?
In 1966, London-based guitarist Jimmy Page joined a blue-influenced rock band called the Yardbirds, playing dual-lead guitar with Jeff Beck. As the band wound down, Page explored forming a supergroup with Beck and the Who’s band members Keith Moon and John Entwhistle. The group never formed, but they did record a song together in 1966 called “Beck’s Bolero” in a session that included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, who would later join Led Zeppelin.
The first incarnation of Led Zeppelin came together after the official disbandment of the Yardbirds in 1968. Jimmy Page left with the rights to the name and recruited new band members to continue the Yardbirds’ contractual obligations for a tour in Scandinavia. Terry Reid was Page’s first choice for vocals, but Reid declined and suggested Robert Plant, who was singing with another band at the time. Plant accepted and brought with him drummer John Bonham, and session musician John Paul Jones inquired about the vacant bass guitar position shortly after and was accepted.
The new lineup first rehearsed in August of 1968 in a room below a record store in London. Before departing on a tour of Scandinavia as “the New Yardbirds”, the group recorded a track called “Jim’s Blues” for the P.J. Proby album Three Week Hero, which was the first studio track to feature all four members of the future Led Zeppelin.
Upon returning from tour, the band began recording their first album in London. After receiving a cease and desist letter over the band name the “New Yardbirds”, Page changed the name to Led Zeppelin.The name was inspired by the humorous suggestion that Page’s earlier idea for a supergroup would go down like a “lead balloon”, an expression that implied disastrous results. At the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, the group dropped the ‘a’ in ‘lead’ so that it would not be mispronounced as ‘leed’, and the word ‘balloon’ was replaced by ‘zeppelin’.
Band Members of Led Zeppelin
- Guitar 1968-1980
- Primary music writer
- 77 years old
- Net worth: $180 million
- Vocals, harmonica 1968-1980
- Contributed lyrics and musical ideas
- 72 years old
- Net worth: $200 million
John Paul Jones
- Bass, keyboards 1968-1980
- Contributed in music writing
- 75 years old
- Net worth: $90 million
- Drums 1968-1980
- Died of alcohol intoxication at the age of 32
Styles and Themes in the Music of Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s sound and style were rooted in guitar-driven hard rock and blues, and they were also quite adventurous with their music. A variety of influences are heard throughout their discography, including folk, country, Celtic, Indian, Arabic, and rockabilly.
Themes of romance and unrequited love are prominent in the early music of Led Zeppelin, especially their music that was rooted in blues. Lyrical fragments from different songs were sometimes mixed together, and some included humorous sexual innuendos.
As their music evolved, elements of mythology and mysticism were incorporated too, particularly on Led Zeppelin III. This was largely because of Plant’s interest in legends, history, and Lord of the Rings, with material from the latter famously heard in the song “Ramble On”, which mentions Mordor and Gollum. Greek mythology inspired the lyrical content and title of the song “Achilles Last Stand”.
Other themes and influences heard include Viking lore (“Immigrant Song”), and there were some postwar and militaristic impirations, such as the song “No Quarter”. Later in their career, their music shifted to more mellow, with lyrics influenced by personal experiences and circumstances.
Legacy and Influence of Led Zeppelin
Considered by many critics to be one of the most successful, innovative, and influential rock groups in history, Led Zeppelin is credited with essentially inventing heavy metal. The first two albums in particular are viewed as precursors to the genre, and Led Zeppelin is referred to as one of the three “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal”, along with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
Led Zeppelin also significantly impacted the music industry, developing album-oriented rock, or AOR and stadium rock. Consistently filling large stadiums and breaking attendance records, Led Zeppelin even broke the Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium concert record. When they were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995, the museum’s biography stated that “Led Zeppelin was as influential in the 70s as the Beatles were in the 60s.”
Their music is still popular and prevalent today. “Immigrant Song” has been used in several movies, including a scene in Thor: Ragnarok and in a scene from School of Rock, with Jack Black singing along.
Rolling Stone magazine has described Led Zeppelin as “the heaviest band of all time”, “the biggest band of the seventies”, and “unquestionably one of the most enduring rock bands in rock history”.
Led Zeppelin (January 12, 1969) & Led Zeppelin II (October 22, 1969)
In September of 1968, Led Zeppelin entered Olympic Studios in London to begin recording for their debut album. The sessions were self-funded and took about 36 hours of studio time. The album is a mix of original material and remakes of blues and folk songs in a mostly hard rock style.
Jimmy Page produced the album using a “distance makes depth” approach, which uses the natural ambience of the room. This is achieved by placing microphones as far as 20 feet away in addition to near the amplifiers and drums. Page became one of the first producers to use this technique to record a band’s “ambient sound”.
The band was signed to Atlantic Records following the recordings to an exclusive five year contract. Led Zeppelin first charted at number six on the UK Albums Chart and number ten on the US Billboard 200, and was RIAA certified multi-platinum eight times.
Led Zeppelin II was recorded while on tour and was released later the same year. This album is more folk-based than the previous and exhibits blues-derived material with a guitar-riff based sound. It is the first album to reach number one in the UK and US and was certified platinum twelve times. Led Zeppelin II produced the band’s most successful single, “A Whole Lotta Love”, which reached number one in the UK and US.
Led Zeppelin III (October 5, 1970)
After touring and achieving commercial success in the US and UK with their first two album releases, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page retreated to a remote location in Snowdonia, Wales. Without running water or electric power in this location, a change in musical direction was inspired toward more acoustic arrangements.
The album explored a wider range of instruments, including synthesizers, double bass, and mandolin. The songwriting dynamic of the band changed as well, from Jimmy Page dominating the writing to a shared situation in which all four band members contributed to the process. Along with acoustic-based songs such as “Gallows Pole”, there was also hard rock present in songs like the single hit “Immigrant Song”.
Led Zeppelin III was one of the most anticipated albums of 1970 and is considered a milestone turning point in the band’s music. It was an immediate commercial success and topped the UK and US charts, however it was met with confusion from critics because of the musical style changes.
Untitled/Led Zeppelin IV (November 8 1971)
Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album was released and is officially untitled, but it has become commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV. The choice to leave off a title on the album cover was made in response to the critics and their reviews on previous albums. Jimmy Page felt critics continued to reference earlier Led Zeppelin albums and were not open to how the band were evolving their music to include multiple styles.
Considered a hybrid of styles from their previous albums, this “untitled” album encompasses heavy metal, folk, hard rock, and blues. In place of a title, the album cover features four hand-drawn symbols, each chosen by a band member as a personal emblem. As was preferred by the band, there were no singles released for the album, however, the song “Stairway to Heaven” is a standout track and has been described as the band’s signature song.
The album received high praise from critics and is Led Zeppelin’s most commercially successful album. It has been platinum certified twenty-three times, which is the third highest of all albums.
Houses of the Holy (March 28, 1973)
Yet another stylistic turning point for the band, this album is perhaps the most musically eclectic, featuring moments of reggae, psychedelic, rock, ballads, funk, and even some 50’s inspired rock ‘n’ roll. Jimmy Page also employed a brighter guitar tone that abandoned the heavy distortion of previous albums in favor of a cleaner sound.
The first Led Zeppelin album to consist of solely original material, it yields favorites such as “The Ocean”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, and “The Rain Song”. The tour accompanying the album was the debut of the band’s famed private jet, the Starship.
Critical response to the album was mixed, mostly because of its surprising diversity of musical styles. Despite that, it was a commercial success, topping charts in the US and UK. Later in 1999, Houses of Holy received a Diamond certification by the RIAA. It was the band’s final album with Atlantic Records.
Physical Graffiti (February 24, 1975)
In May of 1974, Led Zeppelin launched their own vanity label named Swan Song Records which would release their next studio album. A double album covering a range of styles, Physical Graffiti is full of hard rock, orchestral rock, funk, acoustic rock, blues rock, soft rock, and country rock.
Recording for the album started in November of 1973, but inner conflict with John Paul Jones delayed the completion of the record. Manager Peter Grant suggested taking the rest of the year off, so the group did not reconvene until early 1974 to finish the album. Release was delayed further due to the album cover proving difficult to manufacture, as it was a special die-cut sleeve design.
Upon its release, the album was a critical and commercial success, debuting at number one in the UK and number three in the US. Physical Graffiti has since been certified platinum sixteen times by the RIAA.
Presence (March 31, 1976)
Following their tour supporting Physical Graffiti in 1975, Led Zeppelin planned a break for the summer with the intention to start a major US tour in August of that year. Unfortunately, plans changed when vocalist Robert sustained serious injuries from a car accident, and the band had to cancel their tour. While Plant was recovering in Malibu, Page joined him and together they assembled material for a new album.
Presence is a return to hard rock, but at a new level for Led Zeppelin. The album features more straight-forward jamming and simplified riffs, and unlike the previous albums, has no keyboards and hardly any acoustic guitar.
The album was overshadowed by the release of the band’s movie and soundtrack The Song Remains the Same. Although it is the lowest selling Led Zeppelin album from when they were active, it was met with some success, peaking at number one on the US Billboard Pop Albums chart.
In Through the Out Door (August 15, 1979)
The title of Led Zeppelin’s final album was named to describe struggles the band were having at the time. Robert Plant lost his son Karac in 1977 to a stomach virus, and the band were tax exiles from the UK. Not being able to tour in Britain, getting to the public felt like “trying to get in through the ‘out’ door”.
Unlike their previous albums, this one features a greater influence from keyboardist John Paul Jones and vocalist Robert Plant. It has been speculated this was in part because of John Bonham’s alcoholism and Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction. Synthesizer and sonic experimentation are prevalent sounds on the album.
The record was met with huge commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard’s chart as well as hitting number one in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand. Sadly, Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham died the following year, which led to the band’s decision to disband.
Awards and Notable Nominations
- 1977 – Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music
- 1995 – Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 1997 – Ivor Novello Award – Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1995 – American Music Award for International Artist Award
- 2006 – Inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame
- 2013 – UK Music Video Award for Best Live Music Coverage with Celebration Day
- 2014 – Grammy Award for Best Rock Album with Celebration Day
A British rock band formed in London in 1966 that played a variety of rock music including psychedelic rock, blues rock, and hard rock.
- Deep Purple
Formed in 1968, this British rock band were a pioneer of heavy metal and hard rock.
- Black Sabbath
Another pioneer of heavy metal music along with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Black Sabbath was formed in Britain in 1968.
- Pink Floyd
This British rock band formed in London in 1965 was one of the first psychedelic groups and a leading band in progressive rock.
- Greta Van Fleet
Formed in 2012, this hard rock and blues rock band is often compared to Led Zeppelin because of their similarities in sound and style.