Led Zeppelin: History and Analysis
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Led Zeppelin was one of the most popular mainstream rock bands from 1968 to 1980. Consisting of Robert Plant on vocals, Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass guitar, and John Bonham on the drums, they are now considered to be one of the greatest rock bands that ever played. Led Zeppelin made many contributions to the music world and their legacy is still very alive today.
Each individual member of Led Zeppelin made their own contributions to their music and the advancement of music as a whole. Without any one member Led Zeppelin’s legacy would be completely different. Robert Plant’s high vocal style and songwriting abilities were instrumental in Led Zeppelin’s success. Jimmy Page’s musical knowledge and innovative guitar playing are widely considered to be some of the greatest of their time. According to AllMusic.com Jimmy Page is “Unquestionably one of the all-time most influential, important, and versatile guitarists and songwriters in rock history” John Bonham’s loud, heavy drumming and percussion skills were essential to the Led Zeppelin hard rock sound. A friend of Bonham’s once said that “He always wanted to be one of the loudest drummers in the west and was determined not to be drowned out by guitarists” John Paul Jones’ steady bass rhythms and musical diversity were key elements to the Led Zeppelin sound that are often overlooked.
Led Zeppelin was officially formed as a group in the late 1960’s. Founder and guitarist Jimmy Page was playing with a group known as The Yardbirds at the time. In 1968, The Yardbirds disbanded and Page began searching for new members for the band. He was soon put into contact with Robert Plant and hired him as the band’s new vocalist. Plant knew a drummer and suggested John Bonham, an old band mate, for the job. Bonham was soon hired and all they needed was a bassist. John Paul Jones soon contacted Page and the band was formed as the “New Yardbirds”. The band soon recorded their first album together and it was released under their new name “Led Zeppelin”. In late 1968 Led Zeppelin signed with Atlantic Records and in the last days of December they performed live in the United States for the first time.
Led Zeppelin’s early days were mainly spent touring Europe and recording for their first album as Led Zeppelin. Their first record propelled them onto the music scene with a groundbreaking heavy blues-rock fusion. The touring for the first album made Led Zeppelin a household name and landed them in the limelight for the next decade. Over the next ten years Led Zeppelin went to new heights with their massive concerts and innovative records.
Led Zeppelin’s first official album, a self-titled record, was recorded in late 1968 and was subsequently released in the United States in January of 1969. The album produced a number of classic Led Zeppelin staples such as Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times, and Communication Breakdown. Elements from this album such as Jimmy Page’s use of a cello bow to play his guitar went on to become icons of Led Zeppelin’s music. Although the album was initially criticized, the album is now considered to be one of the greatest stepping stones in the further development of hard rock music.
Later in October 1969 Led Zeppelin released their second album, Led Zeppelin II, and the response was even greater than their first. This album really showcased the band’s blues and folk influences on song like Ramble On and Bring it on Home. Robert Plant became famous for his mystical and story-telling songwriting style and we see those elements in Ramble On. One of the biggest legacies to come from this album was the song Whole Lotta Love. Whole Lotta Love is one of their most famous songs and has been covered extensively over the years. Jimmy Page’s guitar riffs and solo’s are some of the most recognizable guitar works of the time.
A year later, in October 1970, Led Zeppelin released their third album and unsurprisingly it was named Led Zeppelin III. The album contains more acoustic and mellow songs than its predecessors. In an interview regarding the making of their third album Jimmy Page said “We’ll never stop doing the heavy things,
because that comes out naturally when we play. But – there is another side to us. The new album is totally different from the others and I see that it’s obviously a new direction”. The album was mostly done at a place called Bron-Yr-Aur in the U.K. One of the album’s songs, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, was named after it.
Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was released in November 1971, and although it is often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, it is also known by many other names. The album itself has no name on it but it has become known as Zoso or the four symbols due to the symbols that the band members chose to represent themselves. The symbols of Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones all have meanings, but the symbol that Jimmy Page used has been a topic of debate since he began using it. Robert Plant’s symbol, a circle with a feather inside, is said to represent a writer, John Bonham’s, three interlocking circles, are said to represent the link between a man, a woman, and their child, and John Paul Jones’ symbol, a circle over three vesica piscis, is said to be the symbol of a confident and competent individual. The real mystery surrounds Jimmy Page’s symbol which has become known as Zoso. Nobody really knows for sure what the symbol means other than Jimmy himself, but it has been a mysterious question for Led Zeppelin fans ever since.
The fourth album is also considered to be one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest works and contains some of their most memorable songs. Led Zeppelin IV contained such Led Zeppelin classics as Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Going to California, When the Levee Breaks, and Stairway to Heaven. Led Zeppelin returned to their hard rock form from their first two records and the result was their best selling record. Led Zeppelin IV is the fourth best-selling album in history with over 22 million copies sold. The epic Stairway to Heaven is still the most requested song of all-time for radio.
In 1973 Led Zeppelin released Houses of the Holy and in 1975 released the double album Physical Graffiti. These two albums both topped the charts and produced songs such as Kashmir, Over the Hills and Far Away, Houses of the Holy, and Trampled Under Foot. These years were also the height of Led Zeppelin’s tours. From 1970 until Aug. 1975 Led Zeppelin toured extensively in Britain and the U.S. They set record numbers for attendance and were famous for playing at sports stadiums and other large venues. In August of 1975 Robert Plant and his wife were involved in a serious car accident which prevented the band from touring. Although they couldn’t tour, they still continued to stay in the public eye.
During their break from touring due to Plant’s injury, the band focused on new materials and finishing an old project. In March of 1976 the band released Presence, their sixth album. Presence was their worst selling album, although it did produce the epic song Achilles Last Stand. Also, in 1973 the band played three shows in New York City at Madison Square Gardens and their live performances were filmed for use in a live concert film that was released in October 1976. The band returned to the touring circuit in 1977 and picked up where they left off. The band continued to set records for attendance to their concerts and live performances. After touring for a few months, the band cancelled the remainder of the 1977 tour dates due to the surprising death of Robert Plant’s son.
After the death of Plant’s son, the band took a break and returned to record their next album in late 1978. The album, In Through the Out Door, was released in the summer of 1979. Songs like Fool in the Rain and All of my Love propelled it to the top of the charts. Led Zeppelin toured Europe on and off in 1979 and 1980. On Sept. 25th, 1980, John Bonham was found dead at the age of thirty-two as a result of choking on his own vomit following a day of very heavy drinking. The band disbanded following his death, although they did release an album of old Led Zeppelin outtakes called Coda in 1982.
Over the years after 1980 the band only reunited for a few one-time performances. In 1985 they played at the Live Aid concert and again in 1988 for the Atlantic records 40th anniversary. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page released an album together in 1994 entitled No Quarter. Also, In honor of the life of their friend Ahmed Ertegun, the three living members reunited with Jason Bonham, John’s son, on drums to play a
concert in London in December 2007. Almost three decades after their departure Led Zeppelin was still highly regarded by both old and new fans, as their show in December 2007 set a new record for most demanded concert tickets.
From 1968 to 1980 Led Zeppelin dominated the rock music world with their high-energy live performances that broke numerous attendance records and their chart-topping albums. Their songs are still some of the most recognized and requested songs on American radio. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Their biography for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame used these words to describe their legacy: “Combining the visceral power and intensity of hard rock with the finesse and delicacy of British folk music, Led Zeppelin redefined rock in the Seventies and for all time. They were as influential in that decade as the Beatles were in the prior one”. Led Zeppelin paved the way for the hard rock bands of the late seventies, eighties, and into the nineties. They also popularized huge live performances at stadiums and arenas that were emulated for years to follow. The impact and legacy of Led Zeppelin has influenced bands and the entire music industry for the past three decades and will continue to influence them for years to come.