Synopsis of Pop Music
"There's a lady who's sure,
All that glitters is gold,
And she's buying the stairway to heaven..."
No discussion of hard rock or heavy metal music would be complete without at least one mention of Led Zeppelin. After all, this is the band that made it all happen for these styles of music. This hard-rocking quartet combined heavy guitar riffs and thunderous drumming with lovely keyboard frills and the ornate, poetic lyrics of Robert Plant to create a sound that was muscular and majestic all at once. Despite indifference from the critics of the day, they churned out classics like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Kashmir" as they became one of the top touring acts of the 1970’s. In the process, they created a legacy of music that hard-rockers still borrow from today.
Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of another classic English rock group, the Yardbirds. When that group disbanded on the eve of a major European tour, remaining member Jimmy Page put together a band to fulfill the dates. He chose John Paul Jones, a veteran arranger and session musician on the London Scene, to play bass and filled the vocal and drums slots with young upstarts Robert Plant and John Bonham from the Birmingham group the Band of Joy. The new quartet knew they had something special when they jammed on the blues classic “Train Kept A-Rollin” at their first rehearsal: The sound they achieved was a 'tight but loose' combination of rock energy, jazz improvisation and pop catchiness.
The new group took its name from an expression by the Who’s drummer Keith Moon to describe a venture doomed to fail (i.e. - "You'll go down quicker than a lead Zeppelin"). However, history would reveal that Led Zeppelin was the polar opposite of a failure. After sharpening up their chops on their first tour, the group went into the studio and quickly recorded their first album, titled Led Zeppelin. It was released in early 1969 after the group’s manager, rock business legend Peter Grant, secured the group a record-setting $200,000 advance from Atlantic Records. This turned out to be money well spent, as the album became an immediate Top-10 hit and the start of a legendary career. The album’s centerpiece, a dramatic and heavy re-working of the blues standard “Dazed and Confused,” became an instant standard on FM Radio, while the hard-rocking "Good Times, Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown" showcased the riff-rock and blues licks that would come to define heavy metal.
Led Zeppelin took advantage of their new success by exhaustively touring the U.S. and Europe. As they moved from city to city, their combination of theatrical grandeur and no-holds-barred power made them ‘the’ rock show to see. In between shows, Led Zeppelin quickly recorded and released Led Zeppelin II. Despite its quickly-assembled nature, the album shot to #1 on the charts and was quickly recognized as one of the finest albums in the new genre of heavy-metal music. From the blues-rock of “Heartbreaker” to the piledriving riff-fest that was the #4 U.S. hit “Whole Lotta Love,” it was full of pulse-pounding rock and roll. The album also contained the first of the Robert Plant’s signature ballads in “Thank You,” a sumptuous epic driven by gospel-style organ.
As the 1970’s began, Led Zeppelin put out one of their most mellow albums in Led Zeppelin III. This lovely album overflowed with stately tunes like the country-styled “Tangerine” and the acoustic “That’s The Way,” but also made time for sharp rockers like the chugging hit “The Immigrant Song.” Meanwhile, their tours became bigger and bigger affairs that regularly filled previously undreamt-of venues like sports arenas. This success is all the more amazing when one considers the fact that group rarely put out singles and were generally dismissed by the rock critics of the day.
In 1971, Led Zeppelin created one of its finest albums—and indeed, one of the finest in rock history—in Led Zeppelin IV (also known to fans as Zoso, Four Symbols and Runes). This classic combined all the elements their sound had previously explored into one cohesive and multi-layered outpouring of cutting-edge rock and roll. The finest example of was “Stairway To Heaven,” a multi-part epic with mystical lyrics about religion that became the most-requested song in rock radio history. Building from a delicate acoustic intro to a thunderous wall of wailing electric guitars and crashing drums, it encapsulated all the group’s musical styles into one neat package. The rest of the album contained everything from crunching hard rock (“Black Dog”) to blues (“When The Levee Breaks”) to gentle folk balladry (“The Battle of Evermore”).
Houses of the Holy was the next Led Zeppelin release in 1973. From the moody keyboard strains of “No Quarter” to the guitar theatrics of “The Song Remains The Same,” it was the kind of album that was tailor-made for 1970’s FM radio. It also contained one of the group’s finest ballads in “The Rain Song,” a lush epic that balanced Plant’s heartfelt delivery with the peerless keyboard wizardry of Jones. Other songs pushed the group’s sound into funk (“The Crunge) and reggae (“D’yer Mak’er”). This successful album was followed by a record-breaking world tour that was filmed for the concert-movie classic The Song Remains The Same.
The next project for Led Zeppelin was the formation of their own record label, Swan Song. Roots-rocker Dave Edmunds and hard-rock legends Bad Company were among the acts they signed to this label. In 1975, Led Zeppelin returned to the charts with Physical Graffiti. This impressive double-album covered the many dimensions of the Zeppelin sound and produced an epic worthy of “Stairway To Heaven” in “Kashmir.” This mystical-sounding classic paired an addictive ascending guitar riff to a wall of Eastern-sounding keyboard frills that made the opus sound like Lawrence of Arabia reinterpreted as a rock song. This hit album was followed by a European tour that climaxed with five sold-out nights at England’s Earl’s Court stadium.
Led Zeppelin was about to embark on another tour of the U.S. when Robert Plant was seriously injured in a car accident in Greece. As he recuperated, the group funneled their tensions and worries into one of their darkest albums, Presence. This moody slab of hard rock also contained one of the band’s finest blues rave-ups in “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” It promptly shot to #1 on the charts, but its accompanying tour was cut short when Plant’s young son became ill and required his care. The group quietly retreated from the public eye as they regrouped and pondered their next move.
Three years would pass, including the punk rock revolution, before Led Zeppelin released their next album. They returned in 1979 with In Through The Out Door, an album that explored a new style for Led Zeppelin. Songs like the artsy “Carouselambra” and the rollicking, tropical-styled “Fool In The Rain” allowed Jones’ keyboards to take center stage, and the album overall took on a richer, more subtle sound than the hard-rock classics they had once been known for. In even contained a full-on country song in “Hot Dog.” The album achieved its biggest single and radio success through a lovely, classical-styled ballad entitled “All My Love.” This fan favorite contained an amazing instrumental mid-section that played Page’s Latin-style guitar leads off against Jones’ classical-inspired keyboard licks.
As 1980 began, Led Zeppelin prepared for the new decade by playing streamlined shows in small European venues. They were preparing to take their new act to the U.S. when John Bonham died from asphyxiation after a night of heavy drinking. Unwilling to continue as a band without their friend and collaborator, the group decided to call it quits and announced their retirement at the end of the year. For the rest of the decade, the three surviving members pursued solo work with great success. Most notably, Jimmy Page scored a hit album with Paul Rodgers in their supergroup the Firm and Robert Plant scored Top-40 solo hits with songs like “In The Mood” and “Tall Cool One.” Meanwhile, John Paul Jones became an in-demand producer for groups like the Mission UK, Heart, and R.E.M.
Though they briefly reunited for a one-off set at Live Aid in 1985 (with Phil Collins on drums) and for Atlantic's 40th Anniversary party (with drumming from Bonham's son Jason), there has never been a full-on reunion tour of Led Zeppelin. However, plenty of Zeppelinites experience a dream come true when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant teamed up in 1994 for an MTV Unplugged special. It resulted in Unledded, an album that reinterpreted some of the finest Zeppelin classics in an acoustic style. A few years later, the duo teamed up with legendary indie producer Steve Albini to produce Walking Into Clarksdale, an album that brought elements of the classic Zeppelin sound into the modern era.
Although no new Led Zeppelin material has been released since the 1982 outtake compilation Coda, the legend of the group remains as strong as ever. Their songs dominate the playlists of hard rock stations, their albums continue to sell on a steady basis every year, Led Zeppelin shirts remain some of the most popular rocker-gear around the world, and any garage band worth its salt can churn out at least a half-dozen Zeppelin covers without batting an eyelash. Throughout the years, the enduring music of Led Zeppelin has inspired groups as diverse as Stone Temple Pilots and Duran Duran (both of whom paid tribute to the group on a 1995 tribute album, Encomium). Their sound has become the definitive standard of heavy metal, spawning a wave of 'Led clones' that flourished during the late-80's pop metal boom. This amazing, deathless popularity is proof positive that Led Zeppelin are now and will always be the kings of hard rock music.
Artist Release History01/69 - Led Zeppelin
10/69 - Led Zeppelin II
10/70 - Led Zeppelin III
11/71 - Led Zeppelin IV (a.k.a. Zoso, Four Symbols, Runes)
03/73 - Houses Of The Holy
02/75 - Physical Graffiti
03/76 - Presence
10/76 - The Song Remains The Same
08/79 - In Through The Out Door
11/82 - Coda
09/90 - Led Zeppelin (box set)
02/92 - Remasters
03/93 - Led Zeppelin (2nd box set)
09/93 - The Complete Studio Recordings
11/97 - BBC Sessions
11/99 - Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1
03/00 - Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 2
Pop Sub Categoriesother
Essential Music AlbumsLed Zeppelin IV (Atlantic)
Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 1 (Atlantic)
Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, Vol. 2 (Atlantic)
Band MembersRobert Plant vocals
Jimmy Page guitar
John Paul Jones bass, keyboards
John Bonham drums