Led Zeppelin at a concert in Chicago, Illinois. Source: Jim Summaria, Wikimedia Commons.

One of the worlds leading rock bands: Led Zeppelin

What are they famous for?

Led Zeppelin is famous for being an English rock band which first formed in 1968. The bands line-up consisted of vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. The band is often cited as being one of the most influential bands in history and are known for their guitar heavy sound which has heavily influenced a number of heavy metal bands.

The band rose to become one of the most successful rock groups in history and is one of the best-selling bands in the world with record sales of up to 300 million units worldwide. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and they are often cited as being one of the biggest and most influential bands of the 70s, often being stated as being of equal importance to the 1970s and the Beatles were to the 1960s.

Led Zeppelin early career

Led Zeppelin in Musikhalle Hamburg, 1973. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Source: Heinrich Klaffs, Wikimedia Commons.

Early Career

The band first began after The Yardbirds broke up, but the band was committed to a number of performances in Scandinavia. A new line up was formed and the band completed a number of shows before they began recording their first album which was based on the live set that they had been performing. The band was forced to change their name however after the received a cease and desist letter from former Yardbirds member Page who advised that the bands name was only for use during the Scandinavia shows. The group initially chose the name ‘lead balloon’ but dropped the ‘a’ from ‘lead’ to avoid people pronouncing is ‘leed’. They changed ‘balloon’ to ‘zeppelin’ and secured a contract with Atlantic Records.

The band began their first tour in 1968 and released their debut album ‘Led Zeppelin’ in 1969. The album reached number ten on the Billboard charts in the United States. The band performed four concert tours in the US and four in the UK and released their second album ‘Led Zeppelin II’ in their first year. Their second album proved to be even more commercially successful and it reached number one in both the US and the UK.

After the release of their second album the band completed a number of additional US tours, with some of their early concerts lasting more than four hours and they began to gain a reputation for their rock and roll excess.

The bands third album ‘Led Zeppelin III’ had more of an acoustic sound and reached number one in both the UK and US. The opening track of the album was released in 1970 against their wishes and reached number twenty on the charts.

Led Zeppelin career breakthrough
Led Zeppelin performing at Chicago Stadium in 1975. Source: Tony Morelli, Wikimedia Commons.

Career Breakthrough

The bands popularity grew steadily throughout the 1970s with the band now dressing in a more flamboyant style and becoming known for their eccentric stage performances. The band started to travel on a private jet and began to rent out entire sections of hotels when they travelled. The band gained a reputation for debauchery and trashing their hotel rooms. The band released their fourth album in 1971 titled ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ or sometimes also referred to ‘Untitled IV’ or ‘Four Symbols’. The album became one of the best-selling albums in music history and secured Led Zeppelin’s status as an iconic band of the 1970s.

The bands next album ‘Houses of the Holy’ was released in 1973. The album was more experimental than their previous album and included cover art designed by design group Hipgnosis which included nude children climbing Giant’s Causeway, the artwork was controversial at the time of the albums release.

The album topped charts around the world and the tour that followed in North America broke attendance records. In 1974 the band went on break from touring in 1974 and came out with their own record label Swan Song which was named after a song that they had not released. The label signed a number of successful artists and was successful whilst the band was touring but the company folded less than three years after the band broke up.

In 1975 the band released a double album titled ‘Physical Graffiti’ which included fifteen songs. The album was hugely successful both commercially and critically and saw all of the bands previous albums re-enter the charts. The band went on a tour throughout North America and played a number of sold out shows at Earls Court Arena in London.

Led Zeppelin continuing career
Jimmy Page at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California. December 2, 1983. Source: Dana Wullenwaber, Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing Career

The band went on holiday and in 1975 Plant and his wife were in a serious car accident whilst in Greece. The band went on forced hiatus and began writing material for their next album ‘Presence’.

By the time of the release of ‘Presence’ the band had become the number one rock band in the world, out-selling even the Rolling Stones. The album went platinum but received mixed reviews due to its more straightforward rock sound. The band did not tour throughout 1976 due to Plant’s injuries but they did complete a concert film titled ‘The Song Remains The Same’. In 1977 the band went on tour throughout North America and set attendance records at Silverdome with a crowd of 76,229.

During the tour Plant was told that his five year old son had passed away from a stomach virus. The tour was cancelled and speculation began to mount about the future of the band.

In 1978 the band recorded their next album ‘In Through The Out Door’ which went to number one in the UK and the US and saw the bands entire catalogue return to the charts in 1979.

The band began performing in Europe but a show came to an abrupt end when Bonham collapsed on stage and was taken to hospital. The band was scheduled to begin the North American leg of their tour in 1980 but Bonham passed away after choking on his own vomit following a day of heavy drinking. The planned tour was cancelled and the band chose to break up rather than replace Bonham.

Led Zeppelin Robert Plant and John Bonham
Robert Plant and John Bonham in 1975. Source: JimmyGuano, Wikimedia Commons.

After the bands break up Plant formed the Honeydrippers in 1981, although they only ever released one album in 1984. A collection of unused tracks and outtakes was released in 1982.

In 1985, Page, Plant and Jones played the Live Aid Concert although the performance was problematic due to a lack of rehearsal time. The surviving members of the band again reunited in 1988 for and anniversary concert. A box set was released in 1990 and led to discussions about a possible reunion. A second box set was released in 1993 and contained a number of rare live tracks.

The band released a live album titled ‘How the West Was Won’ in 2003 alongside a Led Zeppelin DVD.

The band reunited again in 2007 to play the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert. A remastering of the bands back catalogue began in 2012 and was completed in 2015. More recently, in commemoration of the bands 50th anniversary Page, Plant and Jones announced that an official book would be released alongside a reissue of their album ‘How The West Was Won’. The book and remaster were released in March 2018 and included a pressing of the band’s first album on vinyl. The band released their first single in more than 21 years on Record Store Day in April 2018, the single was  titled ‘Rock and Roll/Friends’.