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One of the world's most innovative and influential rock bands, Led Zeppelin combined rock, blues, and folk to create an amazing and timeless sound that has been the main influence to an incalculable number of rock groups over the past three decades.
The Early Days
In 1967, guitarist Jimmy Page had a problem. His band, The Yardbirds, had broken up. Page was left not only with the right to the band's name, but also with the responsibility of fulfilling concert obligations. He would try to create a band which he decided would be called The New Yardbirds in order to play at the remaining concerts. After reading about Page in a magazine, John Paul Jones contacted him and soon became the bassist for the group. Page had also received a tip from Terry Reid on a great, young blues singer from Birmingham. Page was impressed by the singer, Robert Plant, and his vocal range. He invited Plant over where they explored each other's music tastes by playing their favourite records. With Plant's suggestion of adding his former band-mate, drummer John Bonham, The New Yardbirds was finally complete. They rehearsed at Jimmy Page's home for several weeks to prepare for the end of the Yardbirds' tour.
The Blimp has Landed
Their first British show took place at Surrey University on 15 October, 1968. They were now performing under the new name, Led Zeppelin. It was coined by The Who's drummer, Keith Moon1. In October 1968, the band recorded its first album, Led Zeppelin, in under 30 hours. It was a time, though, where there were many hyped-up bands who couldn't cut it. After a negative review of the album by Rolling Stone magazine, the band was in a state where they either proved their worthiness or went home. Peter Grant, the manager of the band, had a game plan in which he would create the band's image to be, 'a private experience, a word-of-mouth affair, something to be passed between friends like a good joint'. The key part of the plan was to wow the crowd at San Francisco's Filmore West. The crowd was clearly impressed by the show, and by the time Led Zeppelin hit New York, Led Zeppelin went top ten, staying on the charts for over a year.
The band toured the US three times in 1969, and recorded their second album, Led Zeppelin II, mostly on the road. Led Zeppelin II hit the No 1 spot and remained there for seven weeks.
The Later Days
Led Zeppelin toured for two-and-a-half years straight before taking a break and focusing on recording their third album, to be titled Led Zeppelin III. Plant travelled to a cottage in the mountains of Wales called Bron-Y-Aur, where he and Page would have songwriting sessions. The songs written there created new inspiration for the band which was quoted by Page as being: 'the best thing a musician can do.' This new direction truly pushed the envelope of hard rock, but to the band's dismay, Led Zeppelin III ended up being their least-selling album.
The untitled fourth album, often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, or Zoso, was released in November 1971. The album featured the song that would become the most played track in radio history, 'Stairway to Heaven'. It was a more mature album compared to the previous three and was to become Led Zeppelin's best selling and most famous. For the first time the band focused predominantly on folk music, as can be seen in the songs, 'The Battle of Evermore' and 'Stairway to Heaven'.
Houses of the Holy, their fifth album, was released in the spring of 1973 and debuted at No 1 in America and England.
Singer in a Wheelchair
When Robert Plant drove off a cliff on the Greek island of Rhodes, he suffered a fractured elbow and a broken ankle. He was placed in a wheelchair which prevented the band from touring. For two years Led Zeppelin remained inactive. The band produced and released, The Song Remains the Same, footage previously shot while touring and promoting Houses of the Holy, to fill the two-year vacuum.
Rehearsals for the much-needed sixth album, Presence, took place in the basement of the band's hotel in Munich. Plant was still in his wheelchair, and because of this pressure, the album was recorded very quickly. Even so, the songs recorded on it were rocking as hard as ever, and Presence hit the number one spot.
Led Zeppelin formed their own label, Swan Song, in 1974, and the three albums to be recorded before the band's end - Physical Graffiti, Presence and In Through the Out Door - were all recorded on the label.
The Death of Bonzo
On 25 September, 1980, John Bonham was found dead in his bed after choking on his own vomit following an incredible drinking binge of about fifty-three shots. The remaining members of the band, Plant, Page, and Jones, knew that they could not continue the band without John Bonham, who had become as close as a brother to them.
It was impossible to continue, really. Especially in light of what we'd done live, stretching and moving the songs this way and that. At that point in time especially, in the early 80s, there was no way one wanted to even consider taking on another drummer. For someone to 'learn' the things Bonham had done... it just wouldn't be honest. We had a great respect for each other, and that needed to continue... in life or death.
- Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant continued to play together even after the band's end. Page, Plant, and Jones played together at the Live Aid concert held in 1985. In 1993, Page produced a box set featuring all of the studio recordings from all ten of the band's albums including a few bonus tracks that had previously never been released.