In 1966, Jimmy Page joined the blues-influenced rock band, The Yardbirds, to replace bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Page soon switched
from bass to lead guitar, creating a dual lead-guitar line-up with Jeff Beck. Following Beck's departure in October 1966,
The Yardbirds—tired from constant touring and recording—began to wind down. Page wanted to form a supergroup with
him and Beck on guitars, and The Who's Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass. Vocalists Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott
were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Page, Beck and Moon did record a song together in 1966, "Beck's Bolero",
in a session that also included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones.
The Yardbirds played their final gig in July 1968 at Luton College of Technology in Bedfordshire.[ They were still committed to several concerts in Scandinavia, so drummer Jim McCarty and vocalist Keith Relf authorised Page and bassist Chris Dreja to use "The Yardbirds" name to fulfill the band's obligations. Page and Dreja began putting a new line-up together. Page's first choice for the lead singer was Terry Reid, but Reid declined the offer and suggested Robert Plant, a Stourbridgesinger for the Band of Joy and Hobbstweedle. Plant eventually accepted the position, recommending former Band of Joy drummer John Bonham. When Dreja dropped out of the project to become a photographer (he would later take the photograph that appeared on the back of Led Zeppelin's debut album), John Paul Jones, at the suggestion of his wife, contacted Page about the vacant position. Having known Jones from his session days, Page agreed to let him join as the final member.
The four played together for the first time in a room below a record store on Gerrard Street in London. Page suggested that they attempt "Train Kept A-Rollin'", originally a jump blues song popularised in a rockabilly version by Johnny Burnette, which had been covered by The Yardbirds. "As soon as I heard John Bonham play", recalled Jones, "I knew this was going to be great ... We locked together as a team immediately". Before leaving for Scandinavia the group took part in a recording session for the P.J. Proby album, Three Week Hero. The album's track "Jim's Blues", with Plant on harmonica, was the first studio track to feature all four members of the future Led Zeppelin.
The band completed the Scandinavian tour as The New Yardbirds, playing together for the first time in front of a live audience at Gladsaxe Teen Clubs in Gladsaxe, Denmark, on 7 September 1968. Later that month, they began recording their first album, which was based on their live set. The album was recorded and mixed in nine days, and Page himself covered the costs. After the album's completion, the band were forced to change their name after Dreja issued a cease and desistletter, stating that Page was only allowed to use the New Yardbirds moniker for the Scandinavian dates. One account of how the new band's name was chosen held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that the supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a "lead balloon", an idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the 'a' in lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the phrase would not pronounce it "leed". The word "balloon" was transformed into "zeppelin", perhaps an exaggeration of the humour, and to Page the name conjured the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace.
Grant secured an advance deal of $200,000 from Atlantic Records in November 1968, which was then one of biggest deals of its kind for a new band. Atlantic were a label with a catalogue of mainly blues, soul and jazz artists, but in the late 1960s it began to take an interest in British progressive rock acts. It signed Led Zeppelin without having ever seen them, largely on the recommendation of singer Dusty Springfield. Under the terms of their contract, the band had autonomy in deciding when they would release albums and tour and had final say over the contents and design of each album. They also would decide how to promote each release and which tracks to release as singles. They formed their own company, Superhype, to handle all publishing rights.
Early years (1968–70)
On 14 October 1968, the band announced the new name and played their first show at the University of Surrey (at its original Battersea Park
location, not at Guildford) on 25 October; this was followed by a short British tour. Richard Coleorganised their first North American tour
at the end of the year, and would become a major figure in the touring life of the group. The first show was in Denver on 26 December 1968,
followed by other East Coast dates before they moved to California to play Los Angeles and San Francisco. The eponymous debut, Led Zeppelin,
was released in the US during the tour on 12 January 1969. The UK release date was 31 March 1969. According to Steve Erlewine, its memorable
guitar riffs, lumbering rhythms, psychedelic blues, groovy, bluesy shuffles and hints of English folk, made it "a significant turning point
in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal". Plant received no credit for his songwriting contributions, said to be because of his being
under contract to CBS Records. The album eventually peaked at number 10 on the Billboard chart and number 6 in the UK.
In their first year,
Led Zeppelin completed four US and four UK concert tours, and also released their second album, entitled
Led Zeppelin II. Recorded almost entirely on the road at various North American studios, it was an even greater commercial
success than their first album and reached the number one chart position in the US and the UK. The album further developed
the mostly blues/rock musical style established on their debut album, creating a work with a direct sound that was "heavy and
hard, brutal and direct" and which would be highly influential and frequently imitated. Steve Waksman has suggested that Led
Zeppelin II was "the musical starting point for heavy metal".
The band saw their albums as indivisible, whole listening experiences,
disliking the re-editing of existing tracks. Grant maintained an aggressive pro-album stance, particularly in the UK where
there were few radio and TV outlets for playing rock music. Without the band's consent or under their protest, however, some songs
were released as singles, particularly in the US. In 1969 an edited version of "Whole Lotta Love" from their second album was released
as a single in the US. It reached number four in the Billboard chart in January 1970, selling over one million copies and helping to cement
the band's popularity.[ The group also increasingly shunned television appearances, enforcing their preference that their fans hear and see them in live concerts.
Following the second album's release, Led Zeppelin completed several more US tours. They played initially
in clubs and ballrooms, then in larger auditoriums as their popularity grew. Some early Led Zeppelin concerts lasted more than four hours,
with expanded and improvised live versions of their song repertoire. Many of these shows have been preserved as Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings.
It was during this period of intensive concert touring that the band developed a reputation for off-stage excess. One alleged example of such
extravagance was the shark episode, or red snapper incident, which is said to have taken place at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle on 28 July 1969.
For the third album, Led Zeppelin III, Page and Plant retired to Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, in 1970.
The result was a more acoustic sound that was strongly influenced by folk and Celtic music, and showcased the band's versatility. The album's
rich acoustic sound initially received mixed reactions, with critics and fans surprised at the turn from the primarily electric arrangements of
the first two albums, fuelling further hostility to the musical press. It reached number one in the UK and US charts, but its stay would be the
shortest of their first five albums. The album's opening track, "Immigrant Song", was released in November
1970 as a single in the US against the band's wishes, reaching the top twenty on theBillboard chart.
„The Biggest Band in the World" (1971–75)
In the 1970s Led Zeppelin reached new heights of commercial and critical success that made them one of the most influential groups
of the era, dwarfing their earlier achievements. The band's image also changed as members began to wear elaborate, flamboyant clothing.
Led Zeppelin began travelling in a private jet airliner (nicknamed The Starship), rented out entire sections of hotels (including the Continental
Hyatt House in Los Angeles, known colloquially as the "Riot House"), and became the subject of frequently repeated stories of debauchery. One involved John Bonham
riding a motorcycle through a rented floor of the Riot House, while another involved the destruction of a room in the Tokyo Hilton, leading to the band being banned
from that establishment for life. Although Led Zeppelin developed a reputation for trashing their hotel suites and throwing television sets out of the windows, some
suggest that these tales have been exaggerated. Music journalistChris Welch argues that "[Led Zeppelin's] travels spawned many stories, but it was a myth that [they]
were constantly engaged in acts of wanton destruction and lewd behaviour".
Led Zeppelin's fourth album was released on 8 November 1971. There was no title or conventional band name on the
original cover, as the group wished to be anonymous and to avoid easy pigeonholing by the press The album remained officially untitled and
is most commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, though it is variously referred to as Untitled, IV, or after the four symbols appearing on the record
label, as Four Symbols, Zoso or Runes. Led Zeppelin IV is one of the best-selling albums in history and its massive popularity cemented Led Zeppelin's
status as superstars in the 1970s. By 2006 it had sold 23 million copies in the United States alone. The track "Stairway to Heaven", although never released
as a single, is sometimes quoted as being the most requested, and the most played album-orientated rock FM radio song.
Led Zeppelin's next album, Houses of the Holy, was released in 1973. It featured further experimentation, with expanded use of synthesisers
and mellotron orchestration. The predominately orange album cover of Houses of the Holy depicts images of nude children climbing the Giant's Causeway in Northern
Ireland. Although the children are not shown from the front, the cover was controversial at the time of the album's release.
The album topped the charts, and Led Zeppelin's subsequent concert tour of North America in 1973 broke records for attendance, as
they consistently filled large auditoriums and stadiums. At Tampa Stadium, Florida, they played to 56,800 fans (breaking the record set by The Beatles at Shea
Stadium in 1965), and grossed $309,000. Three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York were filmed for a motion picture, but the theatrical release
of this project (The Song Remains the Same) was delayed until 1976. Before the final night's performance, $180,000 of the band's money from gate receipts was stolen from a safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel.
In 1974, Led Zeppelin took a break from touring and launched their own record label, Swan Song, named after an unreleased song. The
record label's logo, based on a drawing called Evening: Fall of Day(1869) by William Rimmer, features a picture of Apollo. The logo can be found on Led Zeppelin
memorabilia, especially t-shirts. In addition to using Swan Song as a vehicle to promote their own albums, the band expanded the label's roster, signing artists
such as Bad Company, The Pretty Things and Maggie Bell. The label was successful while Led Zeppelin existed, but folded less than three years after they disbanded.
In 1975, Led Zeppelin's double album Physical Graffiti was their first release on the Swan Song label. It consisted of fifteen songs,
of which eight had been recorded at Headley Grange in 1974 and seven had been recorded earlier. A review in Rolling Stone magazine referred to Physical Graffiti
as Led Zeppelin's "bid for artistic respectability", adding that the only bands Led Zeppelin had to compete with for the title "The World's Best Rock Band" were
The Rolling Stones and The Who. The album was a massive fiscal and critical success. Shortly after the release of Physical Graffiti, all previous Led Zeppelin
albums simultaneously re-entered the top-200 album chart, and the band embarked on another North American tour, now employing sophisticated sound and lighting systems.
In May 1975, Led Zeppelin played five sold-out nights at the Earls Court Arena in London, at the time the largest arena in Britain.
Hiatus from touring and return (1975–77)
Following their triumphant Earls Court appearances, Led Zeppelin took a holiday and planned an autumn tour in America, scheduled to open with two outdoor
dates in San Francisco. In August 1975, however, Plant and his wife Maureen were involved in a serious car crash while on holiday in Rhodes, Greece.
Plant suffered a broken ankle and Maureen was badly injured; a blood transfusion saved her life. Unable to tour, he headed to the Channel Island of Jersey
to spend August and September recuperating, with Bonham and Page in tow. The band then reconvened in Malibu, California. During this forced hiatus much of the material for their next album, Presence, was written.
By this time, Led Zeppelin were the world's number one rock attraction, having
outsold most bands of the time, including The Rolling Stones.] Presence, released in March 1976, marked a change in the Led Zeppelin sound towards more
straightforward, guitar-based jams, departing from the acoustic ballads and intricate arrangements featured on their previous albums. Though it was a
platinum seller, reception of Presence was mixed among critics and fans, with some critics suggesting that the band's excesses may have caught up with them.
Page had begun using heroin during the recording of Presence, which may have affected later live shows and studio recordings of the band, although this has been denied by Page.
Because of Plant's injuries Led Zeppelin did not tour in 1976. Instead, the band completed the concert film The Song Remains the
Same and the accompanying soundtrack album. The recording had taken place during three concert nights at Madison Square Garden in July 1973, during the band's
concert tour of North America. The film premiered in New York on 20 October 1976, but was given a lukewarm reception by critics and fans. The film was
particularly unsuccessful in the UK, where, unwilling to tour since 1975 because of their tax exile status, Led Zeppelin faced an uphill battle to recapture the public's affection.
In 1977, Led Zeppelin embarked on another major concert tour of North America. The band set another attendance record, with an audience
of 76,229 at their Pontiac Silverdome concert on 30 April. It was, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest attendance to that date for a single act show.
Although the tour was financially profitable it was beset by off-stage problems. On 19 April, over 70 people were arrested as about 1,000 fans tried to gatecrash Cincinnati
Riverfront Coliseum for two sold-out concerts, while others tried to gain entry by throwing rocks and bottles through glass doors On 3 June, a concert at Tampa Stadium was
cut short because of a severe thunderstorm, despite tickets indicating "Rain or Shine". A riot broke out, resulting in arrests and injuries.
After the 23 July show at the Days on the Green festival at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California, Bonham and members of the band's support staff were arrested after a
member of promoter Bill Graham's staff had been badly beaten during the band's performance. The following day's second Oakland concert was the band's final live appearance in
the United States. Two days later, as the band checked in at a French Quarter hotel for their 30 July performance at the Louisiana Superdome, Plant received news that
his five-year-old son, Karac, had died from a stomach virus. The rest of the tour was immediately cancelled, prompting widespread speculation about the band's future.
Bonham's death and break-up (1978–80)
In November 1978 the group recorded at Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden. The resulting album, In Through the Out Door, exhibited sonic experimentation that again
drew mixed reactions from critics. Nevertheless, the album reached number one in the UK and the US in just its second week on the Billboard album chart.
With this album's release, Led Zeppelin's entire catalogue returned to the Billboard Top 200 in the weeks of 27 October and 3 November 1979.
In August 1979, after two warm-up shows in Copenhagen, Led Zeppelin headlined two concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, playing to a crowd of approximately
104,000 on the first night. A brief, low-key European tour was undertaken in June and July 1980, featuring a stripped-down set without the usual lengthy jams and
solos. On 27 June, at a show in Nuremberg, Germany, the concert came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the third song when Bonham collapsed on-stage and was rushed
to hospital. Speculation in the press suggested that his collapse had been the result of excessive alcohol and drug use, but the band claimed that he had simply overeaten.
A North American tour, the band's first since 1977, was scheduled to commence on 17 October.
On 24 September 1980, Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King to attend rehearsals at Bray Studios.
During the journey Bonham asked to stop for breakfast, where he downed four quadruple vodkas (450 ml/15 oz.), with a ham roll. After taking a bite of the ham
roll he said to his assistant, "breakfast". He continued to drink heavily when he arrived at the studio. The rehearsals were halted late that evening and the
band retired to Page's house—The Old Mill House in Clewer, Windsor. After midnight, Bonham, who had fallen asleep, was taken to bed and placed on his
side. At 1:45 pm the next day Benji LeFevre (Led Zeppelin's new tour manager) and John Paul Jones found Bonham dead. The cause of death was asphyxiation from
vomit, and a verdict of accidental death was returned at an inquest held on 27 October. An autopsy found no other drugs in Bonham's body. Bonham was cremated
on 10 October 1980, and his ashes buried at Rushock parish church in Droitwich, Worcestershire.
The planned North American tour was cancelled, and despite rumours that Cozy Powell, Carmine Appice, Barriemore Barlow, Simon Kirke or Bev Bevan would join the
group as his replacement, the remaining members decided to disband. A 4 December 1980 press statement stated that, "We wish it to be known that the loss of our
dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were", and was simply signed "Led Zeppelin".
Led Zeppelin Reunion
On 10 December 2007 Led Zeppelin reunited for the one-off Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London, with Jason Bonham again taking his late
father's place on drums. According to Guinness World Records 2009, Led Zeppelin set the world record for the "Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert"
as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online. Music critics praised the band's performance and there was widespread speculation about a full reunion.
Page, Jones and Jason Bonham were reported to be willing to tour, and to be working on material for a new Led Zeppelin project. Plant continued his touring
commitments with Alison Krauss, stating in September 2008 that he would not be recording or touring with the band. Jones, Page and Bonham looked for a replacement for Plant,
considering singers including Steven Tyler and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, but in January 2009 it was confirmed that the project had been abandoned. A film of the concert,
Celebration Day, premiered on 17 October 2012 and was released on home video on 19 November 2012.