English rock band Led Zeppelin formed in London in 1968 and were comprised of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. The band were originally called the New Yardbirds, after the Yardbirds split up and Page set about sorting a new line-up to fulfill the rest of the band’s commitments.
The four first played together in a room below a Gerrard Street recording studio. During the session, they played ‘Train Kept A-Rollin”, which had been popularized by Johnny Burnette.
In November 1968, the band signed to Atlantic Records for $143,000. They released their debut album ‘Led Zeppelin’ the following January in the US and on March 31 in the UK. Page self-produced the record, which featured a black-and-white image of the Hindenburg airship burning on its cover. It peaked at Number Six on in the UK Albums Chart and at Number 10 in the Billboard 200 in the US. It is certified double platinum in the UK and eight times platinum in America.
Between four US and four UK tours in 1969, Led Zeppelin also recorded their second album, ‘Led Zeppelin II’. It was recorded almost entirely on the road at studios across America. Upon its release October 22 1969, it went to Number One in both the UK and US.
The following year, Page and Plant holed themselves up in Bron-Yr-Aur, a cottage in Wales, to work on songs for ‘Led Zeppelin III’. The resulting record saw them move away from their heavy blues sound to something more acoustic and influenced by folk and Celtic. It topped the charts in both the US and the UK but stayed at that position for the shortest period out of the band’s first five albums.
On November 8 1971, Led Zeppelin released their fourth album without giving it a title or putting the band name anywhere on the record. It is commonly referred to as ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ or just ‘IV’. Despite the group’s attempts at anonymity, the album went on to sell 37 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling records of all time.
The follow-up, ‘Houses Of The Holy’, was released on March 28 1973. It featured entirely original material for the first time in the band’s career and showcased more ambitious production. The track ‘Houses Of The Holy’ was recorded for the album but ended up being included on the band’s sixth record instead. It went to Number One in the albums charts in seven countries. When Led Zeppelin toured the album in America, they broke records for attendance, including three sold out shows at Madison Square Garden. The gigs were filmed for the movie The Song Remains The Same but its release was delayed until 1976.
In 1974, the band set up their own record label, Swan Song, signing artists like Bad Company and The Pretty Things. The next year, they released their first material on the label, the double album ‘Physical Grafitti’. The success of the record saw all previously released Led Zeppelin LPs to re-enter the top 200. It also allowed them to play five sold out shows at London’s Earls Court Arena, the biggest in Britain at the time.
Their seventh studio album, ‘Presence’, was written mostly after Plant had been involved in a car crash with his wife. The songs moved away from the complex acoustic nature of the albums preceding it, with direct rock songs being favoured instead. Page began using heroin during the recording of the LP, which took place in Munich in 1975. It was released on March 31 1976 and topped the albums charts in four countries.
‘In Through The Out Door’ followed three years later and was their final studio album to reach the top of the albums chart in America. It was also the last to be released before the death of Bonham. The drummer was found dead on September 25 1980, just before the band were due to head out on tour in America. The cause of death was revealed as asphyxiation from vomit, having spent most of the previous day drinking heavily. He was cremated on October 10 1980 and his ashes were buried at Rushock Paris Church in Droitwich. The planned tour was cancelled and the band decided to break up instead of replace him.
Page, Plant and Jones reunited on July 13 1985 for the Live Aid concert at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium. They performed together again at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert on May 14 1988 with Bonham’s son Jason on drums.
In 1994, Page and Plant performed a 90-minute set for MTV. An album of the performance, ‘No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded’, was subsequently released, featuring reworked Led Zeppelin songs. The pair took the new versions on the road the year after.
Led Zeppelin were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry in 1995. The band performed a short set with the pair and Jason Bonham on drums, and then another set alongside Neil Young, with Page & Plant’s drummer Michael Lee.
The band reunited once again in December 2007 to perform for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at London’s O2 Arena. According to the Guinness Book Of World Records 2009, 20 million tickets were requested for the show by fans. Despite speculation around a full reunion tour, none materialised. A film of the O2 gig, Celebration Day, was released on October 17 2012.
Following the release of the Celebration Day concert film, Jimmy Page had revealed that he would remaster and re-release the first three Led Zeppelin albums with bonus tracks. The remastered albums were issued on June 2nd 2014. After the 2007 O2 Arena concert, rumours started flying around speculating a full reunion for the band but the claims were dismissed in September 2008 by Robert Plant who stated that he would not record new material with Led Zeppelin and instead focus on his commitments with Alison Krauss.
Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones continued their hunt for a replacement vocalist for Led Zeppelin, considering candidates such as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy but the project was abandoned in January of 2009, meaning the current future of the band is unknown at this point in time.