73 years ago today (January 9 1944) archetypal rock ‘n’ roll axeman Jimmy Page was born. To celebrate, here’s 26 interesting facts about Led Zeppelin, the band he helped craft from unknown blues rockers into one of the biggest bands in history.
A is for ABBA
You wouldn’t have thought there’s much connecting prog-rock deviants Led Zeppelin to sugary Scandi pop crew ABBA, but here’s one: Zep recorded tracks for their ‘In Through The Out Door’ album in the ABBA’s Polar Studios. Legend has it ABBA’s Benny and Bjorn took Robert Plant on a night out to a nearby sex club after meeting at the Stockholm recording facility.
B is for black magic
Jimmy Page famously dabbled in dark arts, and even owned an occult bookshop and publishing house, The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers on London’s Kensington High Street, prior to success with Zeppelin. The four symbols on the sleeve of the band’s fourth album were thought to be Satanic symbols.
C is for contract kings
Each member of the group had a formidable reputation as session musicians before teaming up to form Zeppelin. As a result, when it came to signing their first album deal with Atlantic, they were able to wrangle an unprecedented $20,000 advance as well as almost full publishing rights to their music.
D is for debauchery
Zeppelin’s partying is a thing of legend. Case in point – ever heard the story of how they once rented six floors of the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel in LA for their entourage and friends, hosting a drug-fuelled orgy while drummer John Bonham rode a motorbike down hotel corridors?
E is for effects
Zeppelin pioneered some pretty huge sonic breakthroughs. The reverse echo Jimmy Page often used, as heard on ‘Whole Lotta Love’, for instance, was pretty revolutionary in its time. Of course, Page downplayed the whole thing: “I’d was just in the studio twisting nobs,” he once told Rolling Stone.
F is for flying in style
By 1973, Zeppelin had their own custom plane, the Starship. It had a bar with a keyboard organ built in, a video library and shower room, and cost $30,000 to lease. Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones and Peter Frampton all also flew in the airship.
G is for guitars
Guitars plural. One axe was apparently not enough for Jimmy Page, who was a famous early adopter of Gibson’s double-necked guitar. His Gibson EDS-1275 was named the coolest guitar in rock in a 2012 poll. No arguments here.
H is for hidden messages
One of rock’s greatest myths: according to televangelist Paul Crouch in 1982, if you play the “bustle in your hedgerow” segment of Zep’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ backwards you can hear subliminal Satanic messages. “You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that people would do that,” responded Robert Plant.
I is for imposters
Robert Plant revealed to the Guardian in 2012 he once posed as a NME journalist to blag his way into a festival in Marrakech. “I said I was working for the NME. And I could get right to the front with my recorder, and there were a lot of Berber rhythms that were spectacular,” he explained. You’re welcome here on work experience any time you like, Rob.
J is for Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix didn’t like Led Zeppelin, according to a former band mate of his, claiming the band “stole” from other groups. He was, however, a huge fan of John Bonham – and is said to have tried to snag the drummer for his own band on a number of occasions, even if it meant having two drummers in his live set up.
K is for Keith Moon
The Who man is famously said to have given Zep their name. In May 1966, Moon and Who bassist John Entwistle recorded the instrumental “Beck’s Bolero” with Page, John Paul Jones and Jeff¬ Beck. The track came out well, and they tossed around the idea of forming a new band. Moon allegedly said the band would go over like a lead balloon – thus “Led Zeppelin”.
L is for Lord of the Rings
You won’t find many bigger Tolkien nuts than Zeppelin, whose ‘The Battle of Evermore’, ‘Ramblin’ On’ (featuring references to Gollum and Mordor) and ‘Carouselambra’ all were odes to Lord of the Rings.
M is for Minibus Pimps
John Paul Jones announced a new band, Minibus Pimps, in collaboration with Norwegian ambient artist Deathprod, earlier this year. What a name.
N is for no singles
Zep’s steadfast refusal to release singles pioneer the idea of “AOR”: album-orientated rock. Their stubbornness doesn’t end there – for years, the band refused to license their music to iTunes, with audiophile Jimmy Page concerned about the service’s “lesser sound quality.”
O is for one month
The time it took Zep to write and record their 1969 debut after forming. The band spent only 30 hours in the studio.
P is for President Bill Clinton
…who tried to convince the band to reform in 2012 for a charity concert. They declined, which is probably for the best – keen saxophonist Bill would probably have asked to guest on a track if they’d agreed.
Q is for Queen
Not the band, but rather Queen Elizabeth II, who awarded Jimmy Page an OBE in 2005. Strangely, it wasn’t for his contributions to music, but rather for his charity work with poverty-striken Brazilian children. Not a Zep fan, Liz?
R is for replacement singers
Bjork’s ‘Army of Me’ samples Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’, so we knew she was a Zep fan before announcing in April 2009 she had agreed to replace Robert Plant on a reunion tour Plant had opted out of. Turns out it was an April Fool’s Joke. How great would that have been?
S is for satanism
Page’s interest in the occult led to media reports that the band were “devil worshippers” – sparking record-burning protests in some small US towns following the release of ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
T is for ten thousand dollar t-shirt
A rare vintage Zep t-shirt sold for $10,000 at auction in 2011. The shirt dated from 1979 and was so rare because it doubled as a backstage pass during the band’s huge outdoor shows at Knebworth Park in August that year.
U is for unstoppable
Robert Plant recorded their 1976 ‘Presence’ album in a wheelchair, while in terrible physical pain, after a car crash in Greece. The singer only narrowly escaped the accident with his life, but persevered through recording sessions in Munich. Unstoppable? You better believe it.
V is for vodka
John Bonham’s autopsy revealed he had the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka in his system the night he died in 1980, choking on his own vomit. The remaining members decided to disband Led Zeppelin after Bonham’s death.
W is for Wayne’s World
“No ‘Stairway’? Denied!” The scene in Wayne World where Mike Myer’s protagonist is stopped from playing Zep’s iconic anthem was based in truth – so many aspiring guitarists play the track’s riff when trying out guitar in music shops, staff in many music shops have been known to ban the song.
X is for x-rated
Legend has it the band once participated in an orgy with a groupie that involved a mudshark. It’s become one of rock’s most x-rated myths.
Y is for Yardbirds
Has any other band in history ever spawned as many successful guitarists as the Yardbirds? Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page all began their careers playing in the bluesy London band.
Z is for ZoSo
AKA ‘Led Zeppelin IV’. After the band refused to title their fourth album on release in 1971, not even printing their name on the sleeve in a protest against the critics they felt had pigeonholed their previous record, fans called it ‘ZoSo’ based on a symbol in the artwork.