Led Zeppelin formed as a ‘supergroup’ in 1968, set up by former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page. They were originally going to be called The New Yardbirds until The Who‘s drummer Keith Moon remarked they would go down like a “lead zeppelin”.
Page’s first choice for singer, Terry Reid, declined the offer but recommended Robert Plant, who in turn roped in his mate John Bonham on drums. When bassist Chris Dreja opted out of the project to become a photographer, he suggested his mate John Paul Jones, and the line-up was complete.
The band’s first four albums – ‘Led Zeppelin’, ‘Led Zeppelin II’, ‘Led Zeppelin III’ and ‘IV (Four Symbols)’ – are all seen as rock classics, mixing blues, folk and eastern influences and making them increasingly huge, especially in the US and the UK. The band and their manager, Peter Grant, maintained an aggressive pro-album stance — though some singles were released without their consent.
The group also increasingly resisted television appearances, enforcing their preference that their fans hear and see them live in person. This resulted in them becoming a massive live draw.
As well as their music, the band became notorious for their offstage excesses, as noted in Steven Davis’ unauthorised autobiography ‘Hammer Of The Gods’. As well as all the usual stuff, such as drug use and TVs being thrown out of windows, there were darker episodes, such the infamous ‘shark incident’, explained further here.
Between 1971 and 1975 Led Zeppelin could justifiably claim to be the biggest band in the world, and the world’s premiere live draw. Further albums – ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and the double ‘Physical Graffiti’ (widely thought to be their best) cemented their success.
Between 1976 and 1980, things got darker for the Zep. Although albums such as ‘Presence’ and ‘In through The Out Door’ still sold shedloads, Robert Plant was seriously injured in a car crash, and infant son Kai died of a chest infection. Jimmy Page was dabbling with heroin, and John Bonham was an alcoholic. The end came in September 1980, when Bonham died at Page‘s house aged 32 after choking on his own vomit following a drink binge.
There have been brief sightings since – Live Aid in 1985 and an Atlantic Records birthday bash in 1988 – but should the rumours be true, this will be the first full reunion in 27 years.
With songs such as ‘Black Dog’, ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Good, Times, Bad Times’, ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Kashmir’ and the ubiqitous ‘Stairway To Heaven’ still wildly popular after all these years, and with a ‘Best Of’ due in November, the proposed reunion would undoubtedly be wildly successful.