Led Zeppelin


Led Zeppelin
a British pop group (1968–80). Their heavy metal style was an important influence on later groups, and they were very popular in both Britain and the US. Their most famous song was Stairway to Heaven (1971).

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▪ British rock group
Introduction

      British rock band that was extremely popular in the 1970s. Although their musical style was diverse, they came to be well known for their influence on the development of heavy metal. The members were Jimmy Page (b. Jan. 9, 1944, Heston, Middlesex, Eng.), Robert Plant (b. Aug. 20, 1948, West Bromwich, West Midlands), John Paul Jones (original name John Baldwin; b. Jan. 3, 1946, Sidcup, Kent), and John Bonham (b. May 31, 1948, Redditch, Hereford and Worcester—d. Sept. 25, 1980, Windsor, Berkshire).

      Initially called the New Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page, the final lead guitarist for the legendary British blues band the Yardbirds (Yardbirds, the). Bassist and keyboard player Jones, like Page, was a veteran studio musician; vocalist Plant and drummer Bonham came from little-known provincial bands. The group was influenced by various kinds of music, including early rock and roll, psychedelic rock, blues, folk (folk music), Celtic, Indian, and Arabic (Islamic arts) music. Although acoustic and folk-based music was part of the band's repertoire from its inception, it was the bottom-heavy, loud, raw, and powerful electric style that gained them their following and notoriety early on; their first two albums included many of the songs that prompted Led Zeppelin's categorization as a precursor of heavy metal. The heaviness of songs such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” was created by Bonham's enormous drum sound and through Page's production techniques, in which he emphasized drums and bass, resulting in a sonic spaciousness that has kept the records sounding fresh years after they were made. Page and Jones also wrote most of the band's music, while Plant contributed lyrics and some musical ideas. Although Page was responsible for the majority of their signature riffs (the short, repeated musical ideas that often structure a song), Jones wrote the riff for the celebrated “Black Dog” and several other songs. Jones also contributed much to the arrangement of songs. Page's guitar solos were based primarily on melodic ideas derived from the blues scale (“Heartbreaker” is a good example), and he is especially known for creating multiple, simultaneous guitar parts—a kind of guitar orchestra—in such songs as “Achilles Last Stand” and “The Song Remains the Same.” Page is considered one of rock's guitar heroes, but, because he was more interested in creating a distinctive mood and sound on a recording than in displaying his virtuosity, he frequently chose not to include a guitar solo in Zeppelin songs.

      Plant's voice rounded out Led Zeppelin's sound. Exaggerating the vocal style and expressive palette of blues singers such as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters (Waters, Muddy), Plant created the sound that has defined much hard rock and heavy metal singing: a high range, an abundance of distortion, loud volume, and emotional excess (“Whole Lotta Love” is a classic example). Plant was, however, capable of a broader stylistic range, including tender ballads (“The Rain Song”) and songs showing the influence of Indian and Arabic vocal styles (“Kashmir”).

      Led Zeppelin's best-known song is “Stairway to Heaven”; its gentle acoustic beginning eventually builds to an exhilarating climax featuring a lengthy electric guitar solo. This combination of acoustic and electric sections was typical for Page, who from the band's beginning was interested in juxtaposing what he called “light and shade.” The song appeared on the band's fourth and most famous album, released untitled, which showed only four runic symbols (intended to represent the band members) on the cover and had the mystical, mythological lyrics to “Stairway” printed on the inner sleeve. The sense of mystery and ritual that this created became an important part of the band's image. They kept their distance from the press and were uninterested in catering to the singles market. Moreover, “Stairway” and several other songs were of epic length by rock standards, and concert improvisations stretched some songs to triple the length of their studio versions.

      Thanks in part to their manager, Peter Grant, the band enjoyed phenomenal commercial success throughout the 1970s. While Led Zeppelin never received the kind of critical acclaim or mainstream acceptance accorded the Beatles (Beatles, the) or the Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, the), their influence on rock music has been prodigious. They are regularly cited as the progenitors of both hard rock and heavy metal. Their sound has been imitated by bands from Black Sabbath to Nirvana. They also inspired hard rock bands to include acoustic elements in their music and were among the first to experiment with Indian and North African music. Page's style—both his solos and riffs—has served as an important model for most rock guitarists, and Bonham is often cited as the model for metal or hard rock drumming.

      Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 after Bonham's accidental death. The group re-formed for short, one-off performances in 1985 (the Live Aid benefit), 1988 (Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary concert), and 1995 (the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). Much more momentous was the group's full-blown concert in London in December 2007 to honour Atlantic's cofounder Ahmet Ertegun, at which Bonham's son, Jason, played the drums.

Susan Fast

Representative Works

Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Untitled (nicknamed “Zoso” or “Four Symbols”; 1971)
Houses of the Holy (1973)
Physical Graffiti (1975)
The Song Remains the Same (1976; live performances from 1973 tour)
Presence (1976)
In Through the Out Door (1979)
Coda (1982)

Additional Reading
Stephen Davis, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga (1985, reissued 1995), a sensationalist account, traces the band's history from inception to breakup, as well as post-Zeppelin solo activities by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones. Ritchie Yorke, Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography (1993), gives a more dispassionate account of the band's history. Chris Welch, “Jimmy Page: Paganini of the Seventies,” Melody Maker, p. 16 (February 14, 1970), p. 12 (February 21, 1970), and p. 10 (February 28, 1970), is one of the earliest interviews with Jimmy Page, who explains the band's music and philosophy. Cameron Crowe, “The Durable Led Zeppelin: A Conversation with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant,” Rolling Stone, 182:32–37 (March 13, 1975), is the only interview the band did with Rolling Stone.William Burroughs, “Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, and a Search for the Elusive Stairway to Heaven,” Crawdaddy, 49:34–40 (June 1975), examines the band's music and live concerts in terms of ritual effect. Dave Lewis, Led Zeppelin: A Celebration (1991), presents a track-by-track analysis of each song on each recording, information on concerts the band played and equipment they used, and some insight into their recording process. Charles R. Cross and Erik Flannigan, Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell (1991), collects essays including an attempt at a complete list of concerts played, treatment of the art of collecting bootleg recordings, and a reprint of one of the few interviews Page gave during the 1970s. Dave Headlam, “Does the Song Remain the Same? Questions of Authorship and Identification in the Music of Led Zeppelin,” in Elizabeth West Marvin and Richard Hermann (eds.), Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945 (1995), pp. 313–363, examines the thorny question of Led Zeppelin's “borrowings” from the blues: how much of such songs as “Whole Lotta Love” was borrowed, and how much was original? Steve Waksman, “Every Inch of My Love: Led Zeppelin and the Problem of Cock Rock,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 8:5–25 (1996), examines gender issues in the band's music and image.

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Universalium. 2010.

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