Monday, July 7, 1980

The Beginning and End of Led Zeppelin: July 7

Originally posted July 7, 2011.

Led Zeppelin

In an interesting twist, the birth of Led Zeppelin and its demise can both be tied to July 7. The first time around was in 1968. The Yardbirds broke up after playing a gig at Luton College of Technology in Bedfordshire, England. Although the band was only five years old, they had undergone significant changes. Jimmy Page was the band’s third lead guitarist, following Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. By 1968, manager Peter Grant pushed the band to be heavier and more experimental. Page embrace the direction, as he was intrigued with the psychedelic blues-rock of groups like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

However, singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty, who’d been with the band throughout, wanted a more folk-influenced sound. By March 1968, they’d decided to leave the group, but Page and bassist Chris Dreja persuaded them to stick it out for another tour.

The Yardbirds, the Jimmy Page era

After the breakup, Page and Dreja reassembled a new lineup, originally called “The New Yardbirds”. Page wanted a singer named Terry Reid, but he was committed as an opening act for Cream’s 1968 U.S. tour and recommended Robert Plant, a then-unknown singer who Reid had seen perform. Plant brought along his childhood friend John Bonham for drums. After Dreja opted to pursue a career as a rock photographer, Page recruited bassist John Paul Jones, with whom he’d worked as a session musician. With Dreja holding the legal rights to the name “Yardbirds”, the new lineup was christened Led Zeppelin.

The name is credited to Keith Moon, drummer for The Who. He did not, however, make his famous “it’ll go over like a lead balloon (or zeppelin)” comment about the “New Yardbirds”. His was actually referring to a supergroup including Page, Moon, and Jones which gathered in 1966 to record “Beck’s Bolero” with Jeff Beck (with whom Page worked briefly in the Yardbirds) and pianist Nicky Hopkins.

Led Zeppelin released eight studio albums from 1969 to 1979. Three of them rank in the Dave’s Music Database list of the Top 100 Albums of All Time and four others the Top 1000 list. Seven of the albums topped the UK charts; six hit #1 stateside.

Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Click to see the DMDB page for ‘Led Zeppelin IV’

The group became a staple of classic rock by pushing albums over singles. They still had some very successful songs; “Whole Lotta Love” was a top five U.S. hit and “Stairway to Heaven” is a mainstay at the top of most classic rock station playlists. The latter song is featured in the DMDB book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.

Sadly, it came to an end in 1980. A concert on July 7 in Berlin was the last appearance of the four original members. On September 25, 1980, John “Bonzo” Bonham died of asphyxiation after drinking excessively and choking on his own vomit. The group officially disbanded by the end of the year.

Like their predecessor, Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As influential as the Yardbirds were considered, however, Led Zeppelin took things even further. They rank in the Dave’s Music Database list of the Top 100 Acts of All Time and also received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. With 111.5 million certified album sales in the U.S., they are the country’s second best-selling band of all time. W-L Rolling Stone magazine called them “the heaviest band of all time” and “unquestionably one of the most enduring rock bands in history.” W-L

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  1. John Bonham died on my birthday. I had only discovered Led Zep a year before, when "Fool In the Rain" entered the Top 40. (Classic rock bands didn't get much airplay on the Top 40 radio station in my hometown). Though I never became a big fan of Zep, Bonham's passing and Zep's disbanding the following December made it seem like an era I'd only just discovered was coming to an end. (To cap it off, John Lennon was murdered the same month.)

    July 7, by the way, is also Ringo Starr's birthday. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide. :)

  2. I was late in the game jumping on the Zep bandwagon. I wouldn't say I really paid attention to them until my freshman year in college, which was 1985. I was pretty pop-oriented in my music tastes until then. Then the floodgates opened and I delved into classic rock with a vengeance.