Jimmy Page wanted to be famous. He’d tasted success with The Yardbirds and as an in-demand session guitarist before. Now he was hungry for more. Fame, control - he wanted it all.
He started a group. The Yardbirds had split but there was still the matter of a lucrative string of European touring dates to be fulfilled if a substitute band could be pulled together. It was exactly the impetus Page could use to draw his new group of talented musicians around him. John Paul Jones came first. He would be the group’s bassist. Jimmy had already known John from session work. But the other vacancies would not come so easily filled. Most importantly Page needed a singer, someone striking who could belt their lungs out. While it wasn’t his first choice, he eventually bonded with Robert Plant, a midlands hippy and fellow blues enthusiast formerly of the Band of Joy. Plant quickly agreed but insisted Page bring drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham along too.
They toured. In Europe, The New Yardbirds hammered out an explosive set. Returning to England they wasted no time in recording it. Now christened Led Zeppelin. the group’s music followed closely on from Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Cream’s progressive blues. Yet many who witnessed it were blown away. This was different.
Others weren’t so sure. Especially the purists. There were misgivings. Zeppelin’s aggressively plundering of folk and blues traditions were undeniably being undertaken with a heavy hand. Zep tore ideas from elsewhere with little reverence, even lifting material from The Yardbirds and other contemporary acts yet played with a primal intensity which made it their own. In synthesising and grabbing all there was to grasp they erupted as something more.
Whatever it was it was bouncing off the four walls of London’s Olympic Studios when the group arrived to record. Knocked out in 30 hours studio time between September and October 1968, Zeppelin’s self-titled album hit with a fusillade of power and energetic flurry. Crude, yet extravagantly heavy it came laced with near invisible subtleties.
Yet it wasn’t the velocity or technical nuance which pushed this record forward. Instead, it was the elemental blend of four musical personalities playing off of one another. Zeppelin had alchemy. In the studio, they were searing, white hot. Led Zeppelin is soaking in the room it’s recorded in and the wild energy of the band inside. It’s real and raw.
Page became famous but really Led Zeppelin isn’t about him or any of that. It isn’t about what’s been written here either. It’s about the listener – you. Think about the first time, the impact. The opening blast of ‘Dazed and Confused’ hits into your ears and it all changes. After this nothing can ever be the same again. How could it?
Words by Riley Fitzgerald