Led Zeppelin Will Soar Again

by Rick Rockwell

One of the greatest rock bands, Led Zeppelin announced this week they will reunite to play a charity show in London. And the rock world rejoiced.

Certainly, Led Zeppelin has many detractors.* The critics disdained LedZep from the start. Punkers derided the band as bloated dinosaurs. (Of course, part of this was jealousy, Zeppelin being the biggest rock group in the world in the 1970s.) The band played fast and loose with copyright laws and some artists still say they have not been acknowledged or paid their due after Zeppelin lifted their material. Members of the band’s management team were masters of over-hype, creating legends of black magic and other grandiose stories. Even after the band split, when guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant teamed up for their last collaboration in the 1990s, the two claimed Zeppelin was the favorite act of rap and rock samplers, and that no other band had been sampled as much in history.

Okay, put away the vitriol. Led Zeppelin, the hardest rockin’ band ever is about to fly again. That deserves a closed-fist salute.

So the band has issues. Perhaps that’s part of what makes them so compelling.

At this point, millions of fans are happy to welcome them back. To get to see the reunion, fans must register for a lottery online. So far, at least 120 million have registered. That’s twice the population of the United Kingdom. So many tried to get in on the lottery that the site has crashed several times. (Fans have until Sept. 17 to register to buy limited numbers of tickets for the O2, which will seat 18,000 for the show in November.)

Gripe if you will about Zeppelin’s legacy, but the band has retained its mystique and popularity beyond its untimely breakup in 1980 after the death of drummer John Bonham. The BBC says Zeppelin is one of only four acts that have sold more than 100 million albums in the United States, where they may be more popular than in the U.K. (The other four acts are The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Garth Brooks.) The BBC and others credit Led Zeppelin with inventing heavy metal as a rock genre, although the band has never accepted that designation and continues to reject that critical explanation for how they influenced rock.

This is only the third time the band will appear in public since Bonham’s death (at 32 after binge drinking), and this will be the first full concert. Led Zeppelin also appeared at Live Aid in 1985 and at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Show in 1988, but those appearances were only for a few songs. The band has also reunited privately in the past 27 years; one such musical reunion was the wedding reception of Bonham’s son, Jason. Jason will fill his father’s post behind the drum kit for the reunion concert.

Jason Bonham was the key to getting the band back together, much as it appears now that his father was the glue that united the band’s rhythm section with its higher flying stars, Page and Plant. Jason has drummed on some of Page’s solo outings and he played with the band for its short 1988 reunion too. Jason helped Plant and underappreciated bassist John Paul Jones (who also contributed keyboards and synthesizers to Zeppelin’s mix) mend a feud that had carried on publicly for at least 20 years.

The inevitable question is will this reunion be any good or is it Led Zeppelin up to old tricks as the masters of hype? The band was notoriously inconsistent live. Just listen to the differences between The Song Remains the Same, the self-indulgent live soundtrack release from 1976 and How the West was Won, a live recording finally issued in 2003 (from the 1972 tour). The latter is a crunching testament to the fury of a band nicknamed The Hammer of the Gods. The former is a good example of why punk-rockers hated the band’s laziness and arrogance.

Forget all that for now. For one night in November, the hammer will strike again, the heavy airship will rise, and we will all be dazed and confused by their brilliance for one last fleeting moment.

*The merits of Led Zeppelin have been debated here before in both the blog and podcast.

(The photo of the cover of Led Zeppelin's first album is from Atlantic Records. To see Led Zeppelin play "Rock and Roll" at Knebworth in the U.K. in 1979, please check below.)

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Bobby said...

Gratifying to see indisputable proof (120-MILLION requests for tickets in the first 24 hours), that the greatest rock band of all time is clearly still the most popular band in the world. No entertainment act in the world could create even close to this kind of demand. And all this for just 75% of Led Zeppelin, remember, the incomparable John Bonham is gone.

Jeff Siegel said...

Just promise me I won't have to hear Stariway to Heaven, and I'll keep my mouth shut. ...

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