Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page, of the Yardbirds, put together a new band in 1968 called the New Yardbirds. The band included Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. Before long, they changed their name to Led Zeppelin, supposedly because an early version of the New Yardbirds that was intended to include Jeff Beck, John Entwhistle, and Keith Moon was predicted to be likely to 'go over like a lead balloon'.

LZ is primarily blues-based. Page as a guitarist is eclectic enough to be influenced by classical as well as popular music, but his love of American delta blues is well-known. Robert Plant, as a lyricist, is influenced heavily by fantasy literature and the mystical yet he, too, loved American blues music. This influence is so pronounced, LZ has occasionally been accused of stealing some melodic licks and lyrics wholesale from early blues standards.

Main Creative Force
All four members of the band were superb musicians and Plant, Page, and Jones all contributed significantly to writing and arranging. Page and Plant were probably more significant as songwriters, and between the two of them are the signature sound of LZ - Page's guitar and Plant's voice are both one-of-a-kind and iconic in the world of rock and roll. Separating one over the other as the main creative force of this band is virtually impossible.

Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Page has performed in a number of acts and most of them could be considered mainstream rock and blues bands. Plant has done a variety of solo and duo work over the years and his body of work, while more eclectic, is probably less mainstream. His duet album with Alison Krauss, 'Raising Sand', won a Grammy for album of the year even though the album virtually defies category covering a wide range from rockabilly to country to bluegrass to blues. His current project, the Band of Joy, is just as hard to categorize since it includes country, folk, and bluegrass musicians all capable of cranking out rock as well as their own genres. So as successful as he has been, it is hard to call Plant a mainstream artist. In terms of mainstream rock, Page really wins this one.

First Hint of Prog Brilliance
Led Zeppelin's first two albums were very blues-oriented and heavily grounded in Bonham's drumming and Jones' bass lines. These two albums really form the basis of Led Zeppelin's reputation as the first true heavy metal band. Indeed, these two albums are more heavy blues than metal rock, but certainly were influential in England and around the world. With Page's ability to do virtually anything needed on guitar, he probably cemented his legacy as a guitar god on those two albums. But it was with Led Zeppelin III that the band began to become progressive. Recording at their country cottage in Wales, Bron-Yr-Aur, the band's third album was clearly influenced heavily by English folk styles and legends. This legacy continued on into their fourth album, as well.

Prog Pinnacle

The fourth album is referred to interchangeably as 'untitled' or 'Led Zeppelin IV' or sometimes as 'Zoso' based on the four mystical symbols on the inside sleeve which allegedly represented the four members of the band:

Supposedly from left to right: Page, Jones, Bonham, and Plant. The fourth album contains superb blues in the form of 'Black Dog' and 'When the Levee Breaks' and classic rock in the form of 'Rock and Roll' and 'Four Sticks'. But the album also contains progressive mystically soaring pieces like 'The Battle of Evermore', 'Misty Mountain Hop', and the classic rock giant, 'Stairway to Heaven'. This album, more than any other, captures the truly progressive magnificence that was Led Zeppelin at their best. And yet, to many fans this isn't necessarily their best album. 'Houses of the Holy' may be even more prog-oriented and quite a few fans, like myself, find 'Physical Graffiti' to be the band's peak. For perspective, Rolling Stone lists five of LZ's albums on their 500 Greatest list. The band's debut is their highest-rated at 29. The fourth album is at 66, 'Physical Graffiti' sits at no. 70, the second album, is at 75 and 'Houses of the Holy' is at 148.

Influenced By Them
Virtually every band that has emerged in the world of hard rock and heavy metal since 1970 has probably been influenced by Led Zeppelin. A great many grunge artists were strong in citing LZ as an influence and many unexpected artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga have also claimed an LZ influence. Part of their reach is the whole element of style. Page and Plant wore outfits and hairstyles onstage that became iconic for the metal rock movement and many of the hair bands of the 80s were clearly imitating both their hairstyles and their outfits. It is possible to argue that Led Zeppelin is the single most influential band since the Beatles and Beach Boys in the 60s.

Drummer John Bonham died on September 24th, 1980. His death has become something of a cliche to excess as he died after heavy drinking and the official coroner report states that he asphyxiated from vomit. In fact, Bonham was not found to have any other drugs in his system; only alcohol. But legends of the band's excesses will live on as long as rock and roll. There are amazing tales of drugs, debauchery, and reckless destruction of property throughout their tour history. Page was notorious for 'dating' underage girls in the band's heyday. While they have reunited a few times with assorted guest drummers, all indications are that their final performance as a band occurred at the tribute concert for Ahmet Ertegun with Bonham's son, Jason, sitting in on drums. The band was inducted into the RRHOF in 1995 with Aerosmith essentially doing the induction.

My Personal Take
If you have to pick the greatest band on this list, it's a massively difficult decsion. But there is no question Led Zeppelin has one of the strongest claims to the title. I owned their 4th album back in my high school days and it was absolutely the hardest rocking album I owned. I played it to death, too. I love their second album and 'Physical Graffiti' but the fourth will always have a place in my heart because it was the first really hard rock album I owned. Plant might be one of the most uniquely talented voices in rock and blues and Jimmy Page has to be on the short list of the world's greatest guitar players. I was convinced of these things the moment I first dropped the needle onto the vinyl of the fourth album and I suspect I always will be.