Personalities | Led Zeppelin | The Early Years (1969) | Key Events


Rolling Stone Slates Led Zeppelin

Despite great radio airplay, the US print media were lukewarm towards Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut. In an advance review, Rolling Stone magazine regarded Led Zeppelin as little more than ‘an excellent guitarist … a competent rhythm section and a pretty soul belter who can do a good spade imitation’. Perhaps most galling for Jimmy Page was that the reviewer decided they weren’t much better than the Jeff Beck Group. If Led Zeppelin fans were outraged (Rolling Stone is said to have been deluged with letters), Page and the group were even more so. The review led to a long-standing rift between Led Zeppelin and America’s most famous music magazine: an early sign of both the negative response of the press to the band, and the band’s equally negative approach to the media.

Led Zeppelin

Unlike most bands, who take a few albums to get into their stride, Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut, released in America on 12 January 1969 (the UK would have to wait until March), is one of the most important and envelope-pushing of all time. Many white British bands had been influenced by black-American idioms before, but none had made it gel as successfully as Led Zeppelin. Essentially introducing the group as four lead musicians in one band, Page’s guitar work remodels blues standards such as ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ into something harder and more metallic. Maybe not justifiably called the first-ever heavy metal album (there are far too many subtleties going on in the production; Plant’s intuitive vocals are belted out, but with a control that most singers pray for; Page includes a mix of electric and acoustic guitars), Led Zeppelin (reaching No. 6 in the UK and No. 10 in the US) would foreground the thinking man’s heavy metal. Most importantly of all, however, it contained a centrepiece in ‘Dazed & Confused’, a 6.26-minute opus that closed side one of the album and introduced Page’s bowed guitar work, his instinct for creating atmospheric quiet-loud songs that never drag and a working band that were as tight a unit as any funk outfit. In short: Led Zeppelin could straddle British-blues boom and American psych, but not outstay their welcome.

Support Iron Butterfly

On the final date of their US tour, 31 January, Led Zeppelin supported Iron Butterfly, though they might as well have been the headliners. With Jimmy Page resplendent in a red velvet suit, Led Zeppelin’s two-hour set proved them infinitely better than the headliners, who were essentially living off of their 1968 hit single, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’. Iron Butterfly refused to go on stage afterwards and Led Zeppelin finished their first US tour as conquering heroes.


UK And Scandinavian Tour

If Led Zeppelin had conquered America, returning to England would soon help them forget that. As Richard Cole put it, ‘You don’t go on tour in England, you just went to work, doing your venues.’ Led Zeppelin went from blowing headlining...

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