This page covers Robert's career with Led Zeppelin from 1971 to 1980. Other pages describe Robert's earlier career (up to 1970), his solo career and reunion with Jimmy Page (1981 to 1997) and his more recent work (1998 onwards).
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Led Zeppelin's reputation as a live act continued to grow, filling huge arenas in the US and elsewhere. In 1971 they returned to smaller club venues in the UK and toured in continental Europe. In April they recorded another live concert session for the BBC.
Led Zeppelin tours often made news not just for the music but from stories about about motel rooms being trashed and motorcycles being ridden in hotel corridors. A classic story concerns the Edgewater Inn in Seattle, where the room contents often ended up in the sea below. When Peter Grant was settling the bill for the damage after one such visit, the manager confessed that he had always wanted to throw a TV set out of a hotel window. Peeling more notes from the roll, Grant replied: "Have one on us"!
Many of the more lurid stories about the band are just rumour or invention, although some are based on real events. These often involved the band's entourage, led by road manager Richard Cole, more than the band members themselves. Sometimes the hell-raising legend was carried over into their concerts. In Milan, for example, riot troops made certain that there would indeed be a riot!
The band's next, and possibly their most famous release came in November 1971. The cover did not contain any title, nor did the name of the band appear, the only identification being four runic symbols on the inside sleeve (only two are genuine runes, but that spoils the story!). Atlantic were apparently worried about releasing an album without a name, but it proved to be another of Peter Grant's shrewd marketing ploys, as the untitled album had a mystique built up around it, as well as building up huge sales. This album too was put together at Headley Grange.
The best known track (of all Zeppelin songs, not just on this album) was Stairway To Heaven, which always comes at or near the top of any list of people's all-time favourite songs. According to legend, Robert Plant made up a lyric on the spot the first time he heard the melody, and at least half of this improvisation remained in the final take. The album includes both hard rock (Black Dog, Rock And Roll, When The Levee Breaks) and gentler songs (The Battle of Evermore, featuring Sandy Denny's vocals, and Going to California, one of Plant's own favourites).
Led Zeppelin undertook three short tours in 1972. They visited Australia and New Zealand in February, then went to the US in the summer and to Japan in October. Two June 1972 concerts in California were eventually released on a live CD called How The West Was Won. Towards the end of the year they prepared for a major UK tour with warm-up dates in Montreux. The tour moved on to continental Europe in the spring of 1973.
The next album, Houses Of The Holy, also appeared in the spring of 1973. The band had in fact been busy recording, producing too many tracks to fit on one album. Strangely, one of the songs they decided to hold over for the next album was the "title track". The album is dominated by No Quarter and The Rain Song, two slower but still powerful tracks with John Paul Jones prominent on both.
Led Zeppelin took off for the States again in 1973, having sold every ticket for the 24-date tour in about four hours. The band toured in a hired Boeing airliner nicknamed the Starship. In Tampa, Florida they broke both attendance and takings records set by the Beatles in their prime. The finale, at Madison Square Garden in July, was filmed by Joe Massot and later edited into a feature film about the band. Despite notable successes, 1973 was marred for Robert Plant by recurring problems with his voice.
The group's own Swan Song label was officially launched in May 1974. Although this was the vehicle for all subsequent Zeppelin albums, the band set out to attracted other high-calibre artists. The new label's first release (and first success) was Bad Company's highly acclaimed debut album. The Swan Song logo looks like Robert Plant with wings, but in fact is taken from a painting by William Rimmer entitled Evening, Fall Of Day.
Led Zeppelin's career reached its zenith on February 24th 1975 with the release of the greatest album of all time! Physical Graffiti was a studio double album and a double masterpiece. Not only does it feature two mighty rock anthems (Trampled Under Foot for the dance floor, Kashmir for relaxed listening), the album contains some of my all-time favourites: Houses Of The Holy, In The Light, Ten Years Gone, The Rover, The Wanton Song, Custard Pie, etc, etc. Sales were phenomenal, re-kindling interest in earlier Zeppelin albums, so that at one point all six were in the Billboard chart at the same time.
Now that my prejudices are safely out of the way, we can continue with the story!
The release of Physical Graffiti coincided with another massive tour, which included a meeting with Elvis Presley. In May, Led Zeppelin played five sell-out concerts at Earl's Court in London. The triumph was tinged with tragedy when Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were in a serious car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes on August 4th 1975. Maureen was badly injured, and spent several weeks in hospital. Robert smashed both his ankle and his elbow, and was not fully fit for the best part of two years.
After Physical Graffiti anything would have been an anti-climax. The next studio album was Presence, released in March 1976. Although it contained some powerful tracks, notably Achilles' Last Stand, Led Zeppelin were starting to be numbered by some among the rock dinosaurs in the wake of the punk revolution. Robert Plant had recorded the vocals from a wheelchair, and the band's enforced absence from the stage led to rumours of a split or early retirement.
Towards the end of 1976 Swan Song released a film about the band, The Song Remains The Same, and a double live album with the same title. In addition to concert footage from 1973, the film included fantasy sequences composed by the band members (Plant's own segment is an Arthurian tale featuring a sword, a horse and Raglan Castle) and some behind-the-scenes clips which add very little. Although the film was not wholly convincing, it did well enough at the box office, and is a welcome visual record of the band. The attempt to fit the material onto two LPs for an audio release was also a little disappointing, as some of the best tracks were left off. The film was later released on video, allowing fans to fast-forward over the less interesting bits!
Robert Plant's wife and children are seen in the film. Tragically, his young son Karac died suddenly of a virus infection in July 1977, when the band were in the middle of what would be their last American tour (having smashed more attendance records at Pontiac, Michigan at the end of April). Plant flew home from New Orleans and into semi-retirement for a further year, causing more rumours that the group had split. Although the band were invisible for much of 1978, they made a dramatic return in 1979. Robert and Maureen's own loss was in part compensated by the birth of another son, Logan, in January 1979.
On two weekends in August 1979 Led Zeppelin played to huge audiences at the Knebworth Festival in England. Although critical acclaim was muted, they had proved they could still pull in the crowds. Their long-awaited album, recorded at Abba's studio in Sweden, was also released in August. In Through The Out Door went straight to the top of both the US and UK album charts. This album, to which John Paul Jones had been a major contributor, showed signs that the band were mellowing, but it still contained some strong tracks (Fool In The Rain, Carouselambra).
In the summer of 1980 Zeppelin toured extensively again in Europe, and seemed back to their best form. The tour (and much else, as it later emerged) ended in Berlin on July 7th. More bookings were lined up, including another major US tour. These plans all came to a sudden end when John Bonham was found dead after a drinking binge at Jimmy Page's house on September 25th. Page, Plant and Jones were clearly devastated, although Led Zeppelin did not formally disband until December.
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