In popular music, few names are as important as Led Zeppelin. This groundbreaking group applied an electrified sheen to traditional riffs and created modern rock as we know it. If the Beatles was the biggest group of the 1960s, Led Zeppelin dominated the 1970s with even more glamor and self-assurance. Unlike the Beatles, who retired to the studio in mid-career, Led Zeppelin engaged millions of fans through consistent touring. Unlike contemporaries like Yes and Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin managed to earn critical acclaim. Today, love for Led Zeppelin is one of the few qualities that brings together music fans of all ages.
Far from narrow-minded specialists, the members of Led Zeppelin showed mastery over a dizzying array of skills and styles. From Robert Plant’s charismatic vocals to the innovative productions of John Paul Jones, the band’s albums feature nearly endless sources of appeal. Known for press-shy ways, Led Zeppelin maintained an aura of mystery while topping charts worldwide. Even today, curious facts about the band are still filtering to the surface. Here are five lesser-known Led Zeppelin facts to drive home the uniqueness of this singular band:
01. Robert Plant’s Part For “Stairway To Heaven” Was Written On The Spot
Known as a showcase for Jimmy Page’s virtuoso skills, this song features one of the most celebrated guitar solos of all time. However, it is arguably Robert Plant’s voice and mystical lyrics that have endeared this song to generations of fans. Even younger rock fans with little knowledge of Led Zeppelin are prone to appreciate this song. Although Jimmy Page worked on the music for “Stairway” over a period of time, Page reports that Plant wrote 80% of the lyrics in one night in a burst of creativity. The singer probably couldn’t have guessed that this child-like flight of lyrical fancy would inspire decades of analysis and interpretation. Interestingly, many over the years have argued that Zeppelin “borrowed” this song’s famous intro from “Taurus” by a band called Spirit. Since Page toured with Spirit at one time, Led Zeppelin was almost certainly familiar with the Spirit song. While the similarities between the two songs are unmistakable, it remains for each listener to decide if this is a case of theft or simple inspiration.
02. Led Zeppelin Evolved From A Band That Included Eric Clapton
When Led Zeppelin arrived on the public scene in 1969, they instantly transformed from total unknowns to major celebrities. Though the Led Zeppelin phenomenon may have seemed spontaneous, it was actually years in the making. In fact, Led Zeppelin was the final lineup and incarnation of the Yardbirds, a band that formed in 1963. Though the Yardbirds built their career on covers of blues standards, the band played covers with a reckless abandon that would seem familiar to any Led Zeppelin fan. Though the Yardbirds did score a few hits, financial problems and artistic feuds led to quite a few lineup changes. The band’s first breakthrough was overseen by none other than Eric Clapton, a guitar great who influenced Hendrix, Page and most of the rock guitarists of the day.
Though Clapton’s time in the band is now the stuff of legend, he quickly tired of the Yardbirds’ growing pop sensibilities. Immediately after Clapton’s departure, the remaining Yardbirds offered their lead guitar slot to Jimmy Page, an in-demand London session guitarist with a growing reputation. Though Page initially declined the post, he would ultimately join the band. Three years and several lineup changes later, the Yardbirds would develop into the lean, mean Led Zeppelin collective. For decades, rock fans have wondered what would have happened if Clapton had stuck with the Yardbirds and forged an artistic partnership with Page and Plant. Truthfully, it is hard to envision independent-minded virtuosos like these coexisting in a band for long. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to consider the twists of fate that deprived the world of Led Zeppelin featuring Eric Clapton.
03. Robert Plant Sang An Entire Led Zeppelin Album From A Wheelchair
Released in 1976, Zeppelin’s “Presence” was somewhat underrated in its day. Though hardly a flop, the album failed to achieve the standard of success set by previous releases. Though only lightly represented in the popular media, “Presence” remains a fan’s choice that is greatly appreciated by serious Zeppelin aficionados. “Presence” was a tough, back-to-basics album that stepped back from the acoustic experimentation of previous albums. Featuring heavy guitars and insistent rhythms, “Presence” also presented Robert Plant at his most intense and agitated. Recovering from a traumatic motorcycle accident, Plant recorded all of the album’s vocal parts while confined to a wheelchair. Compounding his physical frustrations, Plant was homesick for his young family and questioning his very place in the rock and roll industry. Although Plant’s memories of the “Presence” sessions are fairly grim, it is possible that the album’s difficult birth contributed to the excitement and urgency of the final product.
04. “Beck’s Bolero” Was The First And Only Song From A Led Zeppelin That Never Was
In 1967, English guitarist Jeff Beck released his first solo recording, an instrumental number entitled “Beck’s Bolero”. The instrumental piece was a side project for Beck, who was a member of the Yardbirds at the time of the recording. Beck called on good friend and future Yardbird Jimmy Page to help him develop the song into a full-fledged rock suite. Keith Moon, John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins would all eventually join the musical lineup for the recording. The group recorded several songs at the session but “Beck’s Bolero” was the only piece released. Critics received the song well, praising its epic scope. Music journalists would later refer to “Beck’s Bolero” as one of the great rock instrumentals.
Bringing together half of the storied Led Zeppelin lineup, “Beck’s Bolero” demonstrated the brilliant playing and songwriting that would come to typify the Zeppelin sound. The musicians involved were so happy with “Beck’s Bolero” that they contemplated forming a permanent band. Ultimately, contractual obligations dashed any chances of getting this supergroup off the ground. Since Keith Moon was drumming for the Who at a period of rapid growth for that band, his case may have presented the most difficulties for building on “Beck’s Bolero.”
05. “Led Zeppelin IV” Was Partly Recorded In A Haunted Mansion
Over the years, a number of self-serving moralists branded Led Zeppelin as a group with diabolical intentions. Some even went so far as to identify hidden satanic messages in the band’s records, messages that only became clear upon playing certain songs backwards. While these alarming claims were ultimately discredited as utter garbage, many give credence to the uncanny circumstances surrounding the recording of Zeppelin’s fourth album. Much of the album was written and recorded in Headley Grange, a rambling, run-down mansion that is widely thought to be haunted.
While most of the band was preoccupied with the mansion’s dampness and lack of heating, Jimmy Page was reportedly distraught by the potential problems of living in a haunted estate. Considering Page’s fascination with esotericism and the occult, the guitarist was highly open to tales of hauntings and mystical goings-on. Despite any misgivings, Headley Grange would ultimately prove very fruitful for the development of the band. Although the mansion was cold and a bit worse for the wear, the band made the house their temporary home and achieved a high level of productivity. “Led Zeppelin IV” would sell over 37 million copies and become one of the most popular albums in rock. If there are any mystical presences haunting Headley Grange, they seem to have given Led Zeppelin their full approval.