Led Zeppelin: revered and vilified, sometimes by the same person – the personal, lyrical, and sometimes musical excesses (particularly live) are easy to ridicule, especially in retrospect, but there is ample reason why Led Zeppelin was THE best-selling rock band of the ’70s.
Over a 10-year career from ’69-’79, Led Zeppelin was the most popular rock group in the world, ultimately selling over 50 million records in the U.S. alone, developing the blues-based power trio-plus-lead singer archetype in many directions including mystical English folk-rock, Middle Eastern-influenced exotica, quirky pop, and every manner of heaviness.
Their ubiquity on classic rock radio formats and the aforementioned excesses have led many to dismiss the band as overrated and symptomatic of the decline of rock ‘n’ roll in the ’70s. The super value collection, Early Days and Latter Days: Best of Vols 1 and 2 (2 discs, only 16.95 through Amazon), prove that, if anything, the band’s MUSICAL greatness is still underappreciated, due to the previously mentioned resentments, and the fact that the band had no particular cultural impact – they didn’t much stand for anything.
Jimmy Page, who had led the last incarnation of the Yardbirds and had been an extremely successful session guitarist (Who, Kinks, Them, Donovan, Joe Cocker), formed the band with veteran session bassist John Paul Jones, 19 year-old singer Robert Plant, and Plant’s friend, drummer John Bonham, in ’69. Commenting upon Page’s low expectations for the success of the band, Keith Moon suggested the name “Led Zeppelin.”
They were both wrong: Led Zeppelin l, Led Zeppelin ll and Led Zeppelin lV (Zoso) are among rock’s greatest albums, with Plant’s vocals reaching levels of deranged ecstasy matched perhaps only by Little Richard, Bonham’s drums pounding relentlessly like a nimble elephant dancing through the house, Jones’ bass gluing the disparate elements together, and Page, who did most of the writing and production, playing some of the most fundamental and memorable guitar in rock history – from the heaviest crunch to the most delicate acoustic finger picking.
Give them another chance and see if you aren’t convinced. At that point, you can pick up the Complete Studio Recordings box set, which is also a steal at $116.99. And don’t forget the new live recordings and DVDs coming in May, sparking an inevitable revival.