Name and background
Malcolm and Angus Young developed the idea for the band’s name after seeing the initialism “AC/DC” on a vacuum cleaner. “AC/DC” is an abbreviation for “alternating current/direct current”. The brothers felt that this name symbolised the band’s raw energy, power-driven performances, and a love for their music. “AC/DC” is pronounced one letter at a time, though the band is popularly known as “Acca Dacca” in Australia.
Brothers Malcolm, Angus, and George Young were born in Glasgow, Scotland, and moved to Sydney with most of their family in 1963. George was the first to learn to play the guitar. He became a member of the Easybeats, Australia’s most successful band of the 1960s. In 1966, they became the first local rock act to have an international hit, with the song “Friday on My Mind”. Malcolm followed in George’s footsteps by playing with a Newcastle, New South Wales, band called the Velvet Underground (not to be confused with the New York-based Velvet Underground).
Early years: 1973–74 (the Dave Evans era)
In November 1973, Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC and recruited bassist Larry Van Kriedt, vocalist Dave Evans, and Colin Burgess, ex-Masters Apprentices drummer. The band played their first gig at a club named Chequers in Sydney on New Year’s Eve, 1973. They were later signed to the EMI-distributed Albert Productions label for Australia and New Zealand. The early line-up of the band changed often; Colin Burgess was the first member fired, and several bassists and drummers passed through the band during the next year.
By this time, Angus Young had adopted his characteristic school-uniform stage outfit. The original uniform was reputedly from his secondary school, Ashfield Boys High School in Sydney; the idea was his sister Margaret’s. Angus had tried other costumes, such as Spider-Man, Zorro, a gorilla, and a parody of Superman, named Super-Ang. In fact in its early days, most members of the band dressed in some form of glam or satin outfit but this approach was abandoned when it was discovered Melbourne band Skyhooks had already adopted this approach to their stage presentation.
The Young brothers decided that Evans was not a suitable frontman for the group, because they felt he was more of a glam rocker like Gary Glitter. On stage, Evans was occasionally replaced by the band’s first manager, Dennis Laughlin, who was the original lead singer with Sherbet prior to Daryl Braithwaite joining the band. Evans did not get along with Laughlin, which also contributed to the band’s ill feeling toward Evans. Meanwhile Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott, an experienced vocalist and friend of George Young, was interested in becoming their vocalist.
The Bon Scott era: 1974–80
In September 1974, Bon Scott replaced Dave Evans. The band had recorded only one single with Evans, “Can I Sit Next to You, Girl” / “Rockin’ in the Parlour”; eventually, the song was re-recorded with Bon Scott as “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” (Track 7 on the Australian album T.N.T., and Track 6 on the international release of High Voltage).
By January 1975, the Australia-only album High Voltage had been recorded. It took only ten days and was based on instrumental songs written by the Young brothers, with lyrics added by Scott. Within a few months, the band’s line-up had stabilised, featuring Scott, the Young brothers, bassist Mark Evans and drummer Phil Rudd. Later that year they released the single “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”, which became their perennial rock anthem. It was included on their second album, T.N.T., which was also released only in Australia and New Zealand. The album featured another classic song, “High Voltage”.
Between 1974 and 1977, aided by regular appearances on Molly Meldrum’s Countdown, the ABC’s nationally broadcast pop-music television show, AC/DC became one of the most popular and successful acts in Australia. Their performance on 3 April 1977 was their last live TV appearance for more than 20 years.
International success: 1977–80
In 1976, the band signed an international deal with Atlantic Records and toured extensively
throughout Europe. They gained invaluable experience of the stadium circuit, supporting leading hard rock acts such as Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Kiss, Styx and Blue Öyster Cult, and co-headlined with Cheap Trick.
The first AC/DC album to gain worldwide distribution was a 1976 compilation of tracks taken from the High Voltage and T.N.T. LPs. Also titled High Voltage, and released on the Atlantic Records label, the album sold three million copies worldwide, partly due to its popularity with a British punk audience. The track selection was heavily weighted toward the more recent T.N.T., and included only two songs from their first LP. The band’s next album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, was released in the same year in both Australian and international versions, like its predecessor. Track listings varied worldwide, and the international version of the album also featured “Rocker” from T.N.T. The original Australian version included “Jailbreak” (now more readily available on the 1984 compilation EP ’74 Jailbreak or as a live version on the 1992 Live album). Dirty Deeds was not released in the US until 1981, by which time the band were at the peak of their popularity.
Following the 1977 recording Let There Be Rock, bassist Mark Evans was sacked due to personal differences with Angus Young. He was replaced by Cliff Williams, who also provided backing vocals alongside Malcolm Young. Neither of the Young brothers has elaborated on the departure of Evans, though Richard Griffiths, the CEO of Epic Records and a booking agent for AC/DC in the mid-1970s, later commented, “You knew Mark wasn’t going to last, he was just too much of a nice guy.”
AC/DC were a formative influence on New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands who emerged in the late 1970s, such as Saxon and Iron Maiden, in part as a reaction to the decline of traditional early 1970s heavy metal bands. In 2007, critics noted that AC/DC, along with Thin Lizzy, UFO, Scorpions and Judas Priest, were among “the second generation of rising stars ready to step into the breach as the old guard waned.”
AC/DC’s first American exposure was through the Michigan radio station AM 600 WTAC in 1977. The station’s manager, Peter C. Cavanaugh, booked the band to play at Flint’s Capitol Theater. The supporting act was MC5, who had just briefly reunited and agreed to play at the event. The band opened with their popular song “Live Wire” and closed with “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”.
AC/DC came to be identified with the punk rock movement by the British press. Their reputation, however, managed to survive the punk upheavals of the late 1970s, and they maintained a cult following in the UK throughout this time. Angus Young gained notoriety for mooning the audience during live performances.
The 1978 release of Powerage marked the debut of bassist Cliff Williams, and with its harder riffs, followed the blueprint set by Let There Be Rock. Only one single was released for Powerage, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation” and gave AC/DC the highest mark at the time, reaching #24. An appearance at the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow during the Powerage tour was recorded and released as If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, featuring such songs as “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Problem Child”, and “Let There Be Rock”, as well as lesser-known album tracks like “Riff Raff”. The album was the last produced by Harry Vanda and George Young with Bon Scott on vocals (although Vanda and Young later produced Who Made Who, Blow Up Your Video and Stiff Upper Lip) and is claimed to be AC/DC’s most under-rated album.
The major breakthrough in the band’s career came in their collaboration with producer “Mutt” Lange on a sixth album Highway to Hell, released in 1979. It became the first AC/DC LP to break into the US top 100, eventually reaching #17, and it propelled AC/DC into the top ranks of hard rock acts. Highway to Hell had lyrics that shifted away from flippant and comical toward more central rock themes, putting increased emphasis on backing vocals but still featured AC/DC’s signature sound: loud, simple, pounding riffs and grooving backbeats. The final track, “Night Prowler”, has two breaths in quick succession at the start of the song, intended to create a tone of fear and loathing.
Scott’s death: 1980
On 19 February 1980, Bon Scott passed out after a night of heavy drinking in London and was left in a car owned by an acquaintance named Alistair Kinnear. The following morning, Kinnear rushed him to King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, where Scott was pronounced dead on arrival. Pulmonary aspiration of vomit was the cause of Scott’s death, and the official cause was listed as “acute alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure”. Scott’s family buried him in Fremantle, Western Australia, the area to which they had emigrated when he was a boy.
Inconsistencies in the official accounts of Scott’s death have been cited in conspiracy theories, which suggest that Scott died of a heroin overdose, or was killed by exhaust fumes redirected into the car, or that Kinnear did not exist. Additionally, Scott was asthmatic, and the temperature was below freezing on the morning of his death.
The Brian Johnson era: 1980–present
Following Scott’s death, the band briefly considered quitting; they eventually concluded,
however, that Scott would have wanted AC/DC to continue, and various candidates were considered for his replacement, including Buzz Shearman, ex-Moxy member, who was not able to join due to voice problems, and ex-Back Street Crawler vocalist Terry Slesser, who turned down this opportunity when he decided not to join an established band and instead started a solo career. The remaining AC/DC members finally decided on ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson.
Angus Young later recalled, “I remember Bon playing me Little Richard, and then telling me the story of when he saw Brian singing.” He says about that night, “There’s this guy up there screaming at the top of his lungs and then the next thing you know he hits the deck. He’s on the floor, rolling around and screaming. I thought it was great, and then to top it off—you couldn’t get a better encore—they came in and wheeled the guy off!” Later that night, Johnson would be diagnosed with appendicitis, which was the cause of his writhing around on stage.
For the audition, Johnson sang “Whole Lotta Rosie” from Let There Be Rock and Ike & Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”. He was hired a few days after the audition.
With Brian Johnson the band completed the songwriting that they had begun with Bon Scott for the album Back in Black. Recording took place at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas a few months after Scott’s death. Back in Black, produced by Mutt Lange and recorded by Tony Platt, became their biggest-selling album and a hard-rock landmark; hits include “Hells Bells”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, and the title track. The album was certified platinum three months after its release, and by 2007 it had sold more than 22 million copies in the United States, making it the fourth-highest-selling album ever in the US. The album reached #1 in the UK and #4 in the US, where it spent 131 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart.
The follow-up album, 1981’s For Those About to Rock We Salute You, also sold well and was positively received by critics. The album featured two of the band’s most popular singles: “Let’s Get It Up” and the title track, “For Those About to Rock”, which reached #13 and #15 in the UK, respectively. The band split with Lange for their self-produced 1983 album, Flick of the Switch, in an effort to recover the rawness and simplicity of their early albums.
Departure of Rudd and commercial decline: 1983–87
Amid rumours of alcoholism and drug-induced paranoia, drummer Phil Rudd’s friendship with Malcolm Young deteriorated and, after a long period of unfriendliness, the men’s dislike for each other grew so strong that they fought. Rudd was fired two hours after the fight. Session drummer B.J. Wilson was drafted in to help complete the recordings, but his drum parts were eventually not used. Although Rudd had finished the drum tracks for their next album, he was replaced by Simon Wright in the summer of 1983 after the band held an anonymous audition.
Later in the year, AC/DC released the self-produced album Flick of the Switch, which was less successful than their previous albums, and was considered underdeveloped and unmemorable. One critic stated that the band “had made the same album nine times”. AC/DC was voted the eighth-biggest disappointment of the year in the 1984 Kerrang! readers’ poll. However, Flick of the Switch eventually reached #4 on the UK charts, and AC/DC had minor success with the singles “Nervous Shakedown” and “Flick of the Switch”. Fly on the Wall, produced by the Young brothers in 1985, was also regarded as uninspired and directionless. A music concept video of the same name featured the band at a bar, playing five of the album’s ten songs.
In 1986, the group returned to the charts with the made-for-radio “Who Made Who”. The album Who Made Who was the soundtrack to Stephen King’s film Maximum Overdrive, and is the closest the band has come to releasing a “greatest hits” collection, which AC/DC has always refused to do. It brought together older hits, such as “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Ride On”, with newer songs such as title track “Who Made Who”, and two new instrumentals, “D.T.” and “Chase the Ace”.
In February 1988, AC/DC were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame.
Renewed popularity: 1987–2000
AC/DC’s 1988 album, Blow Up Your Video, was recorded at Studio Miraval in Le Val, France, and reunited the band with their original producers, Harry Vanda and George Young. The group recorded nineteen songs, choosing ten for the final release; though the album was later criticised for containing excessive “filler”, it was a commercial success. Blow Up Your Video sold more copies than the previous two studio releases combined, reaching #2 on the UK charts—AC/DC’s highest position since “Back in Black” in 1980. The album featured the UK top-twenty single “Heatseeker” and popular songs such as “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock and Roll”. The Blow Up Your Video World Tour began in February 1988, in Perth, Australia. That April, following live appearances across Europe, Malcolm Young announced that he was taking time off from touring, principally to begin recovery from his alcoholism. Another member of the Young family, Stevie Young, temporarily took Malcolm’s place.
Following the tour, Wright left the group to work on the upcoming Dio album Lock Up the Wolves, and was replaced by session veteran Chris Slade. Johnson was unavailable for several months while finalising his divorce, so the Young brothers wrote all the songs for the next album, a practice they continued for all subsequent releases through Black Ice in 2008. The new album, The Razors Edge, was recorded in Vancouver, Canada, and produced by Bruce Fairbairn, who had previously worked with Aerosmith and Bon Jovi. Released in 1990, it was a major comeback for the band, and included the hits “Thunderstruck” and “Are You Ready”, which reached #5 and #16 respectively on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart, and “Moneytalks”, which peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album went multi-platinum and reached the US top ten. Several shows on the Razors Edge tour were recorded for the 1992 live album, titled Live. Live was produced by Fairbairn, and is considered one of the best live albums of the 1990s. A year later, AC/DC recorded “Big Gun” for the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Last Action Hero, and was released as a single, reaching #1 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, the band’s first #1 single on that chart.
In 1994, Angus and Malcolm invited Rudd to several jam sessions. He was eventually rehired to replace Slade, whose amicable departure arose in part due to the band’s strong desire to again work with Rudd. In 1995, with the 1980–83 line-up back together, the group released Ballbreaker, recorded at the Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, California, and produced by Rick Rubin. The first single from the album was “Hard as a Rock”. Two more singles were released from the album: “Hail Caesar” and “Cover You in Oil”.
In 1997, a box set named Bonfire was released. It contained four albums; a remastered version of Back in Black; Volts (a disc with alternate takes, outtakes, and stray live cuts) and two live albums, Live from the Atlantic Studios and Let There Be Rock: The Movie. Live from the Atlantic Studios was recorded on 7 December 1977 at the Atlantic Studios in New York. Let There Be Rock: The Movie was a double album recorded in 1979 at the Pavillon de Paris and was the soundtrack of a motion picture, AC/DC: Let There Be Rock. The US version of the box set included a colour booklet, a two-sided poster, a sticker, a temporary tattoo, a keychain bottle opener, and a guitar pick.
Recent events: 2000–08
In 2000, the band released Stiff Upper Lip, produced by George Young
at the Warehouse Studio, again in Vancouver. The album was better received by critics than Ballbreaker but was considered lacking in new ideas. The Australian release included a bonus disc with three promotional videos and several live performances recorded in Madrid, Spain in 1996. Stiff Upper Lip reached #1 in five countries, including Argentina and Germany; #2 in three countries, Spain, France and Switzerland; #3 in Australia; #5 in Canada and Portugal; and #7 in Norway, the US and Hungary. The first single, “Stiff Upper Lip”, remained at #1 on the US Mainstream Rock charts for four weeks. The other singles released also did very well; “Satellite Blues” and “Safe in New York City” reached #7 and #31 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks, respectively.
In 2002, AC/DC signed a long-term, multi-album deal with Sony Music, who went on to release a series of remastered albums as part of their AC/DC remasters series. Each release contained an expanded booklet featuring rare photographs, memorabilia, and notes. In 2003, the entire back-catalogue (except Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip) was remastered and re-released. Ballbreaker was eventually re-released in October 2005; Stiff Upper Lip was later re-released in April 2007.
On 30 July 2003, the band performed with the Rolling Stones and Rush at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto. The concert, held before an audience of half a million, was intended to help the city overcome the negative publicity stemming from the effects of a 2003 SARS epidemic. The concert holds the record for the largest paid music event in North American history. The band came second in a list of Australia’s highest-earning entertainers for 2005, and sixth for 2006, despite having neither toured since 2003 nor released an album since 2000. Verizon Wireless has gained the rights to release AC/DC’s full albums and the entire Live at Donington concert to download in 2008.
On 16 October 2007, Columbia Records released a double and triple DVD titled Plug Me In. The set consists of five and seven hours of rare footage, and even a recording of AC/DC at a high school performing “School Days”, “T.N.T.”, “She’s Got Balls”, and “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)”. As with Family Jewels, disc one contains rare shows of the band with Bon Scott, and disc two is about the Brian Johnson era. The collector’s edition contains an extra DVD with 21 more rare performances of both Scott and Johnson and more interviews.
AC/DC made their video game debut on Rock Band 2, with “Let There Be Rock” included as a playable track. The setlist from their Live at Donington live album was released as playable songs for the Rock Band series by means of a Wal-Mart-exclusive retail disc titled AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack.
No Bull: The Directors Cut, a newly edited, comprehensive Blu-Ray and DVD of the band’s July 1996 Plaza De Toros de las Ventas concert in Madrid, Spain, was released on 9 September 2008.
Black Ice: 2008–present
On 18 August 2008, Columbia Records announced the 18 October Australian release,
and 20 October worldwide release, of the studio album Black Ice. The 15-track album was the band’s first studio release in eight years, and was produced by Brendan O’Brien. Like Stiff Upper Lip, it was recorded at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. Black Ice was sold in the US exclusively at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and the band’s official website.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Train”, the album’s first single, was released to radio on 28 August. On 15 August, AC/DC recorded a video for a song from the new album in London with a special selection of fans getting the chance to be in the video.
The 18-month Black Ice World Tour supporting the new album was announced on September 11 and began on 28 October in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They have announced 42 dates in North America between October and end in Nashville, Tennessee on 31 January 2009. The band from Northern Ireland known as The Answer will be their opening act during the North American portion of the tour.
On 15 September 2008, AC/DC Radio debuted on Sirius Channel 19 and XM channel 53. The exclusive 24/7, limited engagement channel plays classics like “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black”, preview tracks from their upcoming release, Black Ice, and feature exclusive interviews with the band members, who share their personal insights into their music and careers, spanning more than 30 years.
With the North American release of Black Ice on 20 October 2008, Columbia Records and Walmart created “Rock Again AC/DC Stores” with the album Black Ice holding centre stage. It was the first time in the history of Walmart that such a large area of floor space was designated to celebrate the release of a new album. In October 2008, MTV along with Wal Mart and Columbia Records created “AC/DC Rock Band Stores” in New York City, at Times Square, and in Los Angeles. “Black Ice” trucks were also dispatched on the streets of these two cities after the release of Black Ice, playing AC/DC music aloud and making various stops each day to sell merchandise
* Bon Jovi (1984)
* 7800° Fahrenheit (1985)
* Slippery When Wet (1986)
* New Jersey (1988)
* Keep the Faith (1992)
* These Days (1995)
* Crush (2000)
* Bounce (2002)
* Have a Nice Day (2005)
* Lost Highway (2007)
* The Circle (2009)
* Cross Road: Greatest Hits (1994)
* Tokyo Road: Best of Bon Jovi (2001)
* This Left Feels Right (2003)
* One Wild Night Live 1985-2001 (2001)
* 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong (2004)
While members of Led Zeppelin have seldom allowed their works to be licensed for films or commercials, in recent years, their position has softened. The songs of Led Zeppelin can be heard in movies such as Shrek the Third, One Day in September, School of Rock (“Immigrant Song” in all three), Dogtown and Z-Boys (“Achilles Last Stand”, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, and “Hots On for Nowhere”), Almost Famous (“That’s the Way”, “The Rain Song”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Bron-Yr-Aur”, and “Tangerine”), “Stairway to Heaven” was in a part of the movie, but later on it was taken out, due to the length. It Might Get Loud (” The Rain Song”, “Ramble On”, “How Many More Times”, “When The Levee Breaks”, “Battle of Evermore”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “White Summer”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “In My Time of Dying”, and “Ten Years Gone”.) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (“Kashmir”), and Small Soldiers (“Communication Breakdown”). The television series One Tree Hill featured the song “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. The band has denied frequent requests by developers of popular music video games to use their songs. As with other forms of media, the band seeks to protect the integrity of their work. Specifically, “the band isn’t comfortable with the prospect of granting outsiders access to its master tapes, a necessary step in creating the games.”
Also noteworthy is Cadillac’s use of “Rock and Roll” in their US TV advertising campaign. Recently, Led Zeppelin have agreed to allow Apple to sell their music in Apple’s iTunes Store, with the greatest hits collection Mothership as the marquee offering.
In April 2007, Hard Rock Park (now Freestyle Music Park) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, announced it had secured an agreement with the band to create “Led Zeppelin – The Ride”, a roller coaster built by Bolliger & Mabillard, synchronised to the music of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. The coaster stands 155 feet (47 m) tall, features six inversions, and spirals over a lagoon. The ride officially opened with the park on May 9, 2008. The ride is currently “Standing but not operating” (SBNO) due to Hard Rock Park filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In January 2009, the park filed for Chapter 7. In February 2009, the park was sold to new owners FPI MB Entertainment, who plan to reopen by Memorial Day 2009. On May 4, 2009, the ride was renamed “The Time Machine,” with hit songs from five decades replacing Led Zeppelin.
- Studio albums
- Led Zeppelin (1969)
- Led Zeppelin II (1969)
- Led Zeppelin III (1970)
- Led Zeppelin IV (1971) (unofficial title)
- Houses of the Holy (1973)
- Physical Graffiti (1975)
- Presence (1976)
- In Through the Out Door (1979)
- Coda (1982)
- The Song Remains the Same (1976)
- Led Zeppelin (DVD) (2003)
- Mothership (DVD) (2007)
The New Yardbirds (1968)
The beginning of Led Zeppelin can be traced back to the English blues-influenced rock band The Yardbirds. Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds in 1966 to play bass guitar after the original bassist, Paul Samwell-Smith, left the group. Shortly after, Page switched from bass to lead guitar, creating a dual-lead guitar line up with Jeff Beck. Following the departure of Beck from the group in October 1966, The Yardbirds, tired from constant touring and recording, were beginning to wind down. Page wanted to form a supergroup with himself and Beck on guitars, and The Who’s rhythm section—drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle. Vocalists Donovan, Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group never formed, although Page, Beck and Moon did record a song together in 1966, “Beck’s Bolero”, which is featured on Beck’s 1968 album, Truth. The recording session also included bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, who told Page that he would be interested in collaborating with him on future projects.
The Yardbirds played their final gig in July 1968. However, they were still committed to performing several concerts in Scandinavia, so drummer Jim McCarty and vocalist Keith Relf authorised Page and bassist Chris Dreja to use the Yardbirds name to fulfil the band’s obligations. Page and Dreja began putting a new line-up together. Page’s first choice for lead singer, Terry Reid, declined the offer, but suggested Robert Plant, a West Bromwich singer. Plant eventually accepted the position, recommending a drummer, John Bonham from nearby Redditch. When Dreja dropped out of the project to become a photographer (he would later take the photograph that appeared on the back of Led Zeppelin’s debut album), John Paul Jones, at the suggestion of his wife, contacted Page about the vacant position. Being familiar with Jones’ credentials, Page agreed to bring in Jones as the final piece.
The group came together for the first time in a room below a record store on Gerrard Street in London. Page suggested that they try playing “Train Kept A-Rollin'”, a rockabilly song popularised by Johnny Burnette that had been given new life by the Yardbirds. “As soon as I heard John Bonham play,” recalled Jones, “I knew this was going to be great… We locked together as a team immediately.” Shortly afterwards, the group played together on the final day of sessions for the P. J. Proby album, Three Week Hero. The album’s song “Jim’s Blues” was the first studio track to feature all four members of the future Led Zeppelin. Proby recalled, “Come the last day we found we had some studio time, so I just asked the band to play while I just came up with the words. … They weren’t Led Zeppelin at the time, they were the New Yardbirds and they were going to be my band.”
The band completed the Scandinavian tour as The New Yardbirds, playing together for the first time in front of a live audience at Gladsaxe Teen Clubs in Gladsaxe, Denmark on 7 September 1968. However, it was clear to the band that performing under the old Yardbirds tag was akin to working under false pretences, and upon returning from Scandinavia they decided to change their name. One account of the band’s naming, which has become almost legendary, has it that Keith Moon and John Entwistle, drummer and bassist for The Who, respectively, suggested that a possible supergroup containing themselves, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck would go over like a lead zeppelin, a term Entwistle used to describe a bad gig. The group deliberately dropped the ‘a’ in Lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, to prevent “thick Americans” from pronouncing it “leed”.
Grant also secured for the new band an advance deal of $200,000 from Atlantic Records in November 1968, then the biggest deal of its kind for a new band. Atlantic was a label known for a catalogue of blues, soul and jazz artists, but in the late 1960s it began to take an interest in progressive British rock acts, and signed Led Zeppelin without having ever seen them, largely on the recommendation of singer Dusty Springfield. Under the terms of the contract secured by Grant, the band alone would decide when they would release albums and tour, and had final say over the contents and design of each album. They also would decide how to promote each release and which (if any) tracks to release as singles, and formed their own company, Superhype, to handle all publishing rights.
Early days (1968–1970)
With their first album not yet released, the band made their live debut under the name “Led Zeppelin” at the University of Surrey, Guildford on 25 October 1968. This was followed by a US concert debut on 26 December 1968 (when promoter Barry Fey added them to a bill in Denver, Colorado) before moving on to the west coast for dates in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities. Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album was released on 12 January 1969, during their first US tour. The album’s blend of blues, folk and eastern influences with distorted amplification made it one of the pivotal records in the creation of heavy metal music. However, Plant has commented that it is unfair for people to typecast the band as heavy metal, since about a third of their music was acoustic. On their first album Plant receives no credit for his contributions to the songwriting, a result of his previous association with CBS Records.
In an interview for the Led Zeppelin Profiled radio promo CD (1990) Page said that the album took about 36 hours of studio time to create (including mixing), and stated that he knows this because of the amount charged on the studio bill. Peter Grant claimed the album cost £1,750 to produce (including artwork). By 1975, the album had grossed $7,000,000. Led Zeppelin’s album cover met an interesting protest when, at a 28 February 1970 gig in Copenhagen, the band were billed as “The Nobs” as the result of a threat of legal action from Countess Eva von Zeppelin (granddaughter of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the creator of the Zeppelin airships), who, upon seeing the logo of the Hindenburg crashing in flames, threatened to have the show pulled off the air. She is reported to have said: “They may be world famous, but a couple of shrieking monkeys are not going to use a privileged family name without permission”.
In their first year, Led Zeppelin managed to complete four US and four UK concert tours, and also released their second album, entitled Led Zeppelin II. Recorded almost entirely on the road at various North American recording studios, the second album was an even greater success than the first and reached the number one chart position in the US and the UK. Here the band further developed ideas established on their debut album, creating a work which became even more widely acclaimed and arguably more influential. It has been suggested that Led Zeppelin II largely wrote the blueprint for heavy metal bands that followed it.
Following the album’s release, Led Zeppelin completed several more tours of the United States. They played often, initially in clubs and ballrooms, then in larger auditoriums and eventually stadiums as their popularity grew. Led Zeppelin concerts could last more than four hours, with expanded, improvised live versions of their song repertoire. Many of these shows have been preserved as Led Zeppelin bootleg recordings. It was also during this period of intensive concert touring that the band developed a reputation for off-stage excess. One alleged example of such extravagance was the shark episode, or red snapper incident, which is said to have taken place at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle, Washington, on 28 July 1969.
Led Zeppelin’s popularity in the early years was dwarfed by their triumphant mid-seventies successes and it is this period that continues to define the band. The band’s image also changed as members began to wear elaborate, flamboyant clothing. Led Zeppelin began travelling in a private jet airliner (nicknamed The Starship), rented out entire sections of hotels (most notably the Continental Hyatt House in Los Angeles, known colloquially as the “Riot House”), and became the subject of many of rock’s most famous stories of debauchery. One escapade involved John Bonham riding a motorcycle through a rented floor of the Riot House, while another involved the destruction of a room in the Tokyo Hilton, leading to the band being banned from that establishment for life. However, although Led Zeppelin developed a reputation for trashing their hotel suites and throwing television sets out of the windows, some suggest that these tales have been somewhat exaggerated. Music journalist Chris Welch argues that “[Led Zeppelin’s] travels spawned many stories, but it was a myth that were constantly engaged in acts of wanton destruction and lewd behaviour.”
For the composition of their third album, Led Zeppelin III, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, in 1970. The result was a more acoustic sound (and a song, “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp”, misspelt as “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” on the album cover), which was strongly influenced by folk and Celtic music, and revealed the band’s versatility.
The album’s rich acoustic sound initially received mixed reactions, with many critics and fans surprised at the turn taken away from the primarily electric compositions of the first two albums. Over time, however, its reputation has improved and Led Zeppelin III is now generally praised. It has a unique album cover featuring a wheel which, when rotated, displays various images through cut outs in the main jacket sleeve. The album’s opening track, “Immigrant Song”, was released in November 1970 by Atlantic Records as a single against the band’s wishes. It included their only non-album b-side, “Hey Hey What Can I Do”. Even though the band saw their albums as indivisible, whole listening experiences—and their manager, Peter Grant, maintained an aggressive pro-album stance—some singles were released without their consent. The group also increasingly resisted television appearances, enforcing their preference that their fans hear and see them in live concerts.
“The biggest band in the world” (1971–1977)
Led Zeppelin’s fourth album was released on 8 November 1971. There was no indication of a title or a band name on the original cover, but on the LP label four symbols were printed. The band took this decision because of their disdain for the music press, which tended to label them as hyped and overrated. In response, they released the album with no indication of who they were in order to prove that the music could sell itself. The album is variously referred to as Four Symbols and The Fourth Album (both titles were used in the Atlantic Records catalogue), and also IV, Untitled, Zoso, Runes, Sticks, Man With Sticks, and Four. It is still officially untitled and most commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2005, Plant said that it is simply called The Fourth Album.
further refined the band’s unique formula of combining earthy, acoustic elements with heavy metal and blues emphases. The album included examples of hard rock, such as “Black Dog” and an acoustic track, “Going to California” (a tribute to Joni Mitchell). “Rock and Roll” is a tribute to the early rock music of the 1950s. In 2007, the song was used prominently in Cadillac automobile commercials—one of the few instances of Led Zeppelin’s surviving members licensing songs.
The album is one of the best-selling albums in history and its massive popularity cemented Led Zeppelin’s superstardom in the 1970s. To date it has sold 23 million copies in the United States. The track “Stairway to Heaven”, although never released as a single, is sometimes quoted as being the most requested, and most played album-oriented rock FM radio song. In 2005, the magazine Guitar World held a poll of readers in which “Stairway to Heaven” was voted as having the greatest guitar solo of all time.
Led Zeppelin’s next album, Houses of the Holy, was released in 1973. It featured further experimentation, with longer tracks and expanded use of synthesisers and mellotron orchestration. The song “Houses of the Holy” does not appear on its namesake album, even though it was recorded at the same time as other songs on the album; it eventually made its way onto the 1975 album Physical Graffiti. The orange album cover of Houses of the Holy depicts images of nude children climbing up the Giant’s Causeway (in County Antrim, Northern Ireland). Although the children are not depicted from the front, this was controversial at the time of the album’s release, and in some areas, such as the “Bible Belt” and Spain, the record was banned.
The album topped the charts, and Led Zeppelin’s subsequent concert tour of the United States in 1973 broke records for attendance, as they consistently filled large auditoriums and stadiums. At Tampa Stadium, Florida, they played to 56,800 fans (breaking the record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965), and grossed $309,000. Three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York were filmed for a motion picture, but the theatrical release of this project (The Song Remains the Same) would be delayed until 1976. Before the final night’s performance, $180,000 of the band’s money from gate receipts was stolen from a safety deposit box at the Drake Hotel. It was never recovered.
In 1974, Led Zeppelin took a break from touring and launched their own record label, Swan Song, named after one of only five Led Zeppelin songs which the band never released commercially (Page later re-worked the song with his band,
The Firm, and it appears as “Midnight Moonlight” on their first album). The record label’s logo, based on a drawing called Evening: Fall of Day (1869) by William Rimmer, features a picture of Apollo. The logo can be found on much Led Zeppelin memorabilia, especially t-shirts. In addition to using Swan Song as a vehicle to promote their own albums, the band expanded the label’s roster, signing artists such as Bad Company, Pretty Things, Maggie Bell, Detective, Dave Edmunds, Midnight Flyer, Sad Café and Wildlife. The label was successful while Led Zeppelin existed, but folded less than three years after they disbanded.
24 February 1975 saw the release of Led Zeppelin’s first double album, Physical Graffiti, which was their first release on the Swan Song Records label. It consisted of fifteen songs, eight of which were recorded at Headley Grange in 1974, and the remainder being tracks previously recorded but not released on earlier albums. A review in Rolling Stone magazine referred to Physical Graffiti as Led Zeppelin’s “bid for artistic respectability,” adding that the only competition the band had for the title of ‘World’s Best Rock Band’ were The Rolling Stones and The Who. The album was a massive fiscal and critical success. Shortly after the release of Physical Graffiti, all previous Led Zeppelin albums simultaneously re-entered the top-200 album chart, and the band embarked on another U.S. tour, again playing to record-breaking crowds. In May 1975, Led Zeppelin played five highly successful, sold-out nights at the Earls Court Arena in London, footage of which was released in 2003, on the Led Zeppelin DVD.
Following these triumphant Earls Court appearances Led Zeppelin took a holiday and planned a series of outdoor summer concerts in America, scheduled to open with two dates in San Francisco. These plans were thwarted in August 1975 when Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were involved in a serious car crash while on holiday in Rhodes, Greece. Robert suffered a broken ankle and Maureen was badly injured; a blood transfusion saved her life. Unable to tour, Plant headed to the channel island of Jersey to spend August and September recuperating, with Bonham and Page in tow. The band then reconvened in Malibu, California. It was during this forced hiatus that much of the material for their next album, Presence, was written.
By this time, Led Zeppelin were the world’s number one rock attraction, having outsold most bands of the time, including the Rolling Stones. Presence, released in March 1976, marked a change in the Led Zeppelin sound towards more straightforward, guitar-based jams, departing from the acoustic ballads and intricate arrangements featured on their previous albums. Though it was a platinum seller, Presence received mixed responses from critics and fans and some speculated the band’s legendary excesses may have caught up with them. The recording of Presence coincided with the beginning of Page’s heroin use, which may have interfered with Led Zeppelin’s later live shows and studio recordings, although Page has denied this. Despite the original criticisms, Jimmy Page has called Presence his favourite album, and its opening track “Achilles Last Stand” his favourite Led Zeppelin song. In an interview with a Swedish TV program, Plant stated that Presence is the album that sounds the most “Led Zeppelin” of all their LPs.
Plant’s injuries prevented Led Zeppelin from touring in 1976. Instead, the band finally completed the concert film The Song Remains The Same, and the soundtrack album of the film. The recording had taken place during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in July 1973, during the band’s concert tour of the United States. The film premiered in New York on 20 October 1976, but was given a lukewarm reception by critics and fans. The film was particularly unsuccessful in the UK, where, after being unwilling to tour since 1975 due to a taxation exile, Led Zeppelin were facing an uphill battle to recapture the public spotlight at home.
In 1977, Led Zeppelin embarked on another major concert tour of North America. Here the band set another attendance record, with 76,229 people attending their Pontiac Silverdome concert on 30 April. It was, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest attendance to date for a single act show. However, though the tour was financially profitable it was beset with off-stage problems. On 3 June a concert at Tampa Stadium was cut short because of a severe thunderstorm, despite tickets printed with “Rain or Shine”. A riot broke out amongst the audience, resulting in several arrests and injuries. After a 23 July show at the “Day on the Green” festival at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California, John Bonham and members of the band’s support staff (including manager Peter Grant and security coordinator John Bindon) were arrested after a member of promoter Bill Graham’s staff was badly beaten during the performance. A member of the staff had allegedly slapped Grant’s son when he was taking down a dressing room sign. This was seen by John Bonham, who came over and kicked the man. Then, when Grant heard about this, he went into the trailer, along with Bindon and assaulted the man while tour manager Richard Cole stood outside and guarded the trailer. The following day’s second Oakland concert would prove to be the band’s final live appearance in the United States. Two days later, as the band checked in at a French Quarter hotel for their 30 July performance at the Louisiana Superdome, news came that Plant’s five year old son, Karac, had died from a stomach virus. The rest of the tour was immediately cancelled, prompting widespread speculation about the band’s future.
Bonham’s death and breakup (1978–1980)
November 1978 saw the group recording again, this time at Polar Studios in Stockholm, Sweden. The resultant album was In Through the Out Door, which exhibited a degree of sonic experimentation that again drew mixed reactions from critics. Nevertheless, the band still commanded legions of loyal fans, and the album easily reached #1 in the UK and the U.S. in just its second week on the Billboard album chart. As a result of this album’s release, Led Zeppelin’s entire catalogue made the Billboard Top 200 between the weeks of 27 October and 3 November 1979.
In August 1979, after two warm-up shows in Copenhagen, Denmark, Led Zeppelin headlined two concerts at the Knebworth Music Festival, where crowds of close to 120,000 witnessed the return of the band. However, Plant was not eager to tour full-time again, and even considered leaving Led Zeppelin. He was persuaded to stay by Peter Grant. A brief, low-key European tour was undertaken in June and July 1980, featuring a stripped-down set without the usual lengthy jams and solos. At one show on 27 June, in Nuremberg, Germany, the concert came to an abrupt end in the middle of the third song when John Bonham collapsed on stage and was rushed to a hospital. Press speculation arose that Bonham’s problem was caused by an excess of alcohol and drugs, but the band claimed that he had simply overeaten, and they completed the European tour on 7 July, at Berlin.
On 24 September 1980, Bonham was picked up by Led Zeppelin assistant Rex King to attend rehearsals at Bray Studios for the upcoming tour of the United States, the band’s first since 1977, scheduled to commence on 17 October. During the journey Bonham had asked to stop for breakfast, where he downed four quadruple vodkas (450 ml), with a ham roll. After taking a bite of the ham roll he said to his assistant, “Breakfast”. He continued to drink heavily when he arrived at the studio. A halt was called to the rehearsals late in the evening and the band retired to Page’s house — The Old Mill House in Clewer, Windsor. After midnight, Bonham had fallen asleep and was taken to bed and placed on his side. At 1:45 pm the next day Benji LeFevre (who had replaced Richard Cole as Led Zeppelin’s tour manager) and John Paul Jones found him dead. Bonham was 32 years old. The cause of death was asphyxiation from vomit, and a verdict of accidental death was returned at an inquest held on 27 October. An autopsy found no other drugs in Bonham’s body. Bonham was cremated on 10 October 1980, and his ashes buried at Rushock parish church in Droitwich, Worcestershire, England.
Despite rumours that Cozy Powell, Carmine Appice, Barriemore Barlow, Simon Kirke or Bev Bevan would join the group as his replacement, the remaining members decided to disband after Bonham’s death. They issued a press statement on 4 December 1980 confirming that the band would not continue without Bonham. “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”
Post-Led Zeppelin (1981–2007)
In 1982, the surviving members of the group released a collection of out-takes from various sessions during Led Zeppelin’s career, entitled Coda. It included two tracks taken from the band’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970, one each from the Led Zeppelin III and Houses of the Holy sessions, and three from the In Through the Out Door sessions. It also featured a 1976 John Bonham drum instrumental with electronic effects added by Jimmy Page, called “Bonzo’s Montreux”.
On 13 July 1985, Page, Plant and Jones reunited for the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, playing a short set featuring drummers Tony Thompson and Phil Collins and bassist Paul Martinez. Collins had contributed to Plant’s first two solo albums while Martinez was a member of Plant’s current solo band. However, the performance was marred by the lack of rehearsal with the two drummers, Page’s struggles with an out-of-tune Les Paul and poorly-functioning monitors, and by Plant’s hoarse voice. Page himself has described the performance as “pretty shambolic”, while Plant was even less charitable, characterising it as an “atrocity”. When Live Aid footage was released on a four-DVD set in late 2004 to raise money for Sudan, the group unanimously agreed not to allow footage from their performance to be used, asserting that it was not up to their standard. However, to demonstrate their ongoing support for the campaign Page and Plant pledged proceeds from their forthcoming Page and Plant DVD release and John Paul Jones pledged the proceeds of his then-current US tour with Mutual Admiration Society to the project.
The three members reunited again in May 1988, for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert, with Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham, on drums. However, the reunion was again compromised by a disjointed performance, particularly by Plant and Page (the two having argued immediately prior to coming on stage about whether to play “Stairway to Heaven”), and by the complete loss of Jones’ keyboards on the live television feed. Page later described the performance as “one big disappointment”, and Plant said unambiguously that “the gig was foul”.
The first Led Zeppelin box set of the nineties, featuring tracks remastered under the personal supervision of Jimmy Page, introduced the band’s music to many new fans, thus stimulating something of a renaissance for Led Zeppelin. This set also included four previously unreleased tracks, including the Robert Johnson tribute “Travelling Riverside Blues”, which was released as a single in the US. The song was a huge hit, with the video in heavy rotation on MTV. 1992 saw the release of the “Immigrant Song” b/w “Hey Hey What Can I Do” (the original b-side) as a CD single in the United States. The second box set was released in 1993; the two box sets together containing all known studio recordings, as well as some rare live tracks.
In 1994, Page and Plant reunited in the form of a 90 minute “UnLedded” MTV project. They later released an album called No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, which featured some reworked Led Zeppelin songs, and embarked on a world tour the following year. This is said to be the beginning of the inner rift between the band members, as Jones was not even told of the reunion. When asked where Jones was, Plant had replied that he was out “parking the car”.
On 12 January 1995, Led Zeppelin were inducted into the United States Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Aerosmith’s vocalist, Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry. Jason and Zoe Bonham also attended, representing their late father. At the induction ceremony, the band’s inner rift became apparent when Jones joked upon accepting his award, “Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number”, causing consternation and awkward looks from Page and Plant. Afterwards, they played a brief set with Tyler and Perry (featuring Jason Bonham on drums), and with Neil Young and Michael Lee replacing Bonham.
On 29 August 1997, Atlantic released a single edit of “Whole Lotta Love” in the U.S. and the UK, making it the only Led Zeppelin UK CD single. Additional tracks on this CD-single are “Baby Come On Home” and “Travelling Riverside Blues”. It is the only single the band ever released in the UK. It peaked at #21. 11 November 1997 saw the release of Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions, the first Led Zeppelin album in fifteen years. The two-disc set included almost all of the band’s recordings for the BBC. Page and Plant released another album called Walking into Clarksdale in 1998, featuring all new material. However, the album wasn’t as successful as No Quarter, and the band slowly dissolved.
On 29 November 1999 the RIAA announced that the band were only the third act in music history to achieve four or more Diamond albums. In 2002, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones reconciled after years of strife that kept the band apart. This was followed by rumours of reunion, quickly quashed by individual members’ representatives. 2003 saw the release of a triple live album, How the West Was Won, and a video collection, Led Zeppelin DVD, both featuring material from the band’s heyday. By the end of the year, the DVD had sold more than 520,000 copies.
Led Zeppelin were ranked #14 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, and the following year the band received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In November 2005, it was announced that Led Zeppelin and Russian conductor Valery Gergiev were the winners of the 2006 Polar Music Prize. The King of Sweden presented the prize to Plant, Page, and Jones, along with John Bonham’s daughter, in Stockholm in May 2006. In November 2006, Led Zeppelin were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. The television broadcasting of the event consisted of an introduction to the band by various famous admirers, a presentation of an award to Jimmy Page and then a short speech by the guitarist. After this, rock group Wolfmother played a tribute to Led Zeppelin, performing the song “Communication Breakdown”. Despite having gained a reputation with the band for “raising hell” in the 1970s, Robert Plant was awarded a CBE by Prince Charles for “Services to Music” in July 2009, which followed Jimmy Page’s OBE four years previously.
On 27 July 2007, Atlantic/Rhino, & Warner Home Video announced three new Led Zeppelin titles to be released in November, 2007. Released first was Mothership on 13 November, a 24-track best-of spanning the band’s career, followed by a reissue of the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same on 20 November which includes previously unreleased material, and a new DVD. On 15 October 2007, it was reported that Led Zeppelin were expected to announce a new series of agreements that make the band’s songs available as legal digital downloads, first as ringtones through Verizon Wireless then as digital downloads of the band’s eight studio albums and other recordings on 13 November. The offerings will be available through both Verizon Wireless and iTunes. On 3 November 2007, a UK newspaper the Daily Mirror announced that it had world exclusive rights to stream six previously unreleased tracks via its website. On 8 November 2007, XM Satellite Radio launched XM LED, the network’s first artist-exclusive channel dedicated to Led Zeppelin. On 13 November 2007, Led Zeppelin’s complete works were published on iTunes.
On 10 December 2007 the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited for a one-off benefit concert held in memory of music executive Ahmet Ertegün, with Jason Bonham taking up his late father’s place on drums. It was announced on 12 September 2007 by promoter Harvey Goldsmith in a press conference. The concert was to help raise money for the Ahmet
Ertegün Education Fund, which pays for university scholarships in the UK, US and Turkey. Music critics praised the band’s performance. Hamish MacBain of NME proclaimed, “What they have done here tonight is proof they can still perform to the level that originally earned them their legendary reputation…We can only hope this isn’t the last we see of them.” Page suggested the band may start work on new material, and stated that a world tour may be in the works. Meanwhile, Plant made his reluctance regarding a reunion tour known to The Sunday Times, stating: “having to live up to something is terribly serious.” However, he also made it known that he could be in favour of more one-off shows in the near future: “It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to play together from time to time.”
* Jon Bon Jovi – vocals, guitar, percussion, harmonica (1983-present)
* Richie Sambora – guitar, backing vocals (1983-present)
* David Bryan – keyboards, backing vocals (1983-present)
* Tico Torres – drums, percussion (1983-present)
* Hugh McDonald – bass guitar, backing vocals (November 1994-present)
* Bobby Bandiera – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2003-present – live only)
* Jeff Kazee – organ, additional keyboards, backing vocals (2003-2006 – live only)
* Everett Bradley – percussion, backing vocals (2003-2006 – occasional live)
* Lorenza Ponce – violin, backing vocals (2006-2007 – live)
* Alec John Such – bass guitar, backing vocals (1983-1994,2001) Ex-Phantom’s Opera