The era of Led Zeppelin began 50 years ago today with the release of their debut album

When Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin (originally known as The New Yardbirds) in mid-1968, no one could have foreseen the monster this thing would become.

After playing a series of gigs through the rest of the year, the band recorded their debut album in a blur of sessions (a total of 36 hours spread over ten days) at Olympic Studios in London beginning September 25 and ending in mid-October. Having honed all the arrangements and performances through playing live, the band made short work of the recording with engineer Glyn Johns. It also helped that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were two of the most-respected session players in all the UK. They were accustomed to working fast.

The self-titled result was released on January 12, 1969. It’s now a rock classic and sounds as fresh as it did fifty years ago.

What people tend to forget is that people HATED the record.

Rolling Stone said this: “The album offers little that its twin, The Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better than three months ago…To fill the void created by the devise of Cream, they will have to find a producer, editor, and some material worthy of their collective talents.”

When manager Peter Grant played it for Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, and Eric Clapton, they were all very unimpressed. None of them got what Zeppelin was trying to do. Jagger was apparently extra dismissive.

But the person most offended was Countess Eva von Zeppelin, the granddaughter of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the creator of the original hydrogen-filled airship. Her problem was with the artwork and the very name of the band.

What we see is a treated black-and-white image of the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937, when this Zeppelin-class airship caught fire while attempting to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-six people died. The artwork is based on a picture taken by Sam Shere.

Here’s newsreel footage of the disaster.

A little context is required at this point. When Page floated the idea of forming a new band to his friends John Entwhistle and Keith Moon of The Who, it’s claimed that Moon said the new project would go over worse than a lead balloon. “It’ll be a lead Zeppelin!” he said.

Peter Grant liked the concept but was worried about how people might pronounce “lead.” Dropping the “a,” he showed it to Page. Led Zeppelin it was.

Back to the countess. She was annoyed that the band was trading on her family name. In 1970 during a trip to Denmark, Grant arranged for the band to meet the countess backstage. Despite all his charms, she denounced the group as “a bunch of shrieking monkeys” and threatened to sue if they continued besmirching the good name of Zeppelin.

That night, Zep played another the name “The Nobs,” just in case. It turns out that the countess was all talk, too. No legal action was ever filed.

So how did artwork designer George Hardie get away with using this famous photograph without paying any royalties or rights? By altering the photo into an illustration using something called a “Radiograph pen,” he essentially created a new work, putting it outside the realm of the original copyright.

By the way, Hardie was paid $76 for his trouble.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “The era of Led Zeppelin began 50 years ago today with the release of their debut album

  • January 12, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    They were a great band, made up of underrated individuals when assembled at the start despite Jimmy and John’s reputation as session players.

    They continued years ahead of their time to create some of the most remarkable music made up of original and co-opted material, mostly because Page had access to many recordings made at many studios, with money and influence, he could grab what he wanted. The people who heard their own work, lined up to sue, some were not there just to take money that is not theirs, many we haven’t heard of, money is master of the media and the justice system.

    Accept that what you hear for decades is a combination of unique and stolen series of notes, chord progressions on guitar, though I doubt the bass lines, the melody of the vocals and rhythm of the drums is as much stolen. Some people have a knack for stealing and others are too genuine to take much, most of the band did not steal willingly and take credit for it like Page can.

    Can you almost hear what is theirs and what is not if you listen very carefully?

    Most bands stole in those days and bands still do. Its the business of making music for the unforgiving record companiy execs and critical masses that make up the audience.

    I read a story that before Zeppelin jammed where Jethro Tull was jamming that Plant’s lyrics were so uninspired and then at the moment Jethro became popular, he sang mystical lyrics similar to their front man’s. Is that true? has anyone noticed the change in Plant’s lyrics, does it coincide with the rise of Jethro Tull to fame?

    Personally, I’m inspired by Plant’s vocals, his words and the melodious thumping of Jones’ bass with Bonham’s beats.

    Yet the experience has been ruined many times when Page starts to play as I can’t help but wonder who has he ripped off to rise to such glory in the world of guitar? he’s technically garbage and if there was a way to decipher from the blur of notes and passionate chords what is his and what is not, would he have created half of it? we don’t know unless he says so. I would really like to see him someday open the boxes which may have notes inside hand written which say where what part came from, what studio it was and what artist he took it from. I would like to see that documentary made, a personal way for him to reveal his darkest and worst secret. Dabbling in sorcery and stealing so much money and the livelihoods of so many musicians has its consequences. When the truth comes out from his own mouth the praise will stop pouring in.

    Most of the time listening to Zeppelin I attempt to slightly tune him out and focus on the 3. Especially Robert, who will remain a part of me whenever I sing his songs with his melodies. You sing and speak for a generation.

    Happy 50th to you Led Zeppelin!


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