Led Zeppelin formed out of the ashes of the Yardbirds. Jimmy Page had joined the band in its final days, playing a pivotal role on their final album, 1967's "Little Games", which also featured string arrangements from John Paul Jones, a musical arranger, bassist, and keyboard player. During 1967, the Yardbirds were fairly inactive, and while they decided their future, Page returned to session work. In the spring of 1968, he played on Jones' arrangement of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man." During the sessions, Jones requested to be part of any future project Page would develop. Page and Jones, were already big names on the session circuit. They had worked on tracks by stars such as The Kinks, Dusty Springfield and Van Morrison.
Page would have to assemble a band sooner than he had planned. In the summer of 1968, the Yardbirds' Keith Relf and James McCarty left the band, leaving Page and bassist Chris Dreja with the rights to the name, as well as the obligation of fulfilling an upcoming fall tour. Page set out to find a replacement vocalist and drummer. Initially, he wanted to enlist singer Terry Reid and the Who's drummer, Keith Moom, but both declined. Reid suggested that Page contact Robert Plant, who was singing with a band called Hobbstweedle.
As soon as he heard his powerful voice, Page asked Plant to join the band in August of 1968, the same month Chris Dreja dropped out of the new project. Following Dreja's departure, John Paul Jones joined the group as its bassist. Plant recommended that Page hire John Bonham, the drummer for Plant's old band, "the Band of Joy". Bonham had to be persuaded to join the group, as he was being courted by other artists who offered the drummer considerably more money. By September, Bonham agreed to sign on.
The quartet gelled immediately and having completed outstanding commitments under the name 'New Yardbirds', became "Led Zeppelin", following a quip by The Who's Keith Moon, who, when assessing their prospects, remarked that they would probably 'go down like a lead Zeppelin'.
The following month, they recorded their debut album in just under 30 hours and secured a contract with Atlantic Records in the United States before the end of the year. Early in 1969, Led Zeppelin set out on their first American tour, opening for Vanilla Fudge, and helped set the stage for the January release of their first album. Two months later, "Led Zeppelin" had climbed into the U.S. Top Ten. Throughout 1969, the band toured relentlessly, playing dates in America and England.
While they were on the road, they recorded their second album, Led Zeppelin II, which was released in October of 1969. Like its predecessor, Led Zeppelin II was an immediate hit, topping the American charts two months after its release and spending seven weeks at number one. The introductory track, 'Whole Lotta Love', a thinly veiled rewrite of Willie Dixon 's 'You Need Love', has since become a classic, while 'Livin' Lovin' Maid (She's Just A Woman)' and 'Moby Dick', were a staple part of the quartet's early repertoire. The album helped establish Led Zeppelin as an international concert attraction, and for the next year, the group continued to tour.
Led Zeppelin's sound began to deepen with Led Zeppelin III. Released in October of 1970, the album featured an overt British folk influence. The group's infatuation with folk and mythology would reach a fruition on their untitled fourth album, which was released in November of 1971. Led Zeppelin IV was the band's most musically diverse effort to date, featuring everything from the crunching rock of "Black Dog" to the folk of "The Battle of Evermore," as well as "Stairway to Heaven," which found the bridge between the two genres. "Stairway to Heaven" was an immediate radio hit, eventually becoming the most played song in the history of album-oriented radio, although the song was never released as a single. Despite the fact that the album never reached number one in America, Led Zeppelin IV was their biggest album ever, selling well over 16 million copies over the next two and a half decades.
Led Zeppelin did tour to support both Led Zeppelin III and Led Zeppelin IV, but they played fewer shows than they did on their previous outings. Instead, they concentrated on only playing larger venues. After completing their 1972 tour, the band retreated from the spotlight and recorded their fifth album. Released in the spring of 1973, "Houses of the Holy" continued the band's musical experimentation, featuring touches of funk and reggae among their trademark rock and folk. "Houses of the Holy" debuted at number one in both America and Britain, setting the stage for a record-breaking American tour. Throughout their 1973 tour, Led Zeppelin broke box-office records, most of which were previously held by the Beatles, across America. The group's concert at Madison Square Garden in July was filmed for use in the feature film, "The Song Remains the Same", which was released three years later. After their 1973 tour, Led Zeppelin spent a quiet year during 1974, releasing no new material and performing no concerts. They did, however, establish their own record label, Swan Song, which released all of Led Zeppelin's subsequent albums, as well as records by Dave Edmunds, Bad Company, The Pretty Things, and several others.
"Physical Graffiti", a double album released in February of 1975, was the band's first release on Swan Song. The album was an immediate success, topping the charts in both America and England. Led Zeppelin was preparing to launch a large American tour in the late summer of 1975 when Robert Plant and his wife suffered a serious car crash while vacationing in Greece. Plans for the tour were cancelled and Plant spent the rest of the year recuperating from the accident.
The band returned to action in the spring of 1976 with "Presence". Although the album debuted at number one in both America and England, the reviews for the album were lukewarm, as was the reception to the live concert film "The Song Remains the Same", which appeared in the fall of 1976. The band finally returned to tour America in the Spring of 1977. A couple of months into the tour, Plant's six-year-old son Karac died of a stomach infection. Led Zeppelin immediately cancelled the tour and offered no word whether or not it would be rescheduled, causing widespread speculation about the band's future. For a while, it did appear that Led Zeppelin was finished. Robert Plant spent the latter half of 1977 and the better part of 1978 in seclusion. The group didn't begin work on a new album until late in the summer of 1978, when they began recording at ABBA's Polar studios in Sweden. A year later, the band played a short European tour, performing in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Austria. In August of 1979, Led Zeppelin played two large concerts at Knebworth; the shows would be their last English performances.
"In Through the Out Door", the band's much-delayed eighth studio album, was finally released in September of 1979. The album entered the charts at number one in both America and England and in May of 1980, Led Zeppelin embarked on their final European tour. In September, Led Zeppelin was rehearsing at Jimmy Page's house in preparation for an American tour, when on September 25, John Bonham was found dead in his bed, following an all-day drinking binge. He had passed out and choked on his own vomit. In December of 1980, Led Zeppelin announced they were disbanding, saying they could not continue without Bonham.
Following the break-up, the remaining members all began solo careers. John Paul Jones never released a solo album. Instead, he returned to producing and arranging. After recording the soundtrack for Death Wish II, Jimmy Page compiled the Zeppelin outtakes collection, "Coda", which was released at the end of 1982. That same year, Robert Plant began a solo career with the "Pictures At Eleven" album. In 1984, Plant and Page briefly reunited in the all-star oldies band, The Honeydrippers. After recording one EP with the Honeydrippers, Plant returned to his solo career and Page formed "The Firm" with former Bad Company singer Paul Rogers. In 1985, Led Zeppelin reunited to play Live Aid, sparking off a flurry of reunion rumours. That reunion never materialized, although in 1988, the band re-formed to play Atlantic's 25th Anniversary Concert. During 1989, Page remastered the band's catalogue for release on the 1990 box set, "Led Zeppelin". The four-disc set became the biggest selling multi-disc box set of all time.
Page and Plant went two-thirds of the way to a re-formation in 1994 with their ironically titled "Unledded" album, though John Paul Jones was conspicuous by his absence (for want of an invitation). The duo cemented the relationship with an album of new Page And Plant material in 1998. The summer of 2003 saw the release of "How The West Was Won", a triple CD of live performances at the Los Angeles Forum and Long Beach Arena in June, 1972, melded together and sequenced to replicate a single concert from beginning to end. Also issued at the same time was a Led Zeppelin DVD, featuring concert footage taken from the few performances which were ever filmed during the band's lifetime.
A full scale Led Zeppelin reunion finally took place on December 10th, 2007 when Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were joined by John Bonham's son, Jason for a 16-song set at London's O2 Arena as a part of a benefit concert for the Ahmet Ertegun Education Fund, which provides scholarships for gifted children.
Page, Jones and Jason Bonham were reported to be willing to tour, but Plant still had touring commitments with Alison Krauss starting in September, 2008. The trio looked for a replacement for singer and considered Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, but in January 2009 it was confirmed that the project had been abandoned.
Although their commercial success is unquestionable, Led Zeppelin are now rightly recognized as one of the most influential bands of the rock era and their catalogue continues to provide inspiration to successive generations of musicians.