Led Zeppelin 1968-1980: The Story Of A Band And Their Music (continued)

Led Zeppelin may have disbanded in 1980, but the band's legacy lives on. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham always insisted that the music they made, onstage or in the studio, w

Grant's early-December press release that the band had "written a special number which they intend as their first British single which they will be recording next week" was an effort to placate fans, but although Led Zeppelin did record in England that November, according to Bonham this was the start of work on the third album. Page concurred, though he asserted in the same interview that "we've been writing a lot of new material and we should have a proper single out in January." Just one new song from the November sessions at Olympic studio, 'Jennings Farm Blues', an early electric-guitar version of what later became 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp' on ["Led Zeppelin III"], has appeared on bootlegs but has never been officially released.

With the edited 'Whole Lotta Love' selling large quantities in the U.S.A. and elsewhere, there was little point in making a separate single. It made a great deal more sense instead to look ahead to the third album. Grant eventually faced down local British Atlantic man Phil Carson. "I said, 'Look, we don't do singles,'" Grant recalled. "[Carson] was a bit pushy in those days. I said, 'Have you phoned Ahmet [Ertegun]?' and promptly called him, and there were red faces all round. Our contract stated we had the last say on such decisions." Carson knew he couldn't argue with the terms of the original deal.

The band only ever got close to releasing one single in the U.K., 'D'Yer Mak'er', and that was stopped at promo stage in 1973, although from time to time singles would be issued in the U.S.A., Germany, France, Japan, and Australasia as new albums came out. Grant retained his stranglehold at home and concentrated the local Atlantic office on selling albums. As Carson commented later about that initial decision: "History has shown that Peter was absolutely right because, at one point, 'Led Zeppelin II' was selling as fast as a single could sell in those days." In fact Grant and his management team continued to have major reservations about the U.K. market in general, finding its live venues, media infrastructure and obsession with singles charts detrimental to Led Zeppelin's whole strategy.

It wasn't the fans themselves -– Grant and the band realised they had a following in Britain every bit as committed as that in the U.S. or Europe. It was to do with the tools the band were forced to use to get across to those fans and the compromises those tools imposed on the band's music. Part of his reasoning about this had to do with what he regarded as the inferior sound and less than ideal circumstances of TV broadcasts such as "Top of the Pops" and other chart-based programmes -– a concern he would carry deep into the 1970s. He refused to compromise the band's biggest assets: its sound and its artistic right to play as it pleased. Releasing singles in the U.K., he reasoned, would lead a band immediately down that path.

'Whole Lotta Love' coupled with 'Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)' was released in America in the first week of November 1969. The following month saw the publication of the annual New Musical Express readers' poll. At the end of the most tumultuous decade in popular music since the 1920s, Led Zeppelin reaped another type of reward for their remarkable industry of the previous 12 months by making their debut in this traditional end-of-year popularity poll.

Each member of the band gave lengthy interviews to Disc [magazine] that were published weekly to coincide with the live British dates in January. Bonham revealed a degree of self-awareness not always attributed to him in retrospect, admitting that he needed constant stimulation from his surroundings. "I like people around me all the time -– parties, going out, and general looning. I suppose I'm a bit of a noisy person -– in fact I'm probably the noisiest of the four of us... Otherwise I'm still the same person. I enjoy decorating and gardening and I'm still as hot-headed as ever. I'm a bit quick-tempered -– I never sit down to think about things." Bonham also noted with approval the interpersonal balance in the band. "We're not too close, not so that every little thing bothers us." This and the respect they shared for each other as musicians meant that Led Zeppelin did not suffer from the crippling ego storms that did for so many groups who broke through big but cracked up in the process.

Robert Plant, in his Disc interview, showed opposite leanings to his friend Bonham. He referred directly to the change in his physical circumstances as therapeutic to his soul, giving him the peace and time he'd craved. "It's exactly what I've always wanted. It gives me room to think, breathe and live. I wake up in the morning and there are no buses, no traffic. Just tractors and the odd pheasant hooting in the next field. I was pretty fed up with humanity in the big cities... You can walk around London at night and it doesn't matter whether you're the king or the queen, you'll still have a bad time." He also thought that day-to-day living with fame was easier in the country. "If you're popular, everybody wants to know you, so really to me London is a very shallow place. All those Speakeasy and Revolution Club people don't want to know you if you're on the way up or down."

Plant had from childhood enjoyed the countryside and living away from cities, and while a good deal of his feelings of distaste for the urban rat-race can be identified as part of the general hippie mindset of the time, there is little doubt that, away from Zeppelin, he was at his happiest with his family out in the country. This impulse would soon prove a key element in the way the band wrote material for their third album.

With the brief U.K. tour looming, followed by Europe in February-March 1970 and then their fifth American tour taking up most of the rest of March and April, the band had plenty of forward commitments to deal with. Their enthusiasm for playing onstage together and exploring their collective creativity was as strong as ever. As Jones put it: "I don't get bored playing onstage with the band. I don't mind being in the background. I wouldn't like to be out front playing like Jimmy. To be any sort of artist, you have to be an exhibitionist. I am, but not over anyone else in the business... I would like to think that if we have to stop actually touring, we'll be in a position to make records together, because this particular combination of people turned out nice things, I think. And I've been around long enough to know that few combinations of people actually work."

The band had song structures and routines through which they would play, but those structures were never a straitjacket. If Page, Jones or Bonham had a new twist to add, it was presented to the other two and pursued for all it was worth. As Jones recalled: "I always used to start the show fairly near the front of the stage, and then during the first number I'd move back and end up underneath John's ride cymbal. That was my favourite place, because I could feel that bass drum, rather than rely on the monitors. And of course I could see John from under the cymbal, because he was on a drum riser and I could look up at him. That way we'd play really tight together." Such close communication, though not unknown in bands of that time, was relatively rare. After all, there were not many bands who were truly improvising together onstage: most were playing a strictly routined set of songs where virtually every note and interpretation had been worked out in advance. Most lead guitarists of the time had pre-set solos that were re-created note for note each night. Led Zeppelin, along with the very best of their peers, were sufficiently gifted, together and adventurous to take risks every time they played onstage together.

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