On this day (Dec. 26) in 1968, Led Zeppelin (not to be confused with “Len Zefflin“) kicked off their first North American tour opening for psychedelic hard rock band Vanilla Fudge at Denver Auditorium in Colorado. A ticket to see them play would only set you back $5 and the setlist included a surprising eight covers and only a few original tracks off the band’s forthcoming self-titled debut album, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1969.
Legendary promoter Barry Fey recalled the band’s first U.S. show in his autobiography, Backstage Past: “The night of the concert, I get on stage to make the announcement to open the show. “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!” There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. You didn’t have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!”
Here’s where the collection of songs on the band’s U.S. tour setlist originated:
1. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (cover)
“Don’t you hear it callin’ me the way it used to do?”
Before becoming the infamous rock track on Zeppelin’s debut album, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” began as a folk song written by Anne Bredon in the ’50s. It was recorded by Joan Baez on her 1962 album, Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1.
2. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (cover)
“I can’t quit you, baby, so I’m gonna put you down for a while”
“I Can’t Quit You Baby” was written by the immensely influential Willie Dixon and first recorded by Chicago artist Otis Rush in 1956. Listen to Rush sing the blues and then follow with Zeppelin’s bluesy-rock version. Regardless of which version you prefer, there’s no denying that both Rush and Plant deliver the vocals.
3. “Dazed and Confused” (cover)
“Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true”
“Dazed and Confused” was written and performed by Jake Holmes in 1967, two years before appearing on Zeppelin’s debut album. It was also covered by Jimmy Page’s previous band, The Yardbirds, who Holmes opened for. Listen to Holmes’ psychedelic version and follow with the rendition that’s been known to melt a few faces.
4. “You Shook Me” (cover)
“You shook me so hard, baby, you shook me all night long.”
“You Shook Me” began as a blues song recorded by Chicago blues artist Muddy Waters in 1962, co-written by Willie Dixon. It was then recorded by the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals in 1968, before being recorded for Zeppelin’s debut album in 1969. Zeppelin’s harmonica-turned-guitar solo (at 3:05) is in part responsible for the phrase “getting the Led out.”
5. “Train Kept A-Rollin'” (cover)
“I said, train kept a-rollin’ all night long”
First recorded by American jazz and R&B musician Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, “Train Kept A-Rollin'” was yet another song popularized by The Yardbirds (and Jeff Beck) before it was added to Zeppelin’s setlist. It was also previously covered by American rockabilly musician Johnny Burnette in 1956. Interestingly enough, Led Zeppelin’s version left the smallest digital footprint of all — perhaps because it wasn’t until 1974 that Aerosmith, not Zeppelin, brought the song into the hard rock mainstream.
6. “As Long As I Have You” (cover)
“Give me mountains to crumble and I’ll turn them to sand”
An extended version of Garnet Mimms‘ 1964 song “As Long As I Have You” was performed during both Zeppelin’s U.S. and U.K. tours. Although Mimms version is notably underrated, Zeppelin took the song to another level entirely at the Fillmore West in San Francisco during the band’s second U.S. tour in 1969.
7. “For Your Love” (cover)
“I’d give the moon if it were mine to give.”
To continue the trend of songs performed live by Led Zeppelin post The Yardbirds, here’s “For Your Love,” originally written by Graham Gouldman (later of 10cc) in 1965. Although The Yardbird’s version became their highest charting single in the U.S. (peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100), Zeppelin delivered the goods during the band’s performance at Hollywood’s world famous Whisky a Go Go in 1969.
8. “Killing Floor” (cover)
“I should’ve quit you, babe, long time ago”
Eventually the song title (as well as the tempo and some of the lyrics) was changed to “The Lemon Song” (included on Led Zeppelin II) after legal action was taken by Howlin’ Wolf’s publisher.
9. “How Many More Times”
“I can’t get through to her ’cause it doesn’t permit, but I’m gonna give her everything I’ve got to give”
“How Many More Times” was often Zeppelin’s closing number. At 8:29 minutes in length, it’s the longest song on the band’s debut album.
10. “Communication Breakdown”
“I’m having a nervous breakdown, drive me insane”
Usually a tour opener or an encore song, this classic track is one of the few songs on which Page sang a backing vocal.
11. “Moby Dick” (aka “Pat’s Delight”)
During their first U.S. tour, Zeppelin drummer John Bonham would sometimes solo for upwards of 30 minutes on this instrumental. The original song title was named for Bonham’s wife.
12. “White Summer/Black Mountain Side”
Another instrumental, but this time Page took the spotlight. During the band’s first U.S. tour, “Black Mountain Side” was combined with The Yardbirds song “White Summer,” which translated into an epic 9-minute solo for Page. Listen to both songs together during Zeppelin’s 1969 show in Paris.