Formed in London in the late 1960s, Led Zeppelin went on to become one of the most popular and influential bands in Rock and Roll history. Like many British bands of the era, Led Zeppelin were steeped in American Blues, but they took that influence in a heavier direction than most of their peers, creating a powerful, stomping sound that also incorporated elements of British Folk, Psychedelia, Soul, Reggae, and Celtic and Arabic music. As such, they wielded a huge influence over subsequent Hard Rock bands, and are often credited as forbears of Heavy Metal.
The band was brought together by Jimmy Page, a session guitarist who’d joined the Blues Rock band the Yardbirds only to see the band fall apart soon after, with him as the sole remaining member. He recruited bassist/arranger John Paul Jones, whom he knew from studio work, and singer Robert Plant; Plant recommend drummer John Bonham. After a few shows as the New Yardbirds, the quartet realized they had something special and changed their name to Led Zeppelin. Weeks later, the new band recorded a debut album, completing it in only nine days.
The band’s eponymous debut was released in 1969, its songs a mix of covers of Blues standards and Blues-derived original songs. Characterized by Page’s fierce guitar riffs, Plant’s high-pitched wail, and Bonham’s thundering backbeat, the record was an immediate success, making the U.S. top 10 despite generally negative reviews. The band began to tour heavily, recording their sophomore record, Led Zeppelin II, in studios around the world during short breaks. Released less then a year after their debut, the album reached No. 1 in the U.S., with “Whole Lotta Love" hitting No. 4 on the singles chart. (Pioneers of “album Rock,” the band considered each album a unified statement, and often did not release singles.)
The band took a break from the road to record their third album, 1970s Led Zeppelin III, which surprised fans and critics by leavening the expected heaviness with acoustic Celtic and Folk influences and lyrics that reflected the bands interest in mythology and mysticism. The next year Led Zep released their fourth album (technically untitled, but commonly referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV”), which yielded the classics "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," and, most notably, “Stairway to Heaven," an eight-minute epic that would become the most played song in the history of album-oriented radio. The album was a massive and enduring hit, eventually becoming one of the best selling records of all time. Led Zeppelin’s next two releases, 1973’s Houses of the Holy and the 1975 double album Physical Graffiti, continued their winning streak, reaping major FM airplay and huge sales.
A top live draw, Led Zeppelin were among the first artists to stage massive stadium shows, pioneering the use of sophisticated light and sound systems.. Likewise, the quartet’s flair for theatrics extended off-stage, and hard living became as integral to their image as the Hard Rock they purveyed. Their indulgences caught up with them in 1980, when drummer John Bonham died in his sleep from alcohol-related asphyxiation. Led Zeppelin subsequently disbanded.
The three surviving members – who’ve reunited on a number of occasions, sometimes with Bonham’s son Jason in the drum chair — remain active stewards of Led Zeppelin’s legacy. And it’s a considerable one: Five of the band’s albums are among the top 100 bestsellers of all time, including “Led Zeppelin IV,” which ranks fourth. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on their first ballot in 1995.