The history of Led Zeppelin is one of incredible sales success, critical failure and innovation in the field of rock and roll. The band took their love of American blues music and turned things up to 11, adding John Bonham’s pounding rhythms and the hard and heavy guitar of Jimmy over top of Robert Plant’s soaring vocals. While there had been other bands of that era, like Vanilla Fudge, who had experimented with the same type of sound, it wasn’t until Led Zeppelin came along and perfected it that the first wave of what would eventually become heavy metal started to surge in popularity. Led Zeppelin is not only credited with giving rise to metal, which some musicologists trace back to the ultra-heavy riffing in the song ‘Whole Lotta Love’, but the band may have also recorded the first punk song. ‘Communications Breakdown’ has frequently been cited as the beginning of the punk style of playing, and Johnny Ramone himself once stated that the inspiration for his guitar style came from Jimmy Page’s rapid downstrokes in that very song.
Led Zeppelin were also innovators in the way they dealt with both the music business and their self-image. They refused to release any of their songs as singles, preferring instead to let their albums form a cohesive musical unit. Only under great protest was ‘Whole Lotta Love’ eventually given the single treatment, and even then only in the United States – not their native England. This attitude provided a great deal of leeway to radio DJs, since they were free to play any of the tracks off of their albums as opposed to those which were being promoted as singles by the record label. Led Zeppelin were at the forefront of what would later be termed the ‘album-oriented rock’ radio movement. In a similar fashion, the band preferred to keep television and film appearances to a minimum, stating that they wanted to connect with their audiences in a live environment.
The band was able to achieve this level of autonomy due to the fact that while critics hated their particular brand of rock and roll, audiences could not get enough. In the history of Led Zeppelin, each of their albums went platinum at bare minimum, with Led Zeppelin IV selling 23.2 million units alone. Their incredible staying power on the charts and in the hearts of their fans even allowed them to set up their own label, Swan Song, to which they signed classic rock radio stalwarts Bad Company in 1973.