Led Zeppelin is the eponymous debut studio album by English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was first released on 12 January 1969 in the United States and on 31 March 1969 in the United Kingdom by Atlantic Records. Featuring integral contributions from each of the group's four members, the album was recorded in October 1968 at Olympic Studios in London, and established their fusion style of both blues and rock music. It also attracted a large and devoted following to the band; Zeppelin's take on the emerging hard rock sound endeared them to parts of the counterculture on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the album was not critically well-received when first released, it was commercially successful, and critics have since come to view it in a more favourable light. In 2003, Led Zeppelin was ranked at number 29 on Rolling Stone's list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, and kept that position after the list was updated in 2012. In 2004, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In August 1968, the English rock band The Yardbirds completely disbanded. Guitarist Jimmy Page, The Yardbirds' sole remaining member, was left with rights to the group's name and contractual obligations for a series of concerts in Scandinavia. Page recruited bassist John Paul Jones, vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. During September 1968, the group toured Scandinavia as "The New Yardbirds", performing some old Yardbirds material as well as new songs such as "Communication Breakdown", "I Can't Quit You Baby", "You Shook Me", "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "How Many More Times". The month after they returned to England, October 1968, Page changed the band's name to Led Zeppelin, and the group entered Olympic Studios in London to record their debut album.
In a 1990 interview, Page said that the album took only about 36 hours of studio time (over a span of a few weeks) to create (including mixing), adding that he knew this because of the amount charged on the studio bill. One of the primary reasons for the short recording time was that the material selected for the album had been well-rehearsed and pre-arranged by the band on Led Zeppelin's tour of Scandinavia in September 1968. As Page explained, "[the band] had begun developing the arrangements on the Scandinavian tour and I knew what sound I was looking for. It just came together incredibly quickly."
In addition, since the band had not yet signed their deal with Atlantic Records, Page and Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant paid for the sessions entirely themselves, meaning there was no record company money to waste on excessive studio time. In another interview, Page revealed that the self-funding was to ensure artistic freedom: "I wanted artistic control in a vise grip, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these fellows. In fact, I financed and completely recorded the first album before going to Atlantic ... It wasn't your typical story where you get an advance to make an album – we arrived at Atlantic with tapes in hand ... Atlantic's reaction was very positive – I mean they signed us, didn't they?"
The group reportedly recorded their songs for £1,782. Led Zeppelin archivist Dave Lewis noted that "[w]ith the possible exception of the 12 hours that the Beatles took to record their first album at Abbey Road, rarely has studio time been used so economically. Led Zeppelin's debut album went on to gross more than £3.5 million, just short of 2,000 times more than they invested!"
For the recordings, Page played a psychedelically painted Fender Telecaster, a gift from Jeff Beck after Page recommended his boyhood friend to the Yardbirds in 1965 as a potential replacement for Eric Clapton on lead guitar. This was a different guitar from those he favoured for later albums (most notably a Gibson Les Paul). Page played the Telecaster through a Supro amplifier. He also used a Gibson J-200, borrowed from Big Jim Sullivan, for the album's acoustic tracks. For "Your Time Is Gonna Come" he used an out-of-tune Fender 10-string steel guitar.
Led Zeppelin was produced by Jimmy Page and engineered by Glyn Johns, both of whom had known each other since teenagers in the suburb of Epsom. According to Page, "The first album is a live album, it really is, and it's done intentionally in that way. It's got overdubs on it, but the original tracks are live."
Page reportedly used natural room ambience to enhance the reverb and recording texture on the record, demonstrating the innovations in sound recording he had learned during his session days. Up until the late 1960s, most music producers placed microphones directly in front of the amplifiers and drums. For Led Zeppelin, Page developed the idea of placing an additional microphone some distance from the amplifier (as far as twenty feet) and then recording the balance between the two. By adopting this "distance equals depth" technique, Page became one of the first producers to record a band's "ambient sound": the distance of a note's time-lag from one end of the room to the other.
Another notable feature of the album was the "leakage" on the recordings of Plant's vocals. In a 1998 Guitar World interview, Page stated that "Robert's voice was extremely powerful and, as a result, would get on some of the other tracks. But oddly, the leakage sounds intentional." On "You Shook Me", Page used the "backward echo" technique. It involves hearing the echo before the main sound (instead of after it), and is achieved by turning the tape over and recording the echo on a spare track, then turning the tape back over again to get the echo preceding the signal.
The album was one of the first albums to be released in stereo-only form; at the time, the practice of releasing both mono and stereo versions was the norm.
Led Zeppelin's front cover, which was chosen by Page, features a black-and-white image of the burning Hindenburg airship, photographed by Sam Shere. The image refers to the origin of the band's name itself: When Page, Beck and The Who's Keith Moon and John Entwistle were discussing the idea of forming a group, Moon joked, "It would probably go over like a lead balloon", and Entwistle allegedly replied, "a lead zeppelin!"
The album's back cover features a photograph of the band taken by former Yardbird Chris Dreja. The entire design of the album's sleeve was coordinated by George Hardie, with whom the band would continue to collaborate for future sleeves. Hardie himself also created the front cover illustration, rendering the famous original black-and-white photograph in ink using a Rapidograph technical pen and a mezzotint technique.
Hardie recalled that he originally offered the band a design based on an old club sign in San Francisco – a multi-sequential image of a phallic zeppelin airship up in the clouds. Page declined but it was retained as the logo for the back cover of Led Zeppelin's first two albums and a number of early press advertisements. Most prints of the album have the band name and the Atlantic Records logo on the cover in red, but on some prints such as the iTunes Store release of the album they can be found in orange instead. During the first few weeks of the album's availability in the UK, some prints of the album sleeve featured the band name and the Atlantic logo in turquoise. When it was switched to the orange print later that year, the turquoise-printed sleeve became a collector's item.
The album cover received widespread attention when, at a February 1970 gig in Copenhagen, the band were billed as "The Nobs" as the result of a legal threat from aristocrat Eva von Zeppelin (a relative of the creator of the Zeppelin aircraft). Von Zeppelin, upon seeing the logo of the Hindenburg crashing in flames, threatened to have the show pulled off the air. In 2001, Greg Kot wrote in Rolling Stone that "The cover of Led Zeppelin … shows the Hindenburg airship, in all its phallic glory, going down in flames. The image did a pretty good job of encapsulating the music inside: sex, catastrophe and things blowing up."
It has been said that Plant participated in songwriting but was not given credit because of unexpired contractual obligations resulting from his association with CBS Records. This claim is disputed by Mick Wall, author of the Led Zeppelin biography When Giants Walked the Earth.
Tracks such as "Good Times Bad Times", "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown" displayed a distinctively heavy sound that was uncommon in the late 1960s. Led Zeppelin also featured steel-string acoustic guitar by Page on "Black Mountain Side", and a combination of acoustic and electric approaches on their adaptation of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You". Page's credit for writing "Black Mountain Side" has generated some controversy over the years, as it is very similar to the Bert Jansch version of the traditional folk song "Black Water Side".
"Dazed and Confused", based on the 1967 Jake Holmes acid folk song of the same name, is considered by some to be the album's centrepiece; its arrangement features a descending bass line from Jones, heavy drumming from Bonham and distorted guitar riffs and soloing from Page. It also showcased Page playing guitar with a violin bow (an idea suggested by David McCallum Sr., whom Page had met while doing studio session work). This technique, pioneered by Page in the Yardbirds more psychedelic  moments ("Glimpses" and their version of "Dazed"), was also employed on "How Many More Times", a song that features a "Bolero" riff and an improvised shift in cadence. Holmes sued for copyright infringement in 2010 and an out-of-court settlement was made.
Many of Led Zeppelin's earliest songs were based on blues standards, and the album also included three songs composed by others: "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby", both by blues artist Willie Dixon, and "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You". Regarding the last of these, at the time Page mistakenly believed he was adapting a traditional folk song he had heard on a Joan Baez record, but this was corrected on subsequent rereleases after it was revealed that the song was composed by Anne Bredon in the 1950s. Bredon eventually received royalties for the song. On "You Shook Me", Plant vocally mimics Page's guitar effects, a metallicised version of the call-and-response blues technique.
Jeff Beck had previously recorded "You Shook Me" for his album Truth, and accused Page of stealing his idea. With John Paul Jones and Keith Moon, Page had played on "Beck's Bolero", an instrumental on Truth that would be fused into the mix of the Led Zeppelin jam "How Many More Times". Beck and Page both claim they wrote the majority of the song, while Page also claims he produced it. These cross-pollinations led to a rift between Beck and Page, who had played in the Yardbirds together and been friends since childhood.
"How Many More Times" includes passages (uncredited) from "The Hunter", written by Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Al Jackson, Jr. and Carl Wells in 1967 and popularised by Albert King; Howlin Wolf's "How Many More Years" (1951); and a passage from "Beck's Bolero" where he also rephrases Beck's "Shapes of Things" guitar solo.
In an interview he gave in 1975, Page offered his own perspective on the album's music:
For material, we obviously went right down to our blues roots. I still had plenty of Yardbirds riffs left over. By the time Jeff [Beck] did go, it was up to me to come up with a lot of new stuff. It was this thing where [Eric] Clapton set a heavy precedent in the Yardbirds which Beck had to follow and then it was even harder for me, in a way, because the second lead guitarist had suddenly become the first. And I was under pressure to come up with my own riffs. On the first LP I was still heavily influenced by the earlier days. I think it tells a bit, too... It was obvious that somebody had to take the lead, otherwise we'd have all sat around jamming for six months. But after that, on the second LP, you can really hear the group identity coming together.
Plant is credited on the album with "occasional bass". In an interview he gave to Rolling Stone magazine in 2005, Plant made reference to this:
In truth, I was an occasional bass player. It says so on Zeppelin I, next to my name: vocals, harmonica and occasional bass. Very occasionally – once, I think, since 1968. How in God's name that ended up on the cover is so funny. I'm sure Jonesy [John Paul Jones] didn't like it [laughs]. But I suppose every time he fucked up he could say it was me.
|Rolling Stone (1969)||(unfavourable)|
|Rolling Stone (2001)|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
The album was advertised in selected music papers under the slogan "Led Zeppelin – the only way to fly". It initially received poor reviews. In a stinging assessment, Rolling Stone magazine asserted that the band offered "little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn't say as well or better three months ago … It would seem that if they are to fill the void created by the demise of Cream, they will have to find a producer, editor and some material worthy of their collective talents." It also called Plant "as foppish as Rod Stewart, but nowhere near so exciting". John Paul Jones later recalled:
We had appalling press at the time. Nobody seemed to want to know us for one reason or another. We got to America and read the Rolling Stone review of the very first album, which was going on about us as another hyped British band. We couldn't believe it. In our naivety we thought we'd done a good album and were doing all right, and then this venom comes flying out. We couldn't understand why or what we'd done to them. After that we were very wary of the press, which became a chicken-and-egg situation. We avoided them and so they avoided us. It was only because we did a lot of shows that our reputation got around as a good live band.
As was noted by rock journalist Cameron Crowe years later: "It was a time of 'super-groups', of furiously hyped bands who could barely cut it, and Led Zeppelin initially found themselves fighting upstream to prove their authenticity."
However, press reaction to the album was not entirely negative. In Britain the album received a glowing review in Melody Maker. Chris Welch wrote, in a review titled "Jimmy Page triumphs – Led Zeppelin is a gas!": "their material does not rely on obvious blues riffs, although when they do play them, they avoid the emaciated feebleness of most so-called British blues bands". In comparing the record to their follow-up Led Zeppelin II, Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice that the debut was "subtler and more ambitious musically", and not as good, "because subtlety defeated the effect. Musicianship, in other words, was really incidental to such music, but the music did have real strength and validity: a combination of showmanship and overwhelming physical force."
The album was very successful commercially. It was initially released in the US on 12 January 1969 to capitalise on the band's first North American concert tour. Before that, Atlantic Records had distributed a few hundred advance white label copies to key radio stations and reviewers. A positive reaction to its contents, coupled with a good reaction to the band's opening concerts, resulted in the album generating 50,000 advance orders. Within two months of its release the album had reached Billboard's top ten, peaking at number 10. The album earned its US gold certification on 22 July 1969. Page remarked:
A lot of it you think, 'Well, this might happen, that might possibly happen.' But I'd say as far as the manifestation of it went, [the most surprising moment] was getting the first gold disc for Led Zeppelin I … Suddenly everything we'd done, all the work, etcetera etcetera … we'd broken America, I know, but the fact is that gold disc was so symbolic of everything for me. A major thing.
Led Zeppelin stayed on the Billboard chart for 73 weeks and held a 79-week run on the British charts. By 1975 it had grossed $7,000,000. The 2014 reissue of the album helped it return to the Billboard top ten, peaking at number 7.
The success and influence of the album is today widely acknowledged, even amongst publications that were initially sceptical. In 2006, Rolling Stone stated:
[The album] was pretty much unlike anything else. The arrangements were more sculpted than those of Cream or Jimi Hendrix, and the musicianship wasn't cumbersome like Iron Butterfly's or bombastic like Vanilla Fudge's. The closest comparisons might be to MC5 or the Stooges – both from Michigan – yet neither had the polish or prowess of Led Zeppelin, nor did Led Zeppelin have the political, social or die-hard sensibility of those landmark bands. What they did have, though, was the potential for a mass audience.
According to Lewis:
Time has done nothing to diminish the quality of one of the finest debut albums ever recorded. There's an urgency and enthusiasm about their performance that retains timeless charm. The nine cuts offer a tour de force of powerful yet often subtle dynamics … And let's not forget the fact that with this album, Page virtually invents the guitar riff as a key songwriting component.
In 2003, VH1 named Led Zeppelin the 44th greatest album of all time, while Rolling Stone ranked it 29th on the magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is widely regarded as marking a significant turning point in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal. Reviews from the 2014 reissue of the album echoed the "turning point" theme, as the BBC described Zeppelin as "a product of the 1960s whose often bombastic style signposted a new decade." In reviewing the reissues of Led Zeppelin I, II and III (released simultaneously in 2014), Rolling Stone editor David Fricke also noted how rapidly Zeppelin summarised the 1960s on Led Zeppelin 1, then forged into the riff rock and other moods of the 1970s:
"The music is now beyond reproach. Made and issued between the falls of 1968 and 1970, the original LPs mark Zeppelin's rapid progression out of British R&B and psychedelia into a crushing-riff rock of unprecedented dynamic range, embedded with details from Fifties rockabilly and Celtic and Appalachian folk, blown open with volcanic improvising."
|The Times||United Kingdom||"The 100 Best Albums of All Time"||1993||41|
|Rolling Stone||United States||The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time||2003||29|
|Grammy Awards||United States||Grammy Hall of Fame Award||2004||*|
|Q||United Kingdom||"The Music That Changed the World"||2004||7|
|Robert Dimery||United States||1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die||2006||*|
|Classic Rock||United Kingdom||"100 Greatest British Rock Album Ever"||2006||81|
|Uncut||United Kingdom||100 Greatest Debut Albums||2006||7|
|Rock and Roll Hall of Fame||United States||The Definitive 200||2007||165|
|Q||United Kingdom||21 Albums That Changed Music||2007||6|
|Rolling Stone||United States||Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time||2012||29|
* denotes an unordered list
Along with the group's next two albums – Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III – the album was remastered and reissued on 2 June 2014. The reissue comes in six formats: a standard CD edition, a deluxe two-CD edition, a standard LP version, a deluxe three-LP version, a super deluxe two CD plus three LP version with a hardback book, and as high-resolution, 96k/24-bit digital downloads. The deluxe and super deluxe editions feature bonus material from a concert in Paris recorded in October 1969. The reissue was released with an inverted black and white (technically inverted color) version of the original album's artwork as its bonus disc's cover.
|1.||"Good Times Bad Times"||2:46|
|2.||"Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"||
|3.||"You Shook Me"||6:28|
|4.||"Dazed and Confused"||Page, inspired by Jake Holmes||6:28|
|5.||"Your Time Is Gonna Come"||
|6.||"Black Mountain Side" (instrumental)||Page||2:12|
|8.||"I Can't Quit You Baby"||Dixon||4:42|
|9.||"How Many More Times"||
|Live – Olympia, Paris, France, 10 October 1969|
|1.||"Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown""||
|2.||"I Can't Quit You Baby"||Dixon||6:41|
|4.||"Dazed and Confused"||Page, inspired by Jake Holmes||15:01|
|5.||"White Summer/Black Mountain Side"||Page||9:19|
|6.||"You Shook Me"||
|8.||"How Many More Times"||
|1969||"Good Times Bad Times"||US Billboard Hot 100||80|
|Australia (ARIA)||2× Platinum||140,000^|
|Canada (Music Canada)||Diamond||1,000,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||Gold||25,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||2× Platinum||600,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||8× Platinum||8,000,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone