Entertainment, United States, World

The Song Remains the Same: Led Zeppelin and the Origins of Hard Rock

Led Zeppelin performing at a sold-out Richfield Coliseum in Ohio, 1975 (feelnumb.com)

Led Zeppelin, the band rock fans around the world love, was the father of the hard rock music genre. They created incredible, culture changing rock music in the late 60s, and throughout the 70s. Without Led Zeppelin, bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and Aerosmith wouldn’t be nearly as successful as they turned out to be, and arguably, wouldn’t even exist. Led Zeppelin was essential to the rise of hard rock music because they influenced bands to make their own hard rock music, and made a different sound compared to the “old” rock (The Beatles, The Beach Boys).

Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968, by former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page. He gathered together vocalist Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, often regarded as the best drummer ever. Led Zeppelin started out performing at small, modest shows. However, when they released their first album, Led Zeppelin, in 1969, they got their first taste of fame and popularity. It was an incredible success, selling over 10 million copies, and reached gold status within 2 months. Overall, Led Zeppelin has sold over 100 million albums, according to the RIAA. They brought a whole new sound to the rock genre, labeling it “hard rock”. The best examples of hard rock songs by Led Zeppelin include: Immigrant Song, Whole Lotta Love, Kashmir, and Heartbreaker. These tracks were all timeless classics, that hard rock fans loved to listen and “rock out” to. Young rock fans were inspired by Led Zeppelin. They influenced many bands to adopt the hard rock sound, including Aerosmith, Van Halen, and AC/DC.

(From left to right) David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony, and Eddie Van Halen rocking it out at MSG (glidemagazine.com)

Led Zeppelin influenced fresh, new rock bands to adopt the hard rock genre, and create their own new music. Some great examples of bands adopting the hard rock sound from Led Zeppelin include AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Van Halen. AC/DC, formed in 1973, created great hard rock music. They released their first album international album, High Voltage in 1976. The tracklist featured songs like “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll, and T.N.T., both being hard rock classics. Aerosmith, the legendary band headlined by vocalist Steven Tyler, released their first album Aerosmith in 1973. It featured their most well known song Dream On, and people were dumbfounded by how similar Steven Tyler’s voice was to Robert Plant. Lastly, there is Van Halen. Formed by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, they turned out to be one of the most successful rock bands ever, and had guitar and vocals inspired by Led Zeppelin itself. In 1978, they released their first album Van Halen. It featured Eruption, arguably the best guitar solo ever. David Lee Roth’s vocals were stunning to listeners in the song Runnin’ With the Devil, making sounds that didn’t even seem humanly possible. Bands enjoyed the sound of Led Zeppelin’s new music. Steven Tyler, David Lee Roth, and Bon Scott’s high pitched, loud, screaming type voices are very relatable to Robert Plant’s. According to Aerosmith’s guitarist Joe Perry, “[We] learned the arena-rock sound from their records”, showing that Led Zeppelin was a huge influence on new up-and-coming bands of the early to mid 70s.

Eager fans waiting for the uber-popular Led Zeppelin to take the stage, Atlanta, 1973 (ledzeppelin.com)

Led Zeppelin created a completely different sound compared to “old rock”. Much of the rock music of the early to mid 60s was a softer, easier to the ear type of rock. Some bands that support this claim include the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The Beatles released songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and “Love Me Do” which both belonged to the subgenres of “pop-rock” and “beat music”, a fusion of rock and roll, doo-wop, skiffle, and R&B (Rhythm and blues). The Beach Boys are another great example of a softer genre of rock. This group sang a mix of doo-wop and pop-rock music, which was much softer to the ear. Many of The Beach Boys songs were very repetitive too, usually consisting of a main chorus and a bridge or two (Barbara-Ann, I Get Around). The repetitive music and lyrics kept the song in fan’s heads, and made it easier for their songs to become popular. They created “a signature pop sound as recognizable as any in rock history”, according to “Soft Rock Easy Listening” by Meagan Paese, “From the end of the 1960s, it became common to divide mainstream rock music into soft and hard rock”. Many radio stations were divided, some playing hard rock, and some playing softer rock. But the choice was clear to music listeners at the beginning of the 70s: Hard-rock was the new wave. Led Zeppelin took over the whole rock music genre, with their first album reaching gold status within 2 months of it’s release. Mikal Gilmore, the writer of “The Long Shadow of Led Zeppelin”, stated that “[The album] was pretty much unlike anything else.” It was a new sound that no one had heard before, and young rock fans were excited to see what else Led Zeppelin had to offer. Their next three albums (Led Zeppelin II, III, and IV)  sold nearly 41 million copies in total, and released groundbreaking new music like “Whole Lotta Love”, “Immigrant Song”, and of course “Stairway to Heaven”, arguably their most popular song. Fans were truly blessed to be able to hear the legendary Led Zeppelin.

Led Zeppelin is truly a staple in hard rock history, and is one of, if not, the main pioneer of the hard rock genre. Their music was groundbreaking, innovative, and fresh, leaving rock listeners astonished. They gave light to great bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Van Halen, and inspired them to make great music like theirs. The next time you are listening to your favorite hard rock band, think and reflect on how Led Zeppelin is similar to them. It is more than likely that they were the reason the band was inspired to make their music in the first place. To make people more aware about Led Zeppelin, there should be electives and courses in schools that teach about their legacy. They will gain the respect they deserve.

Article by Bronson Maringer

Works Cited

Epstein, Dan. “12 Artists Who Ripped Off Led Zeppelin.” Rolling Stone         

www.rollingstone.com 23 June, 2016,

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/12-artists-who-ripped-off-led-zeppelin-0160623.

Kemp, Mark. “The Beach Boys Biography.” Rolling Stone

www.rollingstone.com, 2001,          

www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/the-beach-boys/biography.

Paese, Meagan. “Soft Rock-Easy Listening.” The History of Rock and Roll,  

www.thehistoryofrockandroll.net

www.thehistoryofrockandroll.net/soft-rock-easy-listening-pt-1/.

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