It was in March of 1971 that Led Zeppelin released what many now consider the greatest rock-n-roll song of all-time, “Stairway to Heaven”. The song actually became the most requested song on FM radio stations in the United States during the 1970s, despite never having been commercially released as a single. Many historians say the Beatles may have owned the 1960s, but Led Zeppelin clearly owned the 1970s. In fact they are now considered one of the best-selling music artists in the history of audio recording. Various sources estimate the group’s record sales are in excess of 200 to 300 million units worldwide. It was back in 1966 that a session guitarist named Jimmy Page joined the blues-influenced rock band called the Yardbirds to replace their bassist. Page was incredibly talented and soon switched from bass to lead guitar, creating a dual lead guitar line-up with Jeff Beck. Following Beck’s departure in October 1966, the Yardbirds, tired from constant touring and recording, began to wind down. It was rumored at that point Page wanted to form a supergroup with him and Beck on guitars, and the Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass. Vocalists Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott were also considered for the project. The group was never formed, and Page went out on his own to assemble a band. His first choice for the lead singer was Terry Reid, but Reid declined the offer and suggested Robert Plant, a singer for the Band of Joy and Hobbstweedle. Plant eventually accepted the position, and recommended former Band of Joy drummer John Bonham. Bassist and keyboardist Joh Paul Jones agreed to join as the fourth, making what would arguably become one of the greatest rock-n-roll bands of all-time. The four played together for the first time in a room below a record store on Gerrard Street in London. One account of how the new band’s name was chosen held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that a supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a “lead balloon”, an idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the ‘a’ in lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the term would not pronounce it “leed”. The word “balloon” was replaced by “zeppelin”, a word which, according to music journalist Keith Shadwick, brought “the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace” to Page’s mind. Their debut album, Led Zeppelin, was released in the U.S. during the winter of 1969. They released their fourth and most famous album in 1971. In response to the treatment they had received from critics, particularly after Led Zeppelin III, the band decided to release the fourth album with no title, though it is variously referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, due to the four symbols appearing on the record label. In addition to lacking a title, the original cover featured no band name, as the group wished to be anonymous and to avoid easy pigeonholing by the press. With nearly 40 million copies sold, Led Zeppelin IV is now one of the best-selling albums in history, and its massive popularity cemented Led Zeppelin’s status as superstars in the 1970s. The track “Stairway to Heaven”, which is celebrating its 46 year anniversary this month, is the biggest reason for the albums popularity. I should note the album also featured a few of the band’s other best known hits, including “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll” and “Going to California”. It was actually on this day in 1975 that Led Zeppelin played the first of two sold-out nights at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, Canada. Tickets cost $7.50. The set list included: ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Heartbreaker’ and of course the most famous ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Click HERE to listen.
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