Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Led Zeppelin still resonates

The surviving members of Led Zeppelin have
had a few reunion shows over the years, but a tour
never materialized, much to the dismay of fans.


When Alice Cooper suggested to Robert Plant the other day that he should reform Led Zeppelin, it reminded me what an impact that band has had over the years.

Cooper was critical of Plant because he walked away from a reunion with old bandmates Jimmy Plant and John Paul Jones, who were ready to tour as Led Zeppelin.

Millions of fans are disappointed with Plant's stance, including me.

I've liked Led Zeppelin since I first heard "Good Times Bad Times" on the radio back in 1969.

Since they were cheap, I bought 45 rpm singles in those days but that song convinced me to indulge in the group's self-titled debut LP.

And, what an album it was, filled with a striking combination of hard rock, blues and psychedelia.

Even more mind-blowing was the band's next single, "Whole Lotta Love," which amazingly became a No. 4 hit in early 1970 and still seems profoundly unusual coming out of radio speakers.

The song quickly became one of my favorites from the "Led Zeppelin II" album which I played often on my inexpensive portable stereo. Later, I heard the record with new ears when a college friend played it on his $1,500 high-end Bose stereo system.

By the end of 1970, the band released another 45 called "Immigrant Song" paired with "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do," a rare track not found on "Led Zeppelin III."

The band continued to release landmark LPs like "Symbols" and "Houses of the Holy" while touring throughout the 1970s.

I never did see them live.

On Sept. 25, 1980, the Chicago Tribune ran a full-page ad offering exclusive mail-order tickets for the first Led Zeppelin tour of North America since 1977.

Shows were scheduled at Chicago Stadium, 1800 West Madison St., for Nov. 10, 12, 13 and 15. The price for a box seat was $15.

Tragically, drummer John Bonham died on the very day the newspaper advertisement appeared.

Sponsored by S&L Entertainment in association with Concerts West, the planned concerts were never held.

Later, I picked up a ticket for the Nov. 12 concert as a souvenir.

The group decided in Dec. 1980 that they couldn't carry on without Bonham. Page and Plant formed the Honeydrippers in 1984, but it wasn't Led Zeppelin.

The iconic British quartet stirred again on July 13, 1985.

Having decided to launch a retail shop in downtown Escanaba, my wife Sue and I were busy that Saturday preparing for the opening of the Record Rack in a tiny storefront at 805 Ludington St.

We were listening to Live Aid on the radio as we worked.

Rumors swirled about a Led Zeppelin reunion, but we refused to believe it until it actually happened. Finally, Plant, Page and Jones delivered a short set from JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. They played "Rock and Roll," "Whole Lotta Love" and "Stairway to Heaven" with drummers Phil Collins and Tony Thompson doing their best to replace Bonham. The show was less than stellar.

In 1986, I got another Led Zeppelin fix when I read "Hammer of the Gods" by Stephen Davis. The unauthorized tome about the band's exploits on the road has been heavily criticized, but is a very entertaining way to pass a few hours. If parts aren't accurate, those segments probably represented what fans thought about the band anyway.

As a long-time fan of Led Zeppelin, I've acquired a few collectable items over the years.

In 1993, Atlantic Records issued "Complete Studio Recordings," comprising all nine Led Zeppelin studio albums, including the double-disc "Physical Graffiti." Digitally remastered, the set included four hard-to-find tracks, "Baby Come On Home," "Travelling Riverside Blues," "White Summer/Black Mountain Side" and "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do."

Several years later I purchased a limited edition print of the cover image for "Led Zeppelin I" which depicts the Hindenburg airship disaster.

My unnumbered print, with an image size measuring 19.5 by 19.5 inches, was one of 9,800 printed. It carries the signature of artist George Hardie.

It's said Hardie worked for hours printing dots on top of a tracing paper copy of the famous photograph to create the final image.

Hardie also worked on the covers for Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here."

Manufactured by Musicom International Inc., the company also produced poster-sized limited edition lithographs of album covers by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Doors and the Who.

In 1995 I bought a limited edition 24kt. gold-plated record for Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" 45. It's #239 of 2,500 and also features a miniature cover of "Led Zeppelin II."

Distributed by Winterland Productions, the piece measures 12 by 16 inches in size.

Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, focusing new attention on the group.

They performed another reunion show on Dec. 10, 2007. With Jason Bonham substituting for his father, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin played at the O2 Arena in London. A one-off benefit concert in the memory of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, the concert was widely praised.

Although 20 million fans requested tickets online, no tour followed.

Enjoying his solo career, Plant wanted no part of a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, no matter how lucrative such a project might be.

If millions of fans and millions of dollars won't sway Plant, it's unlikely Alice Cooper's protestations will lead to a Led Zeppelin tour.

Plant, however, isn't forgetting his old band entirely.

During his current solo tour, Plant sings five selections from the Led Zeppelin songbook: "Tangerine," "Houses of the Holy," "Gallows Pole," "Ramble On" and "Rock and Roll," proving he isn't totally adverse to performing songs which made him a mega-star.

I doubt if adding my name to a list which includes Alice Cooper and 20 million other fans will make any difference, but how about a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, Mr. Plant? I'd go, I promise.

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