A popular band in its time, Led Zeppelin has since been canonized as the ultimate hard-rock band. The group was born when guitarist Jimmy Page, who'd joined the Yardbirds in 1966, found himself a free agent as that band fell apart two years later. He formed a new band, initially called the New Yardbirds, with bass/keyboard player John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, both players Page knew from his years as a session musician. The vocal slot was initially offered to solo artist Terry Reid who turned it down, recommending the young Band of Joy frontman Robert Plant. The name Led Zeppelin was provided by Who members John Entwistle and Keith Moon, referencing the showbiz joke of an act going over like a "lead balloon." The name, however, suited the 'heavy" sound of Zeppelin's first two albums (both released in 1969), which offered a louder, brasher and more sexualized variation on the blues-rock template of Cream and Hendrix. Already headliners on their first tour, Zeppelin had instant trademarks in Page's wizardly presence and Plant's rampant sexuality. Yet the band was already breaking out of the hard-rock template on 1970's Led Zeppelin III, which was half-acoustic and steeped in English folk music (they jammed onstage with folk-rockers Fairport Convention around this time). Plant was also breaking out of blues-derived lyrics and drawing on his love for J.R.R. Tolkien. The next album (whose official title was a graphic of four Celtic runes) brought it together on the mini-epic "Stairway to Heaven," which built from pastoral intro (complete with recorder) to guitar-hero finale; it became the most popular track of Zeppelin's career if not the entire hard-rock era. The same album offered a heavy electric blues ("When the Levee Breaks"), an acoustic duet with Fairport's Sandy Denny ("The Battle of Evermore") and a set of hard-rock tracks, making it the band's creative and commercial peak. Zeppelin remained one of the world's biggest bands for the duration of the '70s, releasing best-selling albums (notably 1975's adventurous double album Physical Graffiti) and mounting high-profile tours; many of rock's iconic stories of on-the-road decadence are attributed to them. The story only turned dark in Zeppelin's last two years, when Plant suffered the loss of his five-year-old son from a stomach virus in 1978; the group nearly broke up at that point. Page was addicted to heroin during the recording of the next album In Through the Out Door, causing Jones to take the reins. Finally Bonham, who had a propensity for drinking, died of overindulgence in September 1980. This devastated the band who announced their breakup afterward. While there were a few partial Zeppelin reunions-including two Page/Plant albums and tours in 1994/98-there were only three true reunion shows. The first two (at Live Aid in 1985 and Atlantic Records' 40th Anniversary in 1998) were considered disappointments, but in December 2007 they played a full-length, full-strength show (with Bonham's son Jason on drums) at London's O2 Arena in honor of Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun. Later released as the live album Celebration Day, this show took Led Zeppelin out on a high.
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