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Axl Rose’s thoughts on the break-up of Led Zeppelin in the 1980s

Led Zeppelin formed in London in 1968 from the ashes of The Yardbirds. By 1968, The Yardbirds had all but fizzled out; they had a final run of shows they had committed to play in Europe. Lead vocalist Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty, unwilling to continue, gave consent for Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja to continue using the band’s name.

With this, Page looked to bring in esteemed rock vocalist from the Band of Joy, Robert Plant, who agreed to join and suggested his ex-bandmate, John Bonham, as the drummer for the so-called ‘New Yardbirds’. Following the successful conclusion to the band’s obligations in Europe, by order of Dreja, who had left the band to become a photographer, the group were forced to change their name ahead of recording any new material. With the addition of John Paul Jones as bassist, born was the age of Led Zeppelin.

By 1970, Led Zeppelin had become a household name as a heavier alternative to the pop-rock of The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Their first two albums, both released in 1969, were awash with classics, including ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Ramble On’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. 

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If Led Zeppelin left it here, they would still have been revered in the modern age for changing rock history forever. But fortunately, we were lucky enough to see them develop over six further albums throughout the 1970s into one of the most accomplished bands of the prog-rock era. Their singular impact on rock music over the ’80s and beyond is incalculably vast. 

One of the bands that seemed to directly pick up where Led Zeppelin left off when they split up following Bonham’s death in 1980 was the Los Angeles hard rock group, Guns N’ Roses. After forming in 1985, they took very little time to become world-renowned. Their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, released in 1987, boasted three top-ten singles, including ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Paradise City’, and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’.

It’s clear just from listening to Guns N’ Roses that one of their key influences was Led Zeppelin. The band’s frontman Axl Rose was noted early on for having a strikingly similar vocal style to Robert Plant. One might assume that Rose would have wanted Led Zeppelin to carry on past 1980, but in an interview from the late ’80s, he made it quite clear that while he enjoyed Led Zeppelin in their time, he respected the members more for moving on creatively. 

In 1987, journalist Steve Harris asked Rose for his thoughts on Led Zeppelin having broken up earlier in the decade; he replied: “He’s moved on, he hasn’t compromised his art. I’m talking about Robert Plant there. He hasn’t compromised his art. He’s moved on, he’s an older guy. He doesn’t agree with some of the things he wrote about before but, like, you go through life and you make changes. I mean, Pete Townsend isn’t saying, ‘Hope I die before I get old’ now. You say things one day and that’s how you really feel and you believe it.”

He continued: “Then, maybe, you grow past that. Robert Plant is like, I don’t listen to a whole lot of the stuff, but I have a lot of respect for it. I really like the song ‘Big Log’. But I have a lot of respect for it because he’s being himself and he’s not compromising.”

Addressing Jimmy Page, Rose added: “[He] is pretty much the same way. Sure you miss old Led Zeppelin. But, people go back to their high school reunions and they are standing there talking to some bald fat guy, and then they don’t even realise that was the quarterback of the football team who got all the girls. They miss that but the guy is changed. Now he’s the guy could be like happy whatever family man in Idaho or something now.”

“You go through changes. I just don’t like compromises for the sake of being successful. That bothers me. I’d rather starve than paying the rent by bending over and taking it in the ass. That’s how I consider it.”

Listen to ‘Big Log’, one of the highlights of Robert Plant’s post-Led Zeppelin solo career, below.