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Music

George Harrison and the consequence of his love for Led Zeppelin

It is well known that when The Beatles split in 1970, they left a vacuum so great that it took a leviathan to fill. The band had pioneered in the realms of songwriting, recording, aesthetic and cover artwork, bringing together what were once disparate elements and fusing them into one homogenised factor that would guarantee a band’s success or failure.

Towards the end of The Beatles’ career, as the ‘Fab Four’ were winding down, in September 1969, they released their penultimate classic, Abbey Road. It is one of the most iconic albums ever released for sure, but it was knocked off the top spot on the US Album Chart not once, but twice by Led Zeppelin II. The time for The Beatles to step aside had come. The increasingly hard-rocking and esoteric might of Led Zeppelin was here to take their place.

Showing just how big Led Zeppelin had become, in 1973, they broke the record for the biggest crowd in attendance at a musical concert. On May 5th, Zeppelin played to nearly 57,000 fans in Tampa, which surpassed the attendance record The Beatles had set at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965 with 55,000.

That year, Zeppelin released their hit album Houses of the Holy, and were on a roll, it followed the massive success of its predecessor, 1971’s Led Zeppelin. Later in that year, the band carried on their tour in support of the record, and on August 31st, they found themselves in Los Angeles playing a show and celebrating John Bonham’s 25th birthday.

Ex-Beatles guitarist George Harrison was in attendance at the show, and he was blown away by what he saw and heard during the three-hour show. Afterwards, the party became one of the most notorious instances of hedonistic abandon in the history of Led Zeppelin. It was written in a news report at the time that the band was in “rare destructive form” and madness ensued, including ‘The Quiet One’, Harrison throwing a chunk of birthday cake at the birthday boy.

Regardless of the antics, Led Zeppelin had left an indelible musical mark on George Harrison. “Fuck me!” he allegedly said backstage. “With the Beatles, we were on for 25 minutes and could get off in 15.” Although he was blown away by the band, it did have one niggling criticism.

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According to Brad Tolinski via a Rolling Stone report, Harrison told Bonham at a prior date that the one problem with Led Zeppelin was that “you guys never do ballads”. An outwardly hard-rocking band, they did have their softer points, including ‘Going to California’ and ‘The Battle of Evermore’.

We get his point though, the band once known as ‘The New Yardbirds’ carried on exploring the darker and heavier side of rock music that The Yardbirds first did in the mid-1960s, and rarely slowed down. This criticism had its intended consequence, however. It pushed Jimmy Page to write a ballad that became one of Zeppelin’s best and best-loved tracks. 

Page recalled: “George was talking to Bonzo one evening and said, ‘The problem with you guys is that you never do ballads.’ I said, ‘I’ll give him a ballad,’ and I wrote ‘Rain Song,’ which appears on Houses of the Holy. In fact, you’ll notice I even quote ‘Something’ in the song’s first two chords.”

Not only did George Harrison love Led Zeppelin, but he also managed to coax their best out of them with a bit of apparently piddling critique. It wasn’t, though. It helped to bring Houses of the Holy to life, as ‘Rain Song’ was one of the first tracks written for it and is arguably its highlight. 

Listen to ‘Rain Song’ below.