When Led Zeppelin made their arrival, there were very few more people more critical in the world of music than George Harrison. While the iconic Beatle often dished out his seal approval, there was one slight issue that he had with the new kids on the block.
While The Beatles were still technically active when Led Zeppelin formed, they’d stopped touring years before, and it was clear that their days were numbered. With ‘The Fab Four’ out of the picture, the next generation of fans craved something new, refreshing, and invigorating, which is when Zeppelin answered everybody’s prayers. Suddenly, there was a new band in town that everybody wanted a taste of, and remarkably, George Harrison’s first introduction to the group was even recorded.
The moment came when The Beatles were making Let It Be, and engineer Glyn Johns alerted him to their existence. “Is he the one that was in The Yardbirds?” Harrison exquisitely asks with a sense of excitement in his voice. His ears prick up further when he discovers John Paul Jones plays bass in the group, to which Johns explains: “He’s like the guv’nor. He’s very young; he’s about 24. The guv’nor bass player. Really good.”
The engineer then adds: “A kid called John Bonham on drums who is unbelievable,” to which Harrison adds, “I think he was in a session with Paul [McCartney] last year with some of the other people there.”
However, the guitarist needed to see them himself, and after Johns’ gushing reference, it didn’t take Harrison long to catch the band in action. It turned out to be a love affair, but he had one slight issue with the band which he later relayed to John Bonham. Jimmy Page later revealed to biographer Brad Tolinski: “George was talking to Bonzo one evening and said, ‘The problem with you guys is that you never do ballads’.”
Rather than being angry with Harrison’s complaint, it was the fuel that Page needed to write a stone-cold classic. He continued, “I said, ‘I’ll give him a ballad,’ and I wrote ‘Rain Song,’ which appears Houses of the Holy. In fact, you’ll notice I even quote ‘Something’ in the song’s first two chords.”
To Led Zeppelin’s credit, Harrison’s criticism about the band was simply untrue, yet, miraculously, it did prove to be the spark they needed to create a giant of a song. If anyone had earned the right to dish out advice that was perhaps undercooked, it was George Harrison. After all, he was a Beatle.
It says everything about the magnitude of respect that the band held Harrison in that not only were they not aggrieved by his comment, but Bonham passed it on with sincerity to his bandmates – and they listened.