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(Credit: Press)

Music

The Cover Uncovered: How Led Zeppelin created the art for their debut album

Led Zeppelin formed in London in 1968 from the ashes of The Yardbirds and the Band of Joy. Jimmy Page, the lead guitarist and original creative director of Led Zeppelin, began his musical career as a session musician who was quickly recognised for his ability and snapped up by blues-rock band the Yardbirds in 1965. Originally standing in as a bassist, Page was soon to switch to lead guitar alongside budding guitar maestro Jeff Beck. This line-up didn’t last long with Beck deciding to depart the band after just a year playing as a lead guitar duo with Page. 

The remnants of The Yardbirds spent the next two years playing gigs periodically as the band began to wind down and its members appeared more focussed on external projects. Page had made some efforts to found a supergroup with Beck with plans to bring in Keith Moon from The Who on drums, John Entwistle on bass and Steve Marriott of the Small Faces earmarked for lead vocals. Unfortunately, this project didn’t fully materialise and all we have to show for it is a mere taste of what could have been with the single ‘Beck’s Bolero’ recorded by Page, Beck and Moon.

In 1968, with The Yardbirds 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 who agreed to join and suggested his ex-bandmate, John Bonham, as the new 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 new material. With the addition of John Paul Jones as bassist, born was the age of Led Zeppelin.

On this day (12th January) in 1969, Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album was first released in the USA, with the UK release to follow on the 31st of March. The album took the traditions of blues-inspired rock that was synonymous with the British invasion bands of the 1960s and added a heavier, more fast-paced intensity to the music that ultimately proved to be a global hit. The album boasted some of the band’s most memorable tracks such as ‘Good Times Bad Times’, ‘Communication Breakdown’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’. Almost on par with the appeal of the music was the historical disaster scene turned into pop art for the cover of the record.

The album artwork, designed by George Hardie who later created the album art for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, shows the horrifying scene of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster where the German airship of Zeppelin design caught fire as it came in to dock in New Jersey, USA, after having crossed the Atlantic from Frankfurt. The image was adapted into an almost cartoon-like monochrome design for the cover of the album. The art ties in perfectly to create a dark comedic slant on the newly chosen name for the band. 

Over the next decade, Led Zeppelin would firmly plant their flag in musical history as one of the most successful rock bands of all time. None of their subsequent album covers were quite so iconic as that portrayed on Led Zeppelin. Many record collectors to this day search for an original copy of this groundbreaking album in record shops around the world. The original copies of the album are extremely rare and are identified by the text colour used on the front cover for the band’s name. The original sleeves had ‘Led Zeppelin’ written in turquoise which was quickly amended to the more familiar design with orange lettering. If you find this rare copy in your collection you could be pleased to know it could fetch over £2,000 at auction. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what sort of gems could be lurking in your local charity shop!

(Credit: Press)