Led Zeppelin is a band steeped in glorious rock legend. Whether it was for the enormous sound which would go on to define a generation, or indeed for their equally as captivating off-stage antics — Led Zeppelin has been mythologised for decades as one of the music world’s most influential groups. With such fandom comes a suitable size of legend but, with that said, one particular myth remains factual; how Led Zeppelin got their name.
As many Zep fans will know, the band came to be in a sort of paint-by-numbers fashion. Jimmy Page was already an experienced lead guitarist, filling session spots and working with the Yardbirds. Page had also worked with multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones in 1967, and they agreed to work on their next project together. In August 1968, Page then invited Robert Plant and John Bonham to join his band, the New Yardbirds, for a September tour in Scandinavia. Led Zeppelin was beginning to take shape.
It was later in the year, however, when the name Led Zeppelin would first appear. It would come from the mouth of a legendary drummer, but not John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham. It would actually come from The Who’s Keith Moon and his always twisted sense of humour.
The story goes that Page was keen on creating a new supergroup with Moon, Jeff Beck, and Moon’s bandmate in The Who John Entwistle. Moon remarked that the project would go down “like a lead balloon” and the legend began to swirl. Not happy with the punitive power of a balloon, Page and the group went bigger and added Zeppelin as the largest balloon of all.
Reflecting on the process, Jimmy Page later told Ultimate Guitar: “It was a name that Keith Moon had mentioned back then. He was talking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a band called Led Zeppelin?’ And I asked him if we could use the name because I was gonna be in this band Led Zeppelin with Keith Moon, so was Jeff Beck.”
He added: “So when we were playing in Scandinavia we were out there as New Yardbirds, it was a cloak of invisibility really. And even on the first recordings, it said ‘New Yardbirds’ on the box because I didn’t want anybody to know what the name of the band was until we really officially unveiled it. And [the first album] was it.”
Some fans will dispute this origin story; many people actually credit The Who’s bassist John Entwistle with coming up with the name, others would suggest that it was actually Chris Dreja (formerly of the Yardbirds) which held back the New Yardbirds name and therefore encouraged the new name. Whatever way you look at it, it’s one of the most ridiculous but brilliant rock band names ever.
There you have it. The most recognisable in rock came from one of the scene’s most legendary drummers. It was fitting, really.