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How Led Zeppelin inspired Prince to become a legend

Led Zeppelin broke down the very walls of the music scene without so much as catching their breath. Founded by Jimmy Page, who had already successfully negotiated the greatest heights a session musician could experience, the group arrived as not only the hottest band in the world but the very future of rock and roll. The late sixties was the perfect place for Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham to flourish. But while the group is often thought of as a heavy rock act — and they certainly knew how to throwdown — it was the delicacy with which they employed both the “light and shade” that really set the group apart.

It was a notion that would inspire countless artists who would use the duality of life itself as inspiration for their music. Across their albums, Led Zeppelin created peaks and valleys, never settling on one singular sound or theme, instead, allowing their creativity to flow through the LP and their extending catalogue. On their debut, the group provide a perfect charcoal sketch of the world around them, and on future records, they employed the same technique, often leaning more heavily into the light or shade of a record. It was a way of creating that inspired a young guitarist and musician named Prince Rogers Nelson.

Undoubtedly one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, spanning countless genres and styles, Prince can be regarded as one artist who refuses to be contained. Much like Led Zeppelin, he has always championed an artist’s need to create music purely for themselves. It was a notion he found out to his detriment when increased pressure arose for him to keep continuing the same themes that had seen his previous LP Purple Rain catapult His Royal Badness into super-stardom.

After being confined by the pressures of having such a hit album, Prince went on strike. He kept making music, but he refused to do interviews or speak with the press in any real capacity. It was a choice that suggested he was rather taken aback by the increased pressure on his work, perhaps even hurt by it. The singer broke a three-year silence when he spoke with Rolling Stone about the record, picking out the inspiration he found in the heavy rock act Led Zeppelin: “I really thought I’d never do interviews again,” he muses, having to contemplate his need for promotional activity.

There are plenty of accusations thrown around within the interview, but one seems to land in the best way possible, his new album being labelled psychedelic. For Prince, it’s water off a duck’s back: “I don’t mind that because that was the only period in recent history that delivered songs and colours.” From there, the singer notes the specific influence acts as Led Zeppelin had over him.

Though the band aren’t exactly the first group one thinks of when picking out psyche bands, there is certainly a connection to the sound. Either way, it was the variety that Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham brought to their work that really appealed to Prince: “Led Zeppelin, for example, would make you feel differently on each song.” Though inspiring for Prince, it was a difficult task for Page and co. to handle. Continually evolving a sound is hard enough, but doing it under the watchful eye of an adoring public and a scornful money counter at the label sees the pressure increase tenfold.

Page, Led Zeppelin’s principal songwriter, was never truly swayed to pay attention to the public or what record executives wanted. For him, it was about using music to express himself. The same can certainly be said for Prince, who, when speaking to Rolling Stone noted his own desire to keep pushing forward. “I think the smartest thing I did was record Around the World in a Day right after I finished Purple Rain,” he told the publication. “You know how easy it would have been to open Around the World in a Day with the guitar solo that’s on the end of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’?”

“I don’t want to make an album like the earlier ones,” he concluded on the matter. “Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to put your albums back to back and not get bored, you dig?”

This constant desire to push himself and his art towards new heights, new lows and everywhere in between made Prince a legend. Like Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and a whole host more, Prince found a place in people’s hearts through his unique viewpoint and uncontrollable talent. Prince may well have been an incredible guitarist, but it was Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s artistic drive that truly inspired him to greatness.

Watch the moment Prince covers Led Zeppelin song ‘Whole Lotta Love’ below.

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