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Credit: Julio Zeppelin

Music

The ridiculous reason Led Zeppelin were denied entry to Singapore

@SamWKemp

In 1972, Led Zeppelin were at the very top of their game. Having released three self-titled albums to immense critical and commercial acclaim, it must have seemed as though nothing could stop them. Within weeks of its release, Led Zeppelin IV was number one in the UK charts. You couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ leaking out of the speakers in all its jangly glory. With all this success, the world, as they say, was Led Zeppelin’s oyster. Every major venue in the world was theirs for the taking. Every city, these self-made millionaires assumed, would surely welcome them with open arms. But one nation wasn’t so keen to embrace Led Zeppelin: the newly independent Singapore.

The story goes that Led Zeppelin were scheduled to perform out an outdoor venue in Singapore on February 14th, 1972. After arriving in their private jet, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones made their way from the landing strip to customs, where they expected to be given the full VIP treatment. They didn’t get far. On stepping foot off the plane, border control stopped them in their path, denying the band entry to Singapore. As Stephen Davis wrote in Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga: “Not only were Led Zeppelin not allowed into the country, they were even refused permission to get off their plane and had to fly back to London”.

So why exactly were the airport officials so opposed to the idea of Led Zeppelin setting foot on Singaporean soil? Was it their reputation for chaos and debauchery, or Jimmy Page’s fascination with satanic worship and the occult? No, it was something far less dramatic than that. Led Zeppelin were denied entry to Singapore on account of their long flowing locks.

It’s important to remember that Singapore was keen to avoid getting caught up in the countercultural anti-authoritarianism that was sweeping across the world at that time. In an effort to ward off a cultural revolution, Singapore launched a campaign against what it deemed to be Western “drug culture”. This involved nullifying the aesthetics of the hippie age, the most central of which was (you guessed it) long hair. This symbol of alternative living was taken as a threat to social order by the Singaporean government, who frequently turned away visitors with hair below their shoulders. If the disgruntled visitors were really keen to gain entry, they were asked to shave themselves a neat crop. Many of them did, some returned home.

It might seem like a strange thing to get upset about, but one of Singapore’s main goals post-independence was to shape a new generation of young people who held the interests of their country above all else. Patriotism, conformity, and education were all important tools to ensure maximum economic productivity and to solidify Singapore as a leading post-colonial power. Led Zeppelin stood in opposition to all three of these things and were deemed undesirable as a result. But it wasn’t just Led Zeppelin who were turned away. Cliff Richard was also denied entry in 1972 for having collar-length curls. Singapore has calmed down a bit since the 1970s. Although it wasn’t until 2013 that Robert Plant, complete with god-like mane, performed his first show on Singaporean soil.

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