“I suppose it was then that we realised just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.” — John Paul Jones
Led Zeppelin and The Beatles are two bands that will live forever in the pantheon of rock music. While John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were plying their trade long before Led Zeppelin crash-landed on the music scene, the two bands have since been regarded as the pinnacle of the golden age of rock. The Beatles may have paved the way but Led Zeppelin dug up the road and skyrocketed to stardom.
During the sixties, there was only ever one band who truly triumphed above all else. The Fab Four were rightly regarded as the pinnacle of pop music during the decade; it meant that when Led Zeppelin landed with their powerful jams, blues vibrations and the iconic quartet of Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones on the stage, they upset the apple cart. By the end of the decade, The Beatles were petering out, and Zeppelin were ready to take the crown. That doesn’t mean that the new kings weren’t fans of their predecessors.
According to John Bonham, the key difference between the bands was their on-stage sound: “These days, let’s say the public — let’s not just say ‘kids’ because we’ve had all sorts of people at our concerts. They’re coming to listen to what you’re playing and not just to look at you and see what you are.” The drummer continued, “Let’s go back a few years, I remember when I went to see The Beatles. It was to look at them, you know. You didn’t really bother with what you were listening to. Now, it’s not what you are; it’s what you’re playing.”
It’s a sound that was perfected in 1969 at The Boston Tea Party. The final evening of a four-night stand, taking place on January 26th, 1969, has gone down in history as Zeppelin’s finest performance. A show so good that Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler lost his girlfriend to Jimmy Page. Bassist John Paul Jones said of the show: “As far as I’m concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus, was [Jan. 26] at the Boston Tea Party.” The band were at the top of their game, and audiences were ready to consume any and everything the band had to offer.
Continuing his conversation with NME in 1973, Jones recalled how the show became so enraptured that they ran out of songs to play: “We had to start throwing ideas around,” he continued. “Just thinking of songs that we might all know — or that some of us knew a part of — and work it out from there.” The band began contributing a series of covers of the likes of Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry and, of course, The Beatles.
“I mean, [we played] just anything that would come into our head, and the response was quite amazing,” said Jones, remembering performing a couple of tracks from each of the noted names above. For The Beatles, Zeppelin tackled the classic songs ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Please, Please Me’ and turned themselves, however briefly, into a Beatles covers band.
Unfortunately, the copious amount of bootleggers at the show managed to miss the covers. While plenty of bootleg tapes exist of the performance, none of them contains songs from the Fab Four. We’ll have to take Jones’ word as gospel on the performance, but we can rest in the knowledge that while Led Zeppelin soon triumphed over The Beatles, they regarded them as founding fathers of the rock genre, just like everybody else.