The record industry had yet to properly catch up with rock and roll by the end of the 1960s. As bands like the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band began to make the three-minute single passe, record companies still baulked at extended compositions, fearing that the bloated run times would scare away potential listeners.
Led Zeppelin were on the cutting edge of rock music, having developed their sound into a hard-edged version of classic blues that was cranked up a couple hundred decibels and played at ear-splitting volumes. Part of the band’s pioneering sound was in their live performances, which often stretched to extended lengths with solos, jams, and interpolations of other songs.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ quickly became an open vehicle to incorporate the sounds of other songs, including famously becoming the perfect time for Robert Plant to bust out his Elvis Presley fandom by singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ after the spacey theremin section. John Bonham got his own star-making turn during ‘Moby Dick’ the wild drum solo that could easily expand to half an hour, depending on Bonzo’s mood on any particular night.
But Led Zeppelin were pushing boundaries from the very beginning, as can be heard on their self-titled debut album. Three of the album’s first four songs extended beyond the six-minute mark, including the psychedelic ‘Dazed and Confused’ and the folky ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’. Zeppelin had no interest in singles, wishing for their albums and live performances to speak for themselves, but Atlantic Records were still preoccupied with the idea of making music singles-friendly.
Jimmy Page made note of this and felt that radio was outside of the band’s reach as well. FM and AOR stations had yet to properly catch on, and any band who played beyond the standard single length were unlikely to find any kind of radio exposure. So Jimmy Page concocted a simple trick to see if he could fool broadcasters: he simply lied about how long ‘How Many More Times’, the final track from Led Zeppelin I, ran on the album.
Original pressings of Led Zeppelin I list ‘How Many More Times’ as lasting only around three minutes and 30 seconds. In reality, the song was the album’s longest track, sprawling well past the eight-minute mark. It’s unclear whether the cosmetic change actually made any difference, since one look at the album’s vinyl would reveal just how long ‘How Many More Times’ actually was, but it was an interesting idea to try and get beyond the single-minded nature of the record industry at the time.