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Music

The reason why John Lennon loved Led Zeppelin

@TomTaylorFO

When Led Zeppelin took to the stage for the very first time on September 7th, 1968, The Beatles had long since stopped playing. In the audience that evening at the Gladsaxe Teen Club in Copenhagen was a 17-year-old kid clutching his mother’s camera. He had been expecting to see the Yardbirds jam but instead was greeted with a sign heralding ‘The New Yardbirds’, and disappointment quickly set in. Who were these knock-off wannabes, and how did the Gladsaxe have such a cheek to pull a stunt like this?

When The New Yardbirds emerged, he only recognised Jimmy Page. The legendary John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Robert Plant were unknown entities as far as the young Dane was concerned. Only three years later, The Beatles were no longer a band let alone playing live, and Led Zeppelin were the next act aiming to seize the zeitgeist with their own raucous sound. What’s more, it is a raucous sound that would be heralded by former members of The Beatles themselves.

George Harrison was wowed by the band when he first saw them live. Apparently, ‘The Quiet One’ somewhat rendered his nickname a misnomer and exclaimed, “Fuck Me!” when he first saw them. “With The Beatles, we were on for 25 minutes and could get off in 15!” he said of their riotous three-hour set. And John Lennon likewise happened to be somewhat of a fanboy.

When Led Zeppelin first emerged, he was quick to herald the band. In an interview just around the time of their first successes, he said in an interview with Hit Parader: “You know, I just think it’s either something I like or don’t like or it’s heavy or it’s light,” he said. “I like heavy music — I call it rock. I like Led Zeppelin.” Later adding: “I don’t really know much of what they’re about. But one thing’s for sure, Jimmy Page is a bloody good guitarist.”

In the Melody Maker poll of the best British band that followed the break-up of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin were crowned champions, and when asked about this feat, John Bonham replied: “The kids are changing and so is the music changing. I think these days, the public you know, let’s not just say the kids because we’ve had all sorts of people at concerts. I think they’re coming to listen to what you’re playing. Not just to look at you and see what you are.”

Bonham later added: “I remember a few years when I went to see The Beatles because we’ve mentioned them a few times. It was to look at them. You didn’t really bother what you were listening to. Today is not what you are, is what you’re playing.”

In the years that followed, John Lennon would venture away from Led Zeppelin, and comments are rare from him on the band, but Harrison would remain in close quarters. “The problem with you guys is you never do ballads,” Harrison once told John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham. This conversation filtered through to Jimmy Page, who regaled the tale to biographer Brad Tolinski. “I’ll give him a ballad,” Page vowed and set about crafting one of the most epic I’ll-show-you’s in music. 

“I wrote ‘Rain Song’, which appears on Houses of the Holy,” Page continued, “In fact, you’ll notice I even quote ‘Something’ in the song’s first two chords.” This nod to Harrison was less of a homage and more of a friendly sarcastic jibe as Page also penned the song under the working title of ‘Slush’.

Such is the entwined nature of rock ‘n’ roll, heeding Harrison’s advice and showing a tender side certainly proved fruitful as legendary producer Rick Rubin once told Rolling Stone Magazine, “It defies classification,” he told announced regarding ‘Rain Song’. “There’s such tasteful, beautiful detail in the guitar and a triumphant feel when the drums come in – it’s sad and moody and strong, all at the same time. I could listen to this song all day.”