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The Making of Led Zeppelin I

As the 60s ended, session supremo Jimmy Page put together a band and a plan that would change rock forever - even if it did owe a whole lot to music's past...

In 1969, Chris Welch was the star writer for Melody Maker, then the most influential and prestigious music paper in Britain. He’d been there when Hendrix first set fire to his guitar at the Speakeasy, hung out in the studio while The Who wrestled with Tommy, kept Dylan waiting in reception for an interview while he finished his lunch, driven Rod Stewart home from gigs in the days when Rod was too poor to afford his own wheels. But Chris says he never – ever – heard anything like this. "One of the younger writers brought an early, pre-release copy of the album in, and played it on the office stereo – and it just leapt out at you; it really did feel like a great leap forward in terms of the sound you could actually get on a record. And that was just the first track.”

More than 40 years later, you can still hear the awe in his voice. But then, all this years later, you can still feel the energy crackling when you play the album he’s talking about: the eponymous debut from Led Zeppelin, released in Britain in March 1969. 

Already available in America since the start of the year, despite attracting some less than favourable reviews – notably, from John Mendelssohn in Rolling Stone, who damned Led Zeppelin as the poor relation to Truth, the band offering “little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn’t say as well or better”, describing Jimmy Page as “a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs”, and characterising Robert Plant’s vocals as “strained and unconvincing shouting” – Led Zeppelin’s debut album was already on its way to becoming a sizeable hit on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as changing the face of rock music completely. The brainchild of Page, a 24-year-old session guitarist who, somewhat astonishingly, had played on more than half of all the hit singles made in Britain from 1962-66 but who had only recently come to public attention via his late entry into The Yardbirds, the release of the first Zeppelin album could be said to have ushered in the 1970s a year early. 

An only child from West London who’d grown up, as he put it, “a loner”, Jimmy Page had always gone his own way: leaving school early to play professionally in a band, Neil Christian And The Crusaders; later dropping out of Art College to become a full-time session player, becoming so successful hat he turned down the chance to replace Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds, then riding high in the charts, recommending his old school pal Jeff Beck for the job instead. Why endure the endless one-nighters that were then the lot of a touring band of The Yardbirds’ stature, when he could earn more money – far more money - doing as many as three sessions a day in London? 

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