The untold truth of Led Zeppelin

As one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, Led Zeppelin's history has been well documented. But no matter how big of a fan you might be, there's still probably a lot you may not know about the undisputed gods of '70s rock. 

Robert Plant almost wasn't the frontman

It's hard to imagine Led Zeppelin being fronted by anyone other than Robert Plant — whose voice and image still continues to define what it means to be a rock 'n' roll singer. However, had Jimmy Page's first choice taken him up on his offer to sing for Led Zeppelin, the entire history of rock music may have been drastically different.

According to The Telegraph, Terry Reid was actually one of Page's first choices to front the band, which was called the New Yardbirds at the time. However, Reid had already signed with high-profile producer Mickie Most, who'd gone ahead and attached Reid's career-long nickname of Superlungs to the gifted singer. Therefore, the sweet-voiced rock prodigy had little choice but to turn down Page's offer — instead suggesting the guitarist take a look at West Bromwich's new "Greek god" on the music scene. That would be Plant. Page did just that and obviously liked what he saw. When joining The New Yardbirds, Plant brought along his buddy John Bonham to play the drums, and the rest is rock 'n' roll history.

Reid never went on to become a big star — though his career certainly wasn't a complete failure. Nevertheless, it's safe to assume that turning down Page's offer to front Led Zeppelin was the biggest mistake of Reid's professional career.

They once changed their name to "The Nobs"

Many fans know that Led Zeppelin was originally called The New Yardbirds. Few people, however, know that the British band once played a show in Copenhagen as "The Nobs." In England, that's a reference to man's best friend — specifically the one that isn't a dog. So why the onetime name change?

It was Led Zeppelin's saucy response to Eva von Zeppelin, the noble granddaughter of Ferdinand von Zeppelin, founder of the Zeppelin airship company. Eva threw a fit over the band using her family's namesake, and even threatened legal action against the band members if they ever performed as "Led Zeppelin" in Denmark. In response, Page decided the band would change its name to "The Nobs" for its show in Copenhagen, citing the whole ordeal as "absurd." The group even tried to pacify the outraged noblewoman in person. 

"The first time we played we invited her backstage to meet us, to see how we were nice young lads," Page said. "We calmed her down but on leaving the studio, she saw our LP cover of an airship in flames and she exploded! I had to run and hide. She just blew her top."

Granted, the cover of the band's self-titled debut does feature a grim illustration of the Zeppelin family's creation plummeting to its destruction, so Eva's displeasure is understandable. Still, it's a good thing "The Nobs" didn't stick. Not only would Zeppelin fans probably have been called "nobheads," but instead of "getting the Led out," we'd all have to "pull our nobs out." No thanks.

Jimmy Page financed the first album himself

With Led Zeppelin already blowing audiences away with its explosive and dynamic live performances, Jimmy Page wanted to keep record label meddling to a minimum on the band's studio records. Thus, Page financed Led Zeppelin's epic, self-titled debut album — known as Led Zeppelin I — himself.

In one of his many interviews with music journalist Brad Tolinski, Page explained why self-funding the first album was necessary: "I wanted artistic control in a vise grip, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the band. In fact, I financed and completely recorded the first album before going to Atlantic." Whereas bands typically received a cash advance to record an LP, Led Zeppelin's showing up at Atlantic with master tapes in tow left the record label no say in the actual artistic process.

There were other advantages to self-financing Led Zeppelin I. Because Page planned ahead and knew exactly what he wanted the band to be, recording costs were kept to a minimum. In fact, the whole recording process only took 30 hours. "That's the truth," said Page. "I know, because I paid the bill." Thirty hours might seem a bit rushed, "but it wasn't all that difficult," explains Page, "because we were well rehearsed, having just finished a tour of Scandinavia, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do in every respect. I knew where all the guitars were going to go and how it was going to sound — everything."

Jimmy Page dated a 14-year-old

Even in the swingin' seventies — where outrageous tales of groupie sex abound — relations with a 14-year-old was not only socially unacceptable, but against the law.

But societal norms and legal restrictions didn't stop Jimmy Page from allegedly having Richard Cole, Led Zeppelin's tour manager, essentially kidnap an underage teen model and "Stairway to Heaven" fan named Lori Mattix. Mattix was reportedly brought, by request, to Page's suite at the L.A. Hyatt House, where she recalls falling in love with the guitar god. Mattix once explained in an interview that Page "just had this really wonderful, like, you know, calm demeanor about him — something very mysterious, and always kind and sweet. I don't know how to explain him. He's the… when you do meet him and when you do get to know him, you just immediately fall in love with him. He's so sweet. I used to stand on the side of the stage and just be in awe, and say 'Why me?'" 

Page wasn't alone in breaking statutory rape laws. Having sexual relations with minors was kind of a thing for rock stars in the '70s. Mattix herself claims she lost her virginity to David Bowie around the same time she began her relationship with Page.

Despite the potential for legal consequences, Page and Mattix's relationship lasted in secret for years — before the guitarist finally broke it off for a woman he didn't have to keep locked up in his hotel room.

They may have plagiarized... a lot

In addition to writing some of the greatest songs in rock 'n' roll history, Led Zeppelin's also been accused of plagiarizing some of the greatest songs in rock 'n' roll history. "Dazed and Confused" remains one of the band's most iconic songs, but someone else may deserve credit for the legendary track.

American folk singer Jake Holmes — who opened for The Yardbirds when Page was its guitarist — claims to have written the song. Holmes' version was released in 1967, two years before Led Zeppelin I, where Zeppelin's version first appearedYardbirds drummer Jim McCarty even admitted to buying Holmes' album the day after the band heard the song, saying, "We decided to do a version. We worked it out together with Jimmy contributing the guitar riffs in the middle." Page was credited on Led Zeppelin I as the sole songwriter of "Dazed and Confused" and adamantly denied ripping off Holmes, claiming, "I haven't heard Jake Holmes so I don't know what it's all about anyway. Usually my riffs are pretty damn original. What can I say?" 

But there's more. A lawsuit was filed against Led Zeppelin for ripping the guitar arpeggio from Spirit's "Taurus" for the band's ultra-famous "Stairway to Heaven," but the band was controversially cleared of plagiarism. Led Zeppelin also originally claimed to have written "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," though the band eventually gave due credit to Anne Bredon in 1990 — and paid her substantial back-royalties. Other Zeppelin songs were pressed with controversial credits, including "You Shook Me," "Black Mountain Side," Whole Lotta Love," "Bring it on Home," "Boogie with Stu," and a whole lot more — making Led Zeppelin perhaps one of history's most successful plagiarists.

Their private jet was absurd and seedy

Led Zeppelin's private jet, the Starship, was the the first Boeing 720-022 ever manufactured, and no expense was spared on the band's behalf.

The main cabin featured seats, tables, revolving arm chairs, a 30-foot-long couch, a fully-stocked bar with an attached electronic organ, a TV, and a video cassette player. In the back of the plane was a den furnished with a couch and floor pillows as well as a bedroom decked out with a fur bedspread and a shower. 

The plane was also reportedly home to some of Led Zeppelin's darker debauchery. Robert Plant said his favorite memory from the Starship was receiving "oral sex during turbulence," and John Bonham — in addition to playing co-pilot — allegedly had the tendency to get drunk and force himself upon the stewardesses. Band manager Peter Grant once brandished a gun on a flight to Pittsburgh, while other passengers sniffed line after line of cocaine. Though the atmosphere on the plane was sometimes dark and sketchy, it seemed to impress journalists lucky enough to tag along for the ride.

Though Zeppelin was the first band to lease the Starship, it wasn't the last to party like crazy aboard the "flying gin palace." The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, The Allman Brothers, The Bee Gees, Elton John, Peter Frampton, and Alice Cooper also took their chances on the big jet plane — often stirring up the same equally ridiculous tales of drug-and-sex-fueled mayhem.

Robert Plant recorded 'Presence' from a wheelchair

While vacationing in Greece in 1975, Robert Plant and his family were in a car accident. Both Plant and his wife were injured — with the singer sustaining a broken ankle and elbow — while, luckily, their children only suffered minor bumps and bruises. The accident left Plant in a wheelchair and on crutches for almost two years, which forced the band to cancel the remainder of its North American tour.

Plant's injuries also hampered the recording of the group's seventh studio album, Presence. Forced to stand and sing on crutches, the vocalist once even caught his crutch on a studio cable and took a painful tumble. Bandmate Jimmy Page reportedly saw Plant trip and sprinted to his aid like "an Olympic athlete." Recalled Plant in a radio interview with New York's WNEW-FM 102.7, "I've never seen [Page] move so fast in my life. For that, alone, it was almost worth it, you know?"

Plant was taken to the hospital, but the ankle proved to be A-okay. Plant was reportedly so stoked at the good diagnosis, he wheeled himself right back into the studio, recorded the vocals for the band's masterpiece, "Achilles Last Stand," and wheeled himself out like a boss.

Jimmy Page initially wanted to cure cancer

Jimmy Page always exhibited a God-given talent on the six-string, but playing guitar in the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band wasn't his original goal.

In April 1958, a 14-year-old Page appeared on BBC's television show All Your Own, where the prodigy demonstrated his guitar prowess in a "skiffle" group of musicians. After the performance, host Huw Wheldon asked Page about his future aspirations, and Page nervously replied that he wants "to do biological research to find a cure for cancer, if it isn't discovered by then." 

Apparently, Page's noble goal didn't last long because in an interview with ITV five years later, a 19-year-old Page spoke of different professional goals, telling the interviewer he hoped to become an accomplished artist, noting that his work as a session guitarist was merely a means to fund that goal.

To Page's credit, one of his teenage dreams definitely came true.

The band's name came about because of a joke

Led Zeppelin's name, when you think about it, doesn't make much sense. Zeppelins aren't lead — if they were, multi-ton balloons would be raining on our heads every day, and who wants that?  As it turns out, the name came from an attempted joke at Jimmy Page's expense. He turned that gag into one of the most famous bands of all time, so he must have enjoyed the punchline.

According to the The British Invasion by Barry Miles, sometime in the late '60s, musicians Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle started throwing around the idea of forming a supergroup. Moon, however, wasn't too optimistic of the imaginary group's potential for success — in fact, the late Who drummer quipped that the whole thing "would probably go over like a lead balloon." His fellow Whovian, Entwistle, punched up the joke by saying it would go over like "a lead zeppelin." Good yuks, man. When it came time for Page to actually form the group, he "borrowed" the name and made it iconic. He's probably been laughing ever since.

Many critics despised them when they started out

You're hard-pressed to find anyone who hates Led Zeppelin now, but that wasn't always the case. The fans were there from the start, but it took critics a while to realize how awesome the band truly was.

According to Slate, while some critics (especially in the UK) adored Zep from the start, not everyone was on board. Some, including some very influential ones, saw the future rock icons as nothing but loud, unoriginal, overtly sexual, bombastic blowhards. In particular, Rolling Stone absolutely despised them, with critic John Mendelsohn lambasting their debut album as "weak" and "unimaginative" and dubbing Robert Plant's vocals, now almost universally praised as the howled croonings of a rock god, "prissy." He concluded Led Zeppelin wasn't nearly as good as Page's old band, Cream. The band didn't come close to brushing off such criticism — as Slate pointed out, the band was known to call out critics during interviews, especially when being interviewed by publications that had been previously negative.

It got so bad that, according to Rolling Stone (which has since reversed its position on the band, obviously), Zep intentionally named the fourth album nothing at all. In addition, they provided no band info, no photos of the group, and gave no interviews to promote the thing. Oh, and they also made it one of the greatest albums of all time, which probably helped ward off the critics.

Robert Plant hates 'Stairway to Heaven'

Probably the most famous song in Led Zeppelin's catalog and one of the most famous rock songs ever, it's shocking to find anybody who hates "Stairway to Heaven." Well, you can count Robert Plant, of all people, as one of those who would quite like to never, ever hear "Stairway to Heaven" ever again.

As told in Led Zeppelin IV by Barney Hoskyns, Jimmy Page absolutely adored the song, considering it the peak of the band's artistic output. Plant, meanwhile, saw virtually nothing special about the song at all. In 1988, he said he considered it a "nice, pleasant, well-meaning, naive little song" that wouldn't be nearly as popular if its lyrics weren't so vague and ambiguous. He's apparently barely played it at all since Zeppelin's 1980 break-up, saying, "I'd break out in hives if I had to sing 'Stairway to Heaven' in every show." So if you want to hear a Zep vet play it live, check out a Jimmy Page show. With Plant, you're more likely to hear anything he did with Alison Krauss than anything about a bustle in your hedgerow.

'Going To California' is about Joni Mitchell (and earthquakes)

If "Stairway" is one of Zep's hardest songs, "Going To California" is one of its prettiest. It's a gentle ballad about a beautiful, lonely woman, but there's also something about drowning in the gods' giant nosebleed, so who knows what Plant was getting at?

Actually, we all do, as long as we listen to the words. According to the book The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin, he wrote the song to document his love for singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. The two weren't an item, but he had a massive crush on her and wanted to express it. As Plant put it, "When you're in love with Joni Mitchell, you've really got to write about it now and again." So next time you hear him sing about "a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair," you'll know he had the "Big Yellow Taxi" lady in mind.

He also had earthquakes on the brain. The other part of the song — the stuff about mountains shaking and gods getting punched in the nose — is about the pains of working in California right on a fault line. In fact, when Jimmy Page was mixing the album in Los Angeles, a minor earthquake shook up the studio. So there was basis in Plant's complaints about California, but for a woman like Joni, he was clearly willing to put up with it.

Steve Marriott of The Small Faces was asked to be the singer

As mentioned earlier, Terry Reid was initially pegged to be Led Zeppelin's front man, but he wasn't the only non-Plant to be offered the gig. According to Mick Wall's book When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, when first conceptualizing the supergroup that would become Zeppelin, Page considered Steve Marriott, singer for British rock band The Small Faces. In fact, when he pitched the idea to Marriott, the singer was quite interested. So why didn't it happen? Threats of violence, basically.

Shortly after extending the offer, Page received a message from Marriott's business handlers: "How would you like to play guitar with broken fingers?" So … no? Turns out, Marriott's manager was Don Arden, a guy who called himself the "Al Capone of Pop" and conducted music business mafioso-style. As he bragged to Wall, "I'm f**king hanging Robert Stigwood over a balcony for daring to try to take Steve Marriott away from me. You think I'd let some little schlemiel from The Yardbirds have him?" That rather violent rejection took the wind out of Page's sails, and soon everybody went back to their respective bands. Later, obviously, Page would resurrect the idea and run with Robert Plant. History was made, and no fingers were broken.

Jimmy Page once owned Aleister Crowley's house

While not a master of the actual dark arts (that we know of), Jimmy Page was certainly interested in them, interested enough to buy what some might call the most evil house in England. That would be Aleister Crowley's Boleskine House, which the occultist-magician bought in the 1800s. As described by The Scotsman, Page — a Crowley fanatic — bought the house in the 1970s, and though he never really lived there, he visited enough to be permanently tied to it in the public eye. Being filmed in and around the house with glowing red eyes in the Zeppelin documentary The Song Remains The Same certainly helped with that perception.

The person who actually lived there, Page's childhood friend Malcolm Dent, stayed there for 20 years before Page sold the place. In that time, Dent claims he didn't observe anything particularly evil, but there were some things that made him wonder. As he told the Iverness Courier in a 2006 interview, "Doors would be slamming all night; you'd go into a room and carpets and rugs would be piled up." Even though he's a self-described skeptic, Dent couldn't explain why any of this was happening. But since Crowley's ghost would likely be up to something more sinister than slamming doors and piling rugs, the place probably wasn't haunted. Maybe Page was sneaking in at night and playing jokes on his old house-sitting buddy.

They really hated releasing singles

Technically, in their native England, Led Zeppelin is a one-hit wonder. That one hit, by the way, didn't come until 1997, 17 years after the band broke up. See, as Billboard described it, Led Zeppelin was an album-oriented band that, for the most part, hated releasing singles. At the time, most radio singles were under three minutes, and Led Zeppelin rarely went that short. If they did, like with "Communication Breakdown," they were largely okay with a single, because it didn't need to be edited down. But then Atlantic wanted to release "Whole Lotta Love" as a U.S. single. Many radio stations there — particularly AM ones — were very nervous about playing a six-minute song where the bridge was a bunch of weird sounds and moans of sexual ecstasy. So, they edited the bridge out, keeping only the beginning and end of the song. That enraged Zep, who cared about the art remaining intact way more than any calculated business decisions.

In response, the band refused to release a U.K. version of the single, which remained a practice for their entire career and beyond. No Led Zeppelin songs were released in England as singles until a remastered version of "Whole Lotta Love" appeared on the Billboard charts in 1997. Those spunky young kids had it in them all along!