Unarguably one of rock’s most influential and revered bands to ever exist, Led Zeppelin first exploded onto the scene with the release of their debut self-titled record in 1969. Self-produced by Jimmy Page, the album took only 36 hours to record and cost less than £2,000 to complete. It was an immediate success that was surprisingly met with harsh reviews from critics. But the album and the band were undeniable, and they soon reached a level of admiration that is nearly unparalleled in popular music.
Just two months prior to releasing their debut album, the Led Zeppelin line-up had only just formed as a last-minute solution to the break-up of The Yardbirds, who left Jimmy Page on the hook to fulfill a contract for a month-long tour in Scandinavia in September of 1968. Robert Plant joined after being suggested by Terry Reid, Page’s first choice for lead singer who had declined the invitation.
Plant suggested bringing in John Bonham, his friend and drummer of his previous band Band of Joy. John Paul Jones, who had known Jimmy Page from their days as session musicians, successfully inquired about the remaining vacancy for bass guitarist at the suggestion of his wife.
During the week on August 12, 1968, the band’s first rehearsal took place in the basement of a record store on Gerrard Street in London. The first song they played together was “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” and the chemistry was immediate. “The whole room just exploded,” Jones recalled in a 1990 interview. “I could feel that something was happening to myself and to everyone else in the room,” Plant remembered. “It felt like we’d found something that we had to be very careful with because we might lose it, but it was remarkable — the power.”
After a mere fifteen hours of rehearsals, the four musicians toured Scandinavia as The New Yardbirds, performing many of the songs that would appear on the first Led Zeppelin record. Immediately after the tour, they entered the studio and quickly put to tape their first batch of songs. “There was very little double-tracking,” explained Page. “We deliberately aimed at putting down what we could actually reproduce on stage.” It was released just a few months later, reaching the top 10 in the US and the UK.
Led Zeppelin’s first album, while certainly not as innovative as their later works, marks a turning point in music history and the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal. But many early reviewers panned the album, including Rolling Stone, who criticized Page’s production as “limited” and Plant’s singing as “foppish.” The publication now lists the album as the #29 best album of all time.