Formerly known as Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin is regarded as the most influential rock band of all time. Aside from their guitar-heavy and mystic-sounding albums, the group was also known for their sexual and drug-ridden controversies, many of which to this day have been brushed under the rug.
I went thrifting last week and stared wide-eyed at a shitty display of used and abused vinyls, and tucked between torn sleeves was Led Zeppelin, in seemingly great condition. Raised on my parents’ stadium and classic rock, I was fairly ecstatic. I spent my younger years air-playing psychedelic guitar riffs and imagining accompanying storylines. Through college, “Dazed and Confused” blasted in my headphones amid my mid-morning runs. Imagine how disappointing it is to discover your idols have a history of ripping off smaller artists and sexually assaulting women.
Let me provide a crash course.
In 1966, Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds, replacing Paul Samwell-Smith. Initially, the band included musicians Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty, and Chris Dreja. At the time, Page intended for Keith Moon and John Entwistle to join the group, with Moon joking that the band would “go down like a lead balloon.” In 1968, McCarty, Beck, and Dreja dropped out of the project following the band’s last performance, allowing John Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant to join.
Though the group performed under the name Yardbirds for a short time, Page took inspiration from Moon’s remarks years before, dropping the ‘a’ from ‘lead’ to not be mispronounced. Unsatisfied with ‘balloon,’ Page and the others opted for ‘Zeppelin’, after the LZ-129 Hindenburg, the largest airship ever built. The result was a name inked into the history of rock and roll.
During their earlier years, the group landed a tremendous success with their eponymous debut album, Led Zeppelin. Rolling Stones described Page as a ‘proficient blues guitarist,’ – it would be their blues, folk, and Norse sound that would set them apart. Following multiple UK and US tours and the release of their second and third albums, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III, the band ranked as high as #4 on Billboard’s chart.
Throughout the 1970s, the band painted an image for themselves that was loud, eccentric, and unapologetic. From their brightly colored attire to their many infamous hotel shenanigans, the boys had reached a level of success that was unprecedented. Beneath the glorification of it all, many hedonistic and excessive acts went unpunished – candy coated as sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
In contrast to the modern music industry, where artists walk a tightrope to not succumb to cancel culture, it begs the question, should we also retroactively be ‘canceling’ former music legends? Perhaps it’s a tough question to answer, considering the legacy of Led Zeppelin and its impression made on hard-rock and metal. We’re not just talking problematic Tweets or resurfaced videos – amid the era of the counterculture movement, the band found itself committing an excessive streak of violent and illegal acts.
Perhaps the most widely known scandal of the group is Page and 14-year-old Lori Maddox’s relationship. The groupie culture of the 70s, set on the infamous Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, was one like none other. Underage girls, self-named ‘baby groupies’, found themselves in the beds of legendary rock stars like Bowie, Jagger, and Page. Allegedly, Lori Maddox was introduced to Page when manager Peter Grant approached her at a party and shuttled her to the Hyatt Hotel, where the love affair would begin.
Initially, Page kept his relationship with Maddox under wraps, requiring her to travel with him, staying in hotel rooms during his performances. After roughly a year, the relationship was publicized, facing little to no repercussions. Though Maddox still reflects on her time fondly, she acknowledged that she’d grown more’ cynical’ in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Though the statute of limitations has since passed, there’s no denying that Page’s pedophilic actions should not have gone without reprimand. Instead, his name is ironed into history with ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ next to it. Page has yet to address the controversy.
Perhaps (part of) Page’s behavior can be attributed to the result of Hollywood’s rockstar glorification – Sin City framed rock and roll as a euphemism for unchecked culture. Birthing innovative rock bands like Mötley Crüe and shrugging off the accompanying debauchery as part of the appeal. In 2001, the band’s autobiography detailed Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee allegedly raping a woman – a statement that has then been rescinded following the #MeToo movement.
Rockstars alone did not perpetuate rape culture; print media’s hype at the time was seemingly equivalent to modern digital media. Magazines like Creem, Circus, and Star fueled sex and groupie culture, exploiting the likes of baby groupies like Shray Mecham. Today, cancel culture would forbid the culmination of another issue.
Aside from the many disturbing sexual allegations, the band has had a reputation of stealing intellectual property. The most notable instance is “Stairway to Heaven,” in which the band faced legal troubles for copyright in 2014. Though the case was settled, the band has been taken to court for a number of their other titles – and lost. How notable can a band be when their thieving reputation may supersede them?
Maybe in the eyes of the public, Led Zeppelin retains its image of cultural transformation, but they haven’t gone unscathed with accusations of copyright infringement. Beyond the bluesy riffs and belting of “Black Dog” is the uncredited muse Muddy Waters, a black blues legend. What would become of Muddy Waters’ reputation, born McKinley Morganfield, had he been so ‘inspired’ by a white creator like Page that he craft his own tune without proper accredits? How much of Led Zeppelin’s success can be credited to white privilege, much to the chagrin of black rock n roll pioneers that go without half the appraise?
From perpetuating rape culture to facing multiple copyright infringements, “Dazed and Confused” doesn’t have quite the ring to it anymore. I’m challenged by the idea of separating an artist from their art. Though the band’s music continues to find its way onto my playlists, they’ve been kicked off the imaginary pedestal they existed on in my head.
In reality, Jimmy Page couldn’t give a fuck about a 22-year-old semi-boycotting his music, but neither would he address the controversies that continue to age horribly. Regardless, I feel it’s important to acknowledge the unacknowledged – Led Zeppelin is problematic and full of a Whole Lotta Shit.