Ch. #2 – “Like a lead balloon”


A few days ago marked the 50th(!) year anniversary of what is considered a pivotal moment in the history of Rock & Roll music; the release of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album.

Those people who in early 1969 put the needle on said vinyl record were immediately greeted to the sounds of “Good Times Bad Times”; the energetic, “in your face” guitar of Jimmy Page hammering a E power chord followed up by John Bonham‘s teasing drum interlude in between those power chords just grip and demands your attention. After a few bars of this auditive teasing the rest of the band jumps in and Page’s continued with the full extension of the now classic riff to a classic opener of a classic album.

I’m actually not going to deliberate much more on neither the song, album or band today, that will much likely be continued on a later day. Instead I’m going to shift attention to the band’s name itself. One of the many things that has always fascinated me with Led Zeppelin is the name and the imagery associated with their name and at least their earlier work and releases.

Now that musical bands and artists often have… let’s say immensely creative names isn’t exactly unique. Not even by the year 1969 it was hardly unique. As often per design these wacky, spaced out names catches your interest and creates wonder where they come from. How come you name your band “Led Zeppelin” (and decide to not spell “lead” correctly in the process)?

Over the years I have seen and read several version of the story behind the band’s name. I’ll link you some of those here, here and here. Most versions I have read do agree that the name originates from conversation/s guitarist Jimmy Page had in the mid-1960s with Keith Moon and John Entwistle, famous musicians from another much revered British rock act, the Who. It’s alleged that Moon and/or Entwistle had told Page when the latter posed the idea of a new super group that it “would go down like a lead balloon”, with the expression “lead balloon” referring to something disastrous. In other words, it would crash and burn.

So in 1968 when Page’s band The Yardbirds, another band by the way with an immense legacy, dissolved and he was in the process of setting up a new a band allegedly the memory of the conversation he had with Moon and/or Entwistle came back to him and became the foundation of the new band’s name. “Balloon” became the much more evocative and striking “Zeppelin” and “Lead” was intentionally misspelled to “Led” to minimize the risk of mispronunciation for those not familiar with the band.

With the name settled Page would go on to choose Sam Shere’s famous photography of LZ 129 “Hindenburg” catching fire in May 1937 during its attempt to dock at Lakehurst Naval Air Station outside of New York after it’s maiden voyage to the US as the base of the artwork for the band’s eponymous debut album to further play on the inside joke of disaster as predicted by Moon and/or Entwistle.

The rest is what they say history. However except unlike the Hindenburg, Led Zeppelin would hardly turn out to be a disaster.

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