Led Zeppelin’s Response to Punk Was All Wrong

Robert Plant was one of the most visible rock stars for more than a decade as Led Zeppelin’s singer. Plant’s vocals were like another instrument for the band (especially on the song that earned Zep a $2 million paycheck). Plant was the right fit for Led Zeppelin, but he and the band got it wrong when responding to punk music.

Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin perform circa 1970 | Art Zelin/Getty Images

Robert Plant said Led Zeppelin were ‘pissed off’ at punk, and they responded on one song

Led Zeppelin virtually owned the first half of the 1970s. They churned out hit albums and broke concert records once set by The Beatles. Zep toured in an airplane they didn’t own but cost $2,500 an hour.

By the end of the decade, however, the dawn of punk brought new energy to the music scene. English artists such as the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned (whom John Bonham taunted by calling them wimps) ushered in a new sound. The Ramones, Bad Brains, and The Misfits did the same in the United States.

The 1978 song “Wearing and Tearing,” an underrated Led Zeppelin’s song that finally saw the light of day on 1982’s Coda, was the band’s response. Plant said Zep wanted to prove they were as punk as any of the new bands on the scene, per Centennial Media’s Legends of Music Spotlight: Led Zeppelin:

 “We were so pissed off with the whole punk thing, saying, ‘What do those rich bastards know?’ First of all, we knew that we didn’t have that much dough. Secondly, we knew more about [rockabilly-punk fusion] psychobilly, the psychotic side of [1950s psychobilly pioneer] Hasil Adkins, than they did.”

“Wearing and Tearing” was Led Zeppelin’s response to punk, but Robert Plant (and the band) got it wrong.

Led Zeppelin’s response to punk was all wrong

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RELATED: Jimmy Page Said 1 Led Zeppelin Riff Took Fans Out of Their ‘Comfort Zone,’ and We Hear His Point 

We’ll say this for “Wearing and Tearing:” It’s one of the most high-energy songs in the Led Zeppelin catalog. The chugging primary riff approximates punk, but Plant’s comments were all wrong.

First, the earliest punk bands played fast and loose. Technical skill often took a backseat to attitude. Conversely, Led Zeppelin was very tight musically. Bonham’s heart-attack bass drum kick would never show up on an early punk album. The same goes for the extended musical section about 3:20 into the song. Both are the antithesis of the fast and loose approach.

“Wearing and Tearing” clocks in at nearly 5 minutes, 30 seconds, which is far longer than most punk songs of the era. The Damned drew Bonham’s ire for playing a short set and disappearing, but they probably stuffed 15 songs into a 30-minute set. Led Zeppelin played epic live shows. Some versions of “No Quarter” or “Dazed and Confused” lasted 20 minutes or more. Led Zeppelin’s one-song response to punk lasted as long as two or three songs by some of the genre’s early practitioners.

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Plant also missed the mark with his lyrics. Early punk bands tended to be very direct with their messages. Plant is comparatively obscure with his lyrics. They seem to discuss addiction, but Plant hides the theme behind lines such as “They say you’re feeling blue, well / I just found a cure” and his shouts of “Medication! / Medication!” in the final seconds. 

Finally, Plant and Led Zeppelin wanted to prove their credentials to punk bands. But Zep was the A-list, globally popular, arena-rock act the punk movement hoped to unseat. No matter how hard they tried, Led Zeppelin would never not be a target for punk bands as long as they kept selling out stadiums and releasing major-label albums.

“Wearing and Tearing” was Led Zeppelin’s crack at punk, but the group that could do no wrong for so long missed the mark.

Zep didn’t have to worry about sharing the scene with punk

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RELATED: Robert Plant Once Said John Bonham’s Drumming on 1 Led Zeppelin Song Didn’t Sound Human, and He’s Got a Point 

One could argue Plant got closer to punk with some of his work with The Sensational Space Shifters than Led Zeppelin did with “Wearing and Tearing.” Still, Zep never had to worry about fighting off punk bands for a share of the music spotlight.

Bonham died in his sleep in September 1980, just as Led Zeppelin prepared to embark on a North American tour. The band canceled the gigs and disbanded late in the year when they realized they couldn’t replace Bonham.

Robert Plant’s description of Led Zeppelin’s response to punk and the song itself were all wrong. Still, that doesn’t erase the decade of stellar tunes the band gave its millions of fans before Led Zeppelin disintegrated.

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RELATED: Jimmy Page Insisted Led Zeppelin Sign With Atlantic Records So He Didn’t Have to Share a Label With Eric Clapton’s Band 

Source: https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/led-zeppelins-response-to-punk-was-all-wrong.html/