Why Led Zeppelin hated being called “heavy metal”

Labels and rock bands never really get along with each other. As artists, you can’t really expect a band to happily have all of their artistic vision distilled into a simple catch-all categorization. Just as Bob Dylan refused to be folk, and the word punk rock lost its meaning five seconds after it was mentioned in the newspapers, Led Zeppelin was also somewhat ashamed of their association with “heavy metal”. Which, compared to the other two examples, is much more difficult for us as an audience to acclimatize.

This is because, unlike these two categories, Led Zeppelin is considered to be the founding fathers of the heavy metal genre. Across the world, you won’t find a single journalist, critic, or occasional rock fan who doesn’t make a direct connection between the heavy metal genre and Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. But that doesn’t mean the group has ever enjoyed such a nickname.

The main reason the band weren’t a fan of their label was because they seemed to ignore all the good work they had done. The term “heavy metal” was popularized in the late 1960s and saw Led Zeppelin as the main conspirators of its universal takeover. This charge rested mainly on the heads of their songs “Whole Lotta Love” and “Lemon Song”, which had a ferocity and deep sound that had rarely been heard before. But to focus on those two songs was to negate the rest of the blues, folk, and pop that the band had infused their album with.

By the time the band reached their third album, aptly titled Led Zeppelin III, to say that the band was pure heavy metal was to ignore the songs in front of them altogether. But, as you can imagine, that certainly didn’t stop anyone from throwing the tag towards their collective frowns.

The truth is, the band have flirted with all kinds of different sounds throughout their albums. They were not constrained but such genre limitations and instead applied to all styles, generally rendering each of their records with a delicate balance of light and dark, heavy and soft. However, the dye was apparently thrown away, and tracks like “The Immigrant Song” seemed to seal their fate as the ancestors of heavy metal.

After Led Zeppelin ended and their careers continued with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the duo were forced to deal continuously with the heavy metal label. Something that in the eighties had taken on a whole new meaning for society. Page often found himself rallying against the term and even declined to appear on Eddie Trunk. This metal show because of the title of the show.

Like Checklist reports, during an interview with Q, Robert Plant took it a step further when asked once more about heavy metal and pointed to a poster of Judas Priest saying, “If I’m responsible for this in any way, so I’m really, really embarrassed. Hard rock, heavy metal these days just say, ‘Come buy me. I’m in cahoots with the Devil – but only in this photo because after that I’ll be pretty cool, and someday I’ll grow up and become the manager of a pop group. ‘”

There you go, a bit like Bob Dylan with folk and all punk bands with punk rock, perfecting rock and roll music terminology is a mad rush. Even if, as Led Zeppelin most certainly is, you are the archetypal creator of such a term, there is a good chance that within a few years you will hate it more than anyone else.


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