The sixties were the birthplace for many of the most iconic bands of all time, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, but none were more distinctive than the British hard rock group Led Zeppelin.
There are many similarities between Zeppelin and other classic rock bands… creating iconic, genre defining music, designing album art destined to appear on the walls of university freshers across the land and engaging in the infamous sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle, but there is one crucial difference that sets them apart, the mythology that they cultivated.
Zeppelin showed an affinity for the ethereal and the spiritual in much of their work, projecting an otherworldly image in their music and in their look. This filtered into the band’s reputation with a rumour that lead guitarist Jimmy Page was a devoted devil worshipper and had even sold his soul to the demon to gain his musical proficiency. This spiritual aura that allowed them to stand out from the crowd didn’t come from nowhere and instead was cultivated by years of projecting myths and legends into their work through a number of prominent influences.
One of the strongest influences in the band’s imagery and in parts of their music are the legends of Norse mythology, a source of borderline obsession for lead singer Robert Plant that filtered into the band’s creative direction. This influence is evident in so much of Zeppelin’s work, most obviously in their most famous track. If you’ve only ever heard one Led Zeppelin song then chances are it is ‘The Immigrant Song’, a hard rock, fast paced anthem which has seen use in many prominent parts of popular culture such as ‘Thor: Ragnarök’ and ‘School of Rock’. First appearing on the band’s 1971 album ‘Led Zeppelin III’ the song tells the story of Viking warriors sailing across the sea to begin invasion of another land and includes lyrics such as ‘Valhalla I am coming’ and invoking the ‘Hammer of the gods’. This kind of language cites a belief in Nordic gods and a strong devotion to them and suggests a certain mysticism not just to the song but to the band that created it.
Plant was not the only band member to have an obsession that guided Zeppelin’s creative direction, as Jimmy Page’s own literary fixation inspired many of the band’s biggest songs. Whilst it may have somewhat of a nerdy reputation in today’s society back in the 1960s and 1970s J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of The Rings’ had captured Page’s imagination. This led to the creation of songs such as ‘Ramble On,’ ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and ‘The Battle of Evermore,’ all of which invoked different aspects of Tolkien mythology with an aerial and spiritual tone in their melodies. ‘
Ramble On’ tells the story of Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom, including memorable lyrics such as ‘T’Was in the darkest depths of Mordor’ and ‘Gollum, and the evil one.’ ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ focused on The Hobbit and derives its name from the Misty Mountain, the home of the dragon Smaug and ‘The Battle of Evermore’ was heavily inspired by the book’s last battle between the forces of Mordor and the rest of Middle-Earth. This devotion to the fantasy world of Tolkien created the idea that Zeppelin were in some way connected to a spiritual world of supernatural creatures and added to the strange mythology that surrounded the band.
Paganism is one of the things most strongly connected to Zeppelin and their music, a feat that can be exclusively attributed to an American televangelist show which, in 1983, broadcast an episode which accused Zeppelin of including satanic messages in their song ‘Stairway to Heaven’. By playing the song backwards, they claimed to discover messages such as ‘Here’s to my sweet Satan’ and as a result a moral panic was created amongst America’s Christian middle class. Though the band has repeatedly claimed that these messages were not intentional, this claim of Satanism has become synonymous with Zeppelin and their image. Though the claims of backmasking may have been misleading, it was too much of a stretch for the televangelists as Zeppelin had a habit of incorporating pagan imagery into their work, most notably in the art for their fourth, unnamed album. As well as including the image of The Hermit, inspired from the pagan practice of tarot cards, ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ as it is informally known is most famous for its four symbols each of which representing a different member of the band. These symbols can be traced back to a number of pagan traditions such as a medieval Russian cult and satanic worship books, proving that their pagan reputation was not entirely forced upon them and that they had a hand in cultivating it.
Led Zeppelin’s strange and otherworldly aura that has surrounded the band for years after their dissolution is an amalgamation of many diverse sources of ethereal wonder that has, when brought under the same umbrella, created a reputation of mystery and spirituality. This has stuck to the band and their music and has, in many ways enhanced it, as listening to their music whilst thinking of them as some kind of elvish, demonic medium only makes their sensational songs all the more enthralling.