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Led Zeppelin, 1973


Danke! Vienna, Led Zeppelin March 16th 1973


I was fourteen when 1973 started, a couple of months younger than Jimmy Page’s then-girlfriend Lori Mattix. In 1973, ironically, the biggest thing going was 1962.  American Graffiti was the outstanding film of the year, both in America, where it made sense, and in Britain, where it might as well have been about cricket in the Trobriand Islands for all the sense it made – but even Britons could understand its celebration of innocence, a time before Sexual Intercourse or The Beatles, and above all a time before the futile and deadly war in Vietnam. I’d grown up with all the so-called gains of the sexual revolution, of course, but I wasn’t very grateful. I hadn’t yet realized things had ever been different.  Before I even knew what it was, on January 22, the U.S Supreme Court overturned the state bans on abortion in  the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade.

Britain joined the European Economic Community on January 1st, after a long courtship where first the EU wouldn't let Brits join and then Brits folded their arms and wouldn't join even if the EU begged them, the same old matrimonial dance with the same inevitable ending.  In the US, Richard Nixon had been elected president in a landslide and was being sworn in. I was a young record collector in the English equivalent of Podunk, a town so devoid of mojo that I literally had to walk to the next one to get to the local record shop. They knew me quite well – I was the one who special-ordered weird records. I was late coming to the Led Zeppelin party. Houses of the Holy was the first album of theirs I pre-ordered.

Between placing the order and getting it in my eager little hands, I watched people I’d almost believed were mythical, like hobbits, claw themselves into the public arena and declare their humanity: Native Americans. The American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

The day after the album's US release, the last American soldier left Vietnam.  I don't think anyone expected this of Nixon, but on January 15th, he cancelled the Vietnam War. By the end of January, the Paris Peace Accords were signed (America won – it says so), and the last soldier was out by March 29th.  

March was a landmark month for another reason – Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon was released.  This album caught in the public's imagination like an eyelash in the eye. Nothing could dislodge it again.  For one thing, it had female soul singers on it. Rock had been for years a male, white bastion where everybody was quite happy to let you know they'd been inspired by Robert Johnson or Blind Lemon Jefferson…well, come to think of it, perhaps Pink Floyd didn't even say that much… but English rock at the time was exclusively from Canterbury or at least it seemed that way, and through no fault of their own most people from Canterbury were Caucasian, as were their Dutch, German and French proggy counterparts. Bands were searching for ‘authenticity’, which generally translated as finding a few black sidemen or backing singers, and DSOM is indeed beatified by its female singers.  (The Stones had been adding ‘authenticity’ for years, but the habit took off in the Seventies with T. Rex (Zinc Alloy, 1974) and David Bowie (Young Americans 1975) among those adding ‘soul’ as best they could. Led Zeppelin’s do-it-yourself philosophy precluded getting any other members, but I think The Crunge counts as their effort in that direction.)

Led Zeppelin’s British tour had started the previous November. They spent from January to April in Europe, touring without an album to support.  (One hopes they at least had a day off to watch Last Tango in Paris while they were in France.) I’ve heard it said that this tour was Led Zeppelin at its absolute best – the last before Plant’s voice deteriorated - and although I normally prefer slightly earlier Led Zeppelin myself, I thought I’d give it a try and pick a date from this tour to review. I chose the March 16th 1973 performance from the Stadthalle, Vienna. (Danke! Vienna, Winston Remasters.) 

Even as a long term fan, Led Zeppelin can still take me by surprise. The power and mastery on display at this show is thrilling.  I've always found it hard to believe there's just four of them; Page easily plays for two, and John Paul Jones can play bass pedals and keyboards at the same time, which makes for a six-piece on a good night. When Plant and Bonham are on form, and they are here tonight, they sound almost like they do in the studio, but with the added cachet of live unpredictability. Plant managed to annoy me by literally sniggering about the girls he was going to get while in Vienna. You'd think he'd be over boasting about that by 1973. He made up for it by singing like a sugar devil for the entire set - so hard in fact, that his voice gave out on Heartbreaker, the last song, but it hardly matters by then.  Page throws in a hint of Bach's Boulee and a verse of Feelin' Groovy to keep us happy anyway. Talking of Page, he's on fire tonight. During Whole Lotta Love, apart from the old standards (which they manage to keep relatively fresh) like Let's Have a Party and Baby, I don't Care, they also throw in almost the whole of I Can't Quit You, Baby. Now, I cannot stand ICQYB as it is played on the first album. I hate the guitar sound and I hate the typically British cod-blues approach. Here, Page pulls out the finest onstage guitar playing I have ever heard, from anyone, anywhere, ever. It's inhumanly good. Hard to believe they were doing this sort of thing, routinely, night after night for months on end. A recommended show. 

Zeppelin had a chance to stay home and catch their breath for a month or so in April.  The rest of the world went on without them. The first ever cell-phone call was on April 3, made by Martin Cooper in New York City.  The  ribbon-cutting for the official opening of the World Trade Center was on April 4th.  Pioneer 11 was launched on a mission to study the solar system on the 6th.  And on April 30th, the Watergate scandal broke. (It wasn’t until November 17th that Nixon peevishly said  at a press conference, “I am not a crook.”)

Trouble was brewing in Blighty, with the beginnings of worker mass protest against government policies. On Mayday, an estimated 1,600,000 workers in Britain stopped work in support of a Trade Union Congress  "day of national protest and stoppage" against the Government's anti-inflation policy.  (Relations between workers and the government continued to deteriorate throughout the year. In September, the British Trade Union Congress expelled 20 members for registering under the Industrial Relations Act 1971.  And in December, the country went into emergency power saver mode with the Three-Day Week.)

And after all that, the American tour began on May 4th.  The America/Led Zeppelin love affair was in full swing by this time, and America’s gift to Zeppelin as they arrived was to knock Elvis Presley’s Aloha From Hawaii-via Satellite off the number one spot in favor of Houses of the Holy. AFH-VS had been cresting the charts since January, when the original broadcast had been seen by one billion people around the world, the first worldwide satellite broadcast of a show.  

The American tour has been well-covered before, more for its licentiousness than its music. I’m not going to describe it again. In short, records were broken.  Zeppelin grosses appear to be calculated using the same research accountants as Hotblack Desiato’s band Disaster Area in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books. According to Chris Welch in  Led Zeppelin: Dazed And Confused: the Stories Behind Every Song  the Financial Times calculated that LZ would make $35M that year.  According to Stephen Davis in Hammer of the Gods, the FT calculated it would be $30M. What’s five million bucks between friends? The tour by itself was expected to gross $4.5M, according to Davis.  And according to  Davis in HotG, before the tour opening date at the Atlanta Braves Stadium, John Paul Jones leaned out of the limo window and said to the crowd, "Come on people, give us all your lovely money."

For the greater part of the tour, Peter Grant rented an airplane, The Starship, to fly his boys to and from gigs without the hassle of mixing with riff-raff at airport gates, and/or turbulence.  The plane has been described as a flying gin palace, and there’s a short clip of life onboard on YouTube which seems to prove the point. (The floppy-shirted man is B. P. Fallon, LZ's publicist.)

In New Orleans, Led Zeppelin found solace in the gay bars, which in these pre-AIDS days had an easy-going culture that was sexually open while maintaining strict personal privacy.  Here the band could hang out and drink (and, if any pores remained open, soak up the local music) without being tailed by celebrity-chasers. Although gay culture was more or less in the open in 1973, homosexuality was still officially classed as a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association removed it from its DSM-II on 15th December.  As always with culture updates, the behavior had changed before the official tomes were rewritten.  Bathhouses, such as the famous Continental Baths in New York were already popular, and well-known enough to start attracting straight people. Bette Midler was a stalwart performer at the Continental Baths, along with her pianist Barry Manilow. Her album The Divine Miss M was released in 1973. Ironically, gay men soon became fed up with straights trekking through the baths as if it were a zoo, and the lounge acts were discontinued at the end of 1974.  (For actual sex, Led Zeppelin loudly and ostentatiously preferred teenage girls, but the lyrics to Royal Orleans suggest that not everyone checked under the hood before driving off.) 

Robert Plant plays with his snake Hyatt House

Robert Plant and retic, Continental Hyatt House

Back on the road after a break, Led Zeppelin played three nights at Madison Square Gardens. These will probably always be the public face of live Led Zeppelin, because they were professionally filmed – presumably with a view to making an iconoblastic movie along the lines of the D. A. Pennebaker-helmed Ziggy Stardust live performance. (Pennebaker caught Ziggy on the day of his surprise Rock’n’Roll Suicide, his retirement day, 3rd July 1973.)

Jimmy Page with Eddie Kramer

Jimmy Page and Eddie Kramer

Just before the last MSG show, $180,000 was stolen from their hotel, the Drake.  "If we'd have said we were not upset," said John Bonham, "they would have thought we were so rich it meant nothing to us and if we say we're upset about it, they'll say money is all we care about." (Chris Welch)

Jimmy Page in Lucifer Rising

Jimmy Page went back home to work on a soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising.  He’s pictured in the finished movie, holding a tablet called the Stele of Revealing and facing a portrait of Aleister Crowley. 

For the rest of the world, the year did not finish quietly.  In October came another Arab-Israeli conflict, this one known as the Yom Kippur War.  The Arab oil-producing nations set up an oil embargo against nations which supported Israel, triggering the Energy Crisis.  (This prompted a search for domestic oil in the US – Nixon signed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act into law, authorizing the construction of the Alaska Pipeline.  Britain was three years away from exploiting its own North Sea Oil.) Prices for gas/petrol rose precipitously, and remained high until after the 1982 Iranian Revolution. (Only recently, within the last few weeks, has it reached the same real-dollar price in the US again.)

Kleinholtz Dodge

Ed Kienholz: Back Seat Dodge '38 (1964)

1973 had been the year of American Graffiti, the glorious nostalgia for the innocent days of the California car culture, before the war was even thought of, before the Beatles, before everything started going wrong. American Graffiti celebrated cruising, dating, peeling out, drag racing, the pleasures of youths with get up and go but no place else they’d rather be. The Oil Shock took that away for good. The culture of Back-Seat Dodge ’38 was finally over, and 58,148 Americans had died in a war that they didn’t even win.

Lyle Hopwood, 2008.

Photos were found on the web and are used without permission. If you would like a credit, or if you would prefer your photo to be removed with an apology, please write to accidentatstercolinem(at)


Hammer of the Gods, Stephen Davis, Ballantine, 1986.
Dazed and Confused: The Stories Behind Every Song, Chris Welch

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