Why did Led Zeppelin not release singles?
Led Zeppelin: Our music was pretty radical says Jimmy Page
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Led Zeppelin was truly a touring band, taking to the stage rather than to the TV to perform to fans. They were also known for long tracks and experimental albums – but why did they not release singles?
Led Zeppelin did not release singles for a number of reasons, many of which relate to maintaining their mystique as musicians, as well as artistic integrity for their songs.
The first reason was to do with their decision to be a primarily live band, which was a decision partly by their manager, Peter Grant.
Given they began life as The New Yardbirds, the UK did not welcome them quite in the way they may have expected, and their early records were not as successful.
It was this which made Peter think to send them to the USA, in the hopes for the band to get their name out there.
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Mark Blake, who wrote Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond —The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager, told WBR: “Peter took them [Led Zeppelin] to America very very early on, and they were opening for other groups — Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge — and basically blowing them off stage.
“It happened remarkably quickly, and they spent most of 1969 touring America.
“They’d come back for a few weeks and then go back again, playing these kind of opinion-making clubs all across the country.”
This meant, to truly know and understand this mysterious band, fans had to see them live and could not purchase their music, which meant they skyrocketed to fame incredibly quickly.
As well as this, another reason was down to Peter’s foresight about music, specifically radio play.
At the time of Led Zeppelin’s arrival, radio stations in the USA tended to only play songs which were three minutes or less.
This was a problem for the band, given many of their songs, such as Whole Lotta Love, were closer to six minutes long.
The US branch of their label, Atlantic Records, wanted them to release this song cut down to three minutes, but the band and Peter refused to allow this.
In the end, Peter even floated the idea of a ‘limited edition single’ to be released in time for Christmas, as a way of stopping DJs from cutting up their songs.
He later said: “I think that was a cover-up. We never went in just to record a single. That was the golden rule. No singles.”
While wanting long songs and the live experience were top of the band’s list, there was a third reason why they did not release singles: they loved releasing albums.
For Led Zeppelin, albums were more than just a collection of songs, they were concepts to be shared and musical achievements.
Talking of his favourite of the Led Zeppelin albums, Physical Graffiti, particularly the song Kashmir, Robert Plant said: “It was a great achievement to take such a monstrously dramatic musical piece and find a lyric that was ambiguous enough, and a delivery that was not over-pumped.
“It was almost the antithesis of the music, this lyric and this vocal delivery that was just about enough to get in there.”
The album came in at 85 minutes, and had 15 tracks, meaning each song was five minutes long, on average.
Led Zeppelin insisted on final artistic licence on any cuts of their tracks, meaning they avoided radio play, favoured long albums and gave their fans the full, unadulterated versions live on stage.
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