Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock bands of all time, crafted an impressive catalogue of timeless classics. However, fans may have noticed a distinct absence of singles in their discography. In a revealing interview, guitarist Jimmy Page shed light on why Led Zeppelin made the deliberate decision to refrain from releasing songs as singles.
The Importance of Albums in the Era of AOR
Led Zeppelin emerged during the rise of Album Oriented Rock (AOR), a movement that placed great emphasis on the artistic integrity of full-length albums. Influenced by musicians like Little Richard and Muddy Waters, known for their individual singles, Led Zeppelin sought to prioritize the album as a cohesive body of work. Jimmy Page recognized the risks of record companies haphazardly assembling albums, a practice that had caused discrepancies in releases by other iconic bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. To maintain creative control, Led Zeppelin opted to minimize the release of singles.
The Limited Selection of Official Singles
Led Zeppelin’s reluctance to release singles is evident in their discography. Out of their decade-long career, they only officially released 15 singles, with just 11 being available for public purchase. Led Zeppelin I featured “Good Times Bad Times” as its sole single, while Led Zeppelin II presented “Whole Lotta Love,” which became their highest-charting single in the United States. However, as Jimmy Page began working on Led Zeppelin III, he had no intentions of prioritizing singles.
“Certainly, within the written context of what was being presented to people to hear, everything was going to be moving forward,” Page told Total Guitar in 2020. “So when it went to the point of the more acoustic style of the third album, you can imagine our record company getting that in and going, ‘Where’s the ‘Whole Lotta Love?’ If anyone had said that to me, I’d have said, ‘Oh that, that’s on the second album – this is the third album.'”
“You know how it is with A&R men going, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have a single.’ We had singles in America and other places, but I wanted to stay clear of that market and keep it as an albums thing,” Page added. “Right in the early stages, I demanded – after having done all the Mickie Most stuff – that we didn’t want to be a band that was known for singles. It was albums that we were going to be known for. And clearly, I wanted to make each album different from the one before.”
Resisting Industry Pressures
During the creation of Led Zeppelin III, the band’s record company expressed their desire for another hit single like “Whole Lotta Love.” However, Page was determined to maintain the focus on albums rather than singles. He wanted to progress artistically and deliver unique experiences with each album. As a result, Led Zeppelin’s music would be appreciated holistically rather than fragmented into individual tracks.
Page eventually relented and released “Immigrant Song” as a single, coupled with “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” on the B-side. Although it achieved success on the charts, Led Zeppelin remained steadfast in their commitment to prioritizing albums over singles.
“I really knew what it was that I wanted to do,” Page asserted. “If you think about it, on the third album, there’s ‘Tangerine’, but I wrote ‘Tangerine’ back in The Yardbirds. So I’d waited an amount of time. I didn’t stick it on the first album or the second. I didn’t stick it on the first album or the second. I waited until it would fit in with the right texture of everything else. It fits great in the third album. So, yeah, I had a bit of a plan [laughs]. And not just for that one number, of course!”
A Meticulously Crafted Vision
Jimmy Page’s approach to album production showcased his meticulous planning and vision. He carefully selected the placement of songs to create a cohesive listening experience, ensuring that each track fit within the overall texture of the album. The inclusion of “Tangerine” on Led Zeppelin III exemplified Page’s deliberate decision-making, as he waited for the right moment to introduce a song he had written during his time with The Yardbirds.
Led Zeppelin’s steadfast dedication to the album format allowed them to create a distinct musical identity and push artistic boundaries. Their refusal to conform to the pressure of releasing hit singles set them apart from their contemporaries, solidifying their status as pioneers of rock music.
Led Zeppelin’s legacy is built upon their iconic albums, which continue to captivate and inspire listeners across generations. By prioritizing artistic integrity over commercial success, they carved a unique path in the music industry, leaving a lasting impact that transcends individual songs.
As fans revisit Led Zeppelin’s discography, they can appreciate the band’s commitment to crafting albums that stand the test of time. While other artists may have relied on singles to achieve chart success, Led Zeppelin’s refusal to follow the norm solidified their place as legends in the annals of rock music history.