Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time, never quite had the chart-topping success that their immense talent and popularity would suggest. The primary reason for this is their deliberate decision to avoid releasing singles, preferring to focus on their albums instead. While it may have cost them a chance at scoring a No. 1 hit, Led Zeppelin remained steadfast in their belief that the album was their true artistic statement.
Led Zeppelin’s discography boasts numerous iconic songs such as “Stairway to Heaven,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Kashmir.” However, their absence from the charts can be attributed to their limited release of singles. This approach undoubtedly frustrated their record label, Atlantic Records, as the band’s singles would have undoubtedly sold exceptionally well.
In the United States, Led Zeppelin released a total of 10 singles, none of which reached the No. 1 spot. Examples include “Immigrant Song,” which peaked at No. 16, “D’yer Mak’er” at No. 20, and “Black Dog” at No. 15. Interestingly, the band did not release any singles in the U.K., and only three were later released as remastered versions.
Led Zeppelin’s decision to avoid singles was driven by their desire to maintain the focus on their albums. While Atlantic Records urged them to release more singles to boost radio play, manager Peter Grant negotiated a deal that allowed the band to maintain control over their releases. Grant did promise a limited edition Christmas single, but that idea was never fully realized.
In 2005, lead singer Robert Plant explained that releasing singles was more associated with “pop” groups like The Rolling Stones. Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, wanted to distinguish themselves and emphasize the importance of the album as the primary artistic statement of the band.
“I always thought of the Stones as a pop group who made singles,” Plant stated. “The whole idea of what we did competing with Bobby Goldsboro for airplay as they were wasn’t where we were at. What we said was there’s no point putting out a single when the album is the statement of the band.”
While Led Zeppelin’s singles may not have made significant waves on the charts, their albums performed exceptionally well. The band achieved seven No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart, including acclaimed releases such as Led Zeppelin II, Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, and In Through the Out Door.
One notable exception to their aversion to singles was “Whole Lotta Love,” which became their best-performing single, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the version released by Atlantic Records was a condensed and edited-down version, with a reduced runtime of 3:12 compared to the original 5:33. Guitarist Jimmy Page openly admitted that he “hated” this version and only played it once. This particular instance exemplifies why the band resisted singles, as their songs often extended beyond the typical radio-friendly length, which limited their airplay potential.
Led Zeppelin’s decision to eschew singles may have prevented them from topping the charts in the traditional sense, but their focus on crafting remarkable albums solidified their status as one of the most influential and beloved rock bands in history. Their refusal to conform to industry norms allowed them to create a body of work that transcended the limitations of individual hits and continues to captivate audiences to this day.