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The Return of Led Zeppelin

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"I
had a blueprint," Page says, going back to the summer of 1968. "There was a vocal character I was going for, the kind you found in early Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott – someone who's not afraid to project. That's why I wanted Terry Reid" – the young, precociously soulful British singer who famously turned down Page's offer. Instead, Reid suggested Plant, then making his bones in heavy psychedelic-rock bands in the English Midlands. (Plant, in turn, would recommend a drummer to Page – Plant's friend John Bonham.)

Jones, who knew Page from the London session-man grind and was eager to join the guitarist's new group, remembers speaking to Page on the phone shortly before the latter went to see Plant at a college gig in Birmingham: "Jim said, 'I'm going up to see this bloke. I'll tell you what he's like when I get back.' He got back and said, 'He's unbelievable. He's got this huge voice.'"

Plant was also fluid, intuitive – like Page, interested in the dramatic possibilities both in and beyond blues progressions. "The whole thing was expansion," Page says, citing "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," on 1969's Led Zeppelin, as an early defining Zeppelin performance. "It came from folk roots" – a ballad Page knew from a 1962 Joan Baez album – "but it's got all these colors in it, the hypnotic, rippling guitar in the verses, the flamenco breaks in between. There was pedal steel, acoustic guitar – things that were hard, as well as extreme sensitivity."

"I've been listening to the songs for the first time in a long time," Plant says, "from an analytical angle, to see how many bars there are between particular parts. There was a canny, chemical thing that made some songs go in different directions, at different times. 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' [on Presence] was very spiky – a lot of clenched teeth. But 'In My Time of Dying' [on Physical Graffiti] was spectacular and monstrous. It sped up, slowed down, went sideways, careened and spiraled – and I'm in the middle of it all.

"I had an idea initially," Plant says of the reunion show, "that we should do our entire Royal Albert Hall set [from January 9th, 1970], starting with 'We're Gonna Groove.'" He belts the first verse of the Ben E. King song, Zeppelin's opening number on most nights in 1970, originally cut by King for Atlantic live at New York's Apollo Theater in 1963. "Just do that! I was there at the Albert Hall, but I don't know what the fuck happened," he claims, grinning. "I was flying in the middle of that great storm."

Zeppelin's Seventies aura of invincibility – immortalized in classic photographs of the band lounging on its tour jet, the Starship, and Plant royally preening on an L.A. hotel balcony- took its first hit in August 1975, when Plant was seriously injured in a car crash in Greece. In the summer of 1977, Zeppelin canceled the final weeks of a sold-out U.S. tour after Plant's son, Karac, died of a sudden virus in Britain. The group never played in America again. There were two massive outdoor shows in Knebworth, England, in 1979, to promote the unusually polished In Through the Out Door, a short European tour in the summer of 1980 – then nothing.

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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