In the summer of 1980 it seemed that Led Zeppelin, the godfathers of heavy metal, had finally put their personal misfortunes behind them. Vocalist Robert Plant had fully recovered from serious injuries suffered in a 1975 auto crash. In 1977, drummer John ”Bonzo” Bonham had been arrested in Oakland for assaulting a concert security guard. Four days later, Plant’s 5-year-old son, Karac, died suddenly of a stomach infection. The group canceled the remainder of their ’77 tour, and it was two years before they hit the concert stage again. But now the band was on a hard-rock roll. Led Zep was still getting good mileage out of such early-’70s anthems as ”Black Dog” and ”Stairway to Heaven,” and their ninth album, In Through the Out Door, was on its way to selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. The late-’70s punk crowd might have labeled them obsolete, but the band was more popular than ever. A full- scale European tour, the band’s first in six years, was a smash. Still, the shows were a bit erratic. A June 27 concert in Nuremberg, Germany, was halted after three songs when the hard-living Bonham collapsed; yet two weeks later, in Munich, a reviewer for Britain’s Melody Maker magazine saw a ”euphoric attitude” and ”moments of inspired genius.” The tour’s final show, on July 7 in Berlin’s Eissporthalle arena, was a sellout, and closed with a triumphant marathon version of their signature bash, ”Whole Lotta Love.” No one could have suspected that would be the band’s last concert. The group took what was supposed to be a brief break before an American tour in October. But on Sept. 25, Bonham, 32, downed 40 vodkas in 12 hours, choked on his own vomit, and died. The distraught band members went into seclusion and on Dec. 4 issued a statement: ”The loss of our dear friend (has) led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” Aside from occasional ad hoc performances, such as at 1985’s Live Aid concert, Led Zeppelin was finished. ”The worst thing for me,” said guitarist Jimmy Page in 1984, ”was sitting at home wanting to play, because that’s the only thing I can do in life, and not knowing how to go about it.” But the three survivors eventually found ways back into music. Plant has just released his sixth solo album, Fate of Nations; Page recorded this year’s top 10 Coverdale/Page; and bassist John Paul Jones has become an independent producer. As they once wrote, the Zeps may have changed, but ”The Song Remains the Same.”
TIME CAPSULE July 7, 1980 Paul McCartney’s ”Coming Up” topped the singles charts; Gay Talese’s readers coveted Thy Neighbor’s Wife. M*A*S*H operated as top show on TV, and on screen, The Shining showed Jack to be anything but a dull boy.