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Led Zeppelin's Celtic Embrace


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This is an article from my archives.


Kent Drummond Journal of Strategic Marketing March 2006


Carry the book, Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored (2002), onto a plane and you'll be amazed at the responses you get. The studied detachment of the middle‐aged flight attendance breaks down as she hands you your Cheez Nips. ‘Led Zeppelin?’ she asks with an arch of an eyebrow. The young man sitting next to you, who's said nothing for most of the flight, suddenly pontificates: ‘Don't you think it's sad that Led Zeppelin couldn't tour in 1975 after Robert Plant's automobile accident on the island of Rhodes? Still, I guess we should be grateful, or they wouldn't have released Presence the next year.’ Even the pilot, standing in the doorway of the cockpit as you deplane, switches gears. ‘Thank you for fly—… Led Zeppelin?! Yessss!’ he exclaims with a discrete fist pump.

At the macro level, Zeppelin remains deeply embedded in the fabric of popular culture. Surf the radio stations while you drive anywhere for 30 minutes, and you'll dependably hear one of three Zeppelin songs: ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ or ‘Kashmir’. Sit through the two‐hour countdown special on VH‐1 entitled, ‘The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Bands of All Time’, and you'll find Led Zeppelin at #1. Watch Cadillac's new ad for its Escalade, and hear ‘Rock and Roll’. Or read an article hyping M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, The Village, and you'll learn the movie's characters will be wearing ‘some cool Druid‐style robes that look like they were modeled off a Led Zeppelin album cover’ (Rothenberg, 200416. Rothenburg, J. 2004. “The mystery of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, Entertainment Weekly”. Vol. 776, 30 July, 26–30.

It has been 25 years since John Bonham's death, yet reference to Led Zeppelin still raises things: eyebrows, voices, fists, ratings, brand awareness, and questions. (‘Led Zeppelin? Didn't he die?’ your mother‐in‐law asks.). Interest in and recognition of the group transcends gender, class, age, race, and occupation. And while the three surviving members of Zeppelin have all enjoyed successful musical careers since the group's demise, consumers’ preoccupation lies with the group and how it used to be in the 30 years ago, when Led Zeppelin ruled the album charts, airwaves, and concert halls as rock's biggest act.

Of relevant interest to marketing scholars and practitioners is the question: What accounts for Led Zeppelin's astounding success in the 1970s, and what continues to make the group so memorable today? This essay identifies a Celtic identity as the primordial creative, managerial, and performative force critical to Led Zeppelin's success. Beginning in 1970 and disseminating into other creative forces by 1976, Led Zeppelin's Celtic embrace galvanized the group's poetic impulse, serving as resource and inspiration for endless allusion, imagery, and energy. Co‐constructed by Jimmy Page's fundamental musical influence, Robert Plant's lyrical and theatrical persona, and Peter Grant's counter‐rational management style, the Celtic force more than any other propelled Led Zeppelin to the top of the music industry, where it stayed for a decade.


2. Arnold, M. 1867. “On the study of Celtic literature.”. In Matthew Arnold: Lectures and Essays in Criticism, Edited by: Super, R. H. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (1962)

In 1867, the critic and poet Matthew Arnold delivered a series of essays entitled, ‘On the Study of Celtic Literature’. In these desultory but seductive lectures, Arnold defines the Celtic genius that still echoes through The Lord of the Rings movies: Celts are sentimental and excitable; they love to dance and wear bright colors; they are rural folk not interested in political power; they have a great capacity for melancholy, gayness (here defined as laughter), and natural magic; they appear to be in touch with the feminine; and they lack steadfastness, balance, measure and patience. In the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Man, in Brittany, Cornwall, and even Ireland—‘the property of the vanquished’—Celtic culture was vanishing, if it hadn't already disappeared.

Even at the time, Arnold's remarks provoked disagreement, particularly for their errors of linguistic analysis, on which Arnold was hardly an authority. And ironically, Arnold succeeded in procuring the Chair of Celtic Studies at Oxford for which he argued, but holders of that Chair have used it to tirelessly promote a Welsh‐nationalist cause (Aronstein, 20053. Aronstein, S. 2005. Becoming Welsh: Counter‐colonialism and the negotiation of native identity in Peredur vab Efrawc)

Nevertheless, the power of Arnold's Celtic characterization proved indelible. It resonated through Yeats, Childe, Lady Gregory, and a British antiquarian named Lewis Spense, whose book, Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, Robert Plant, the 21‐year‐old lead singer of Led Zeppelin, was reading in 1970 (Davis, 19859. Davis, S. 1985. Hammer of the Gods, New York: William Morrow. )


In the spring of 1970, Jimmy Page's young group, Led Zeppelin, had returned from its fifth US tour. Although the band was only 18 months old, it had been touring almost continuously since its inception, logging 180 performances in the US, the UK, and Europe. The US was of particular interest to the group and its manager, Peter Grant: young American fans, especially males between the ages of 15 and 24, seemed most likely to become the target market for Zeppelin's brand of heavy‐metal blues; even if Zeppelin could only wrest a small market share away from the Rolling Stones, the potential revenues there would be enormous; and America was the home of Atlantic Records, which had just given Jimmy Page the astounding sum of $200,000 to start his new venture—as well as complete artistic control of the group—in return for exclusive distribution rights of Led Zeppelin's records for the next five years.

For both Zeppelin and Atlantic, things were turning out even better than expected. The group had released two albums in 1969, Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. The debut album, depicting the explosion of the Hindenburg on its cover, peaked in the Top 10 and spawned the heavy‐blues anthem, ‘Dazed and Confused,’ and a cover of a whispy Joan Baez folk tune, ‘Babe I'm Gonna Leave You’. The second album, nicknamed the Brown Bomber for its sepia‐toned cover, was even more successful. It contained the outrageous ‘Whole Lotta Love’, as well as ‘Ramble On’, with its airy mandolins and Tolkeinian references to Mordor and Gollum. The group had artistic range. More importantly, the album reached the top of the charts in America, displacing the Beatles' Abbey Road and the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed along the way. Both Led Zeppelin albums went platinum.

Critical reaction to the band was mostly hostile, but the kids in North America were getting what the group was about: more versatile than the Yardbirds, less formulaic than the Stones, Zeppelin drew from the American Blues tradition of Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson. But, living up to the paradox of its name, Zeppelin could also show a softer side in the manner of Joni Mitchell, Fairport Convention, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. This light‐and‐dark chiaroscuro effect was exactly what Page had in mind when he founded the group (Davis, 19859. Davis, S. 1985. Hammer of the Gods, New York: William Morrow.)

In the spring of 1970, it was time for Page and Plant to begin writing songs for Led Zeppelin III. In the wake of the first two albums' remarkable sales, its release date had been moved up to October; Atlantic wanted to strike while the iron was hot. But the band was worn out from constant touring. With Jones and Bonham relaxing at home, Plant suggested that he and Page travel to a rustic cottage in Wales he had visited as a child: Bron‐Yr‐Aur (‘Golden Breast’ in Welsh). Not only could the two recover from the rigors of touring, but perhaps they could create some material for the new album. With nothing but guitars and tape recorders, Page and Plant spent days rambling the countryside and capturing melodies. Led Zeppelin's Celtic embrace had begun.

To put it in Arnold's terms, when Led Zeppelin looked west, everything did change. The spirit of that direction—the glory, the frenzy and the fading—gave rise to the spirit of the band. Inspired and augmented by Jimmy Page's melodies that spring of 1970, Robert Plant's formulation of a Celtic identity gave expansive form to poetic impulse. Beginning with Led Zeppelin III, then coming into full flower with the ‘Zoso’ album, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin's Celtic identity propelled the group to artistic and commercial heights never before seen by a rock band.

Arnold: Celtic poetry seems to have for its cause a certain pressure of emotion, and an ever‐surging, yet bridled, excitement in the poet, giving a special intensity to his way of delivering himself.

Plant: California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain

Honolulu starbright—the song remains the same.

Sing out Hare Hare, dance the Hoochie Koo.

City lights are oh so bright, as we go sliding sliding sliding through. (‘The Song Remains the Same’, 1973)

If one wants to observe the most striking effect of Celtic identity on self‐presentation, compare Led Zeppelin's performance at Albert Hall in 1970 (200415. LedZeppelin. 2004. “A to Zeppelin: The Unauthorized Story of Led Zeppelin,”. DVD) with its performance at Madison Square Garden in 1973 (‘The Song Remains the Same’ video, 1999). Both performances contain intensity, but where the Albert Hall concert displays /proficiency, the MSG concert displays electricity: ever‐surging, barely bridled, spilling over into the crowd until the air crackled. While the 1970 concert is remarkable for its sheer power, volume, and technical virtuosity; the 1973 concert is luminous, euphoric, ecstatic, Dionysian.

The energy source had changed. Drawing almost exclusively on the blues idiom for the 1970 concert, the band was both compelled and constrained by its qualities: the intensity of emotion pulling downward; the hyper‐extended guitar and drum solos of Page and Bonham; the stuttering, rubato delivery of Plant channeling Janis Joplin. The effect is riveting, but exhausting. The 1973 concert, drawing on a newly‐developed Celtic identity, exuded the ‘freshness and glory of a dream.’ The band could still play ‘Dazed and Confused’ with its descending riff and extended break, but they could then launch into ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with its soaring crescendo and hushed ending. Or they could go entirely acoustic.

The imagery, too, had expanded. Rather than singing exclusively about women who had done him wrong, Plant could suddenly sing about white ladies wandering through the streets of heaven, Welsh border wars, even flowers. Songs could stay soft all the way through, as in ‘Going to California’, or they could begin softly and escalate, as in ‘Ramble On’. This dynamic contrast enriched the texture of the group's musical message, a development that only increased its ability to connect with the audience.

Arnold: Balance, measure and patience, these are the eternal conditions, even supposing the happiest temperment to start with, of high success; and balance, measure, and patience are just what the Celt has never had.

Plant: Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain

Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain,

Ain't no time to pack my back my foot's outside the door

Got a date, can't be late for the high hopes hailla ball (‘The Ocean’, 1973)

By exploring the Celtic idiom, Led Zeppelin could turn Dionysian, for better and for worse. High on life itself—and other substances as well—the band had expanded its resources for going over the top. If the blues vibe was connected to a woman, the Celtic vibe was connected to practically everything: a woman of course, but also friends, the sunlight, the ocean, a dog, a walk down a country lane, the remembrance of things past. Led Zeppelin's Celtic identity rested, in large measure, in a complete abandonment to the moment, both on and offstage.

The group's album covers during this time reflect the expansiveness of inspiration. The first two, each featuring a zeppelin, are cleverly literal and ironic, if not terribly original. Led Zeppelin III, the die‐cut spinning disc with its dozens of disconnected images of corn cobs, smiles, and more zeppelins, is at once fragmented, bizarre, and engrossing. It doesn't quite add up to much. The group's untitled fourth album (often called the Zoso album for one of the runes it displays) shows a Celtic identity in full flower, a narrative of transfiguration. On the cover, an old man carries a bundle of sticks on his back; he's a hermit pictured in a frame on the wall of a dilapidated Sixties housing project. On the inside, he's been elevated to the status of the Tarot's Hermit, gazing down in wisdom upon a sleepy town. Four runes hover nearby, each chosen by a band member from one of Page's books to be ‘his’ symbol. The band's fifth album cover, for Houses of the Holy, goes Druidic: on the outside, naked children scamper over giant stones toward the summit of a primitive temple; inside, an older naked figure presents another body to the sky.

No writing appears anywhere on either Zoso or Houses of the Holy, a fact that horrified executives at Atlantic. But Page insisted that the fans be drawn to these albums by imagery and music, not written language. As the final creative executor, his reasoning—imbalanced, unmeasured, and impatient, to paraphrase Arnold—was a risky experiment in reader response criticism. But as fan's interpretations rushed in to fill the vacuums of meaning, album sales skyrocketed. Atlantic quieted down.

Arnold: No doubt the sensibility of the Celtic nature, its nervous exaltation, have something feminine in them, and the Celt is thus peculiarly disposed to feel the spell of the feminine idiosyncrasy.

Plant: This is the springtime of my loving—

the second season I am to know

You are the sunlight in my growing—

So little warmth I felt before. (‘The Rain Song’, 1973)

In the politically turbulent late '60s and early '70s, men with long hair were considered dangerous. In London, Page received heckles long after he became famous; in Birmingham, Plant left his asphalt job after dark in order to avoid being seen. Later he was described in the Financial Times as ‘a painfully thin pre‐Raphaelite heroine, with delicate features and wild curls’. While on tour, the band mates were constantly harassed by policeman, patrolmen, and religious groups, particularly in the south. They were freaks, subversives, a collective threat to their gender as well as society.However, once the band took the stage, whatever feminine qualities they could display—and Page and Plant could display a lot—suddenly turned to assets. Not only did it shock people that two men with long soft hair, obtrusive jewelry, satin blouses and velvet pants could wield such explosive power—the ‘Led Zeppelin’ paradox again—but their feminine appeal cast a reassuring as well as seductive spell over the women in the audience, previously disenfranchised by Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge and Cream.

The blues is a man's game, a virile sturm und drang about life gone wrong, rendered by men, for men. Celticism allowed Zeppelin to explore traditionally feminine notions of vulnerability, loss and separation. In so doing, the group doubled its audience. As Pamela Des Barres, long‐time friend of the band, explains: ‘they wore velvets, silks and satin—embroidered stuff with beads, lots of chiffon. It was androgynous, it felt safe, like you were connecting with some part of yourself. That was a very interesting draw for a lot of young women’ (quoted in A to Zeppelin video, 200415. LedZeppelin. 2004. “A to Zeppelin: The Unauthorized Story of Led Zeppelin,”. )

Arnold: Magic is the word to insist upon—a magically vivid and near interpretation of nature…for this the Celt's sensibility gives him a peculiar aptitude.

Plant: Dancing days are here again

As the summer evenings grow

I got my flower, I got my power

I got a woman who knows. (‘Dancing Days’, 1973)

Zeppelin's Celtic identity coalesced the band's energy and vision, and gave it access to something no other major group had: magic—plumbed earnestly and displayed powerfully. While the Beatles could safely explore psychedelia or political causes through George Martin's pop‐filtered lens, and the Stone could strut their street‐fighting swagger across a bricolage of ironic poses, Led Zeppelin could mine its interest in the magical arts and the occult for creative and commercial expansiveness. What do the lyrics of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ actually mean, anyway? Something about a lady…stores in heaven, but they might be closed…lots of whispers…a piper calling us to reason…try to be a rock, but don't roll…the most famous song in rock music simply doesn't makes add up to much, as countless high school commencement addresses have illustrated. But that, of course, is not the point. Everyone has a powerful sense of what that song means, even though they can never articulate it. It's the feeling, the effect, the ineffable magic of the song that registers with an audience.

By contrast, Jimmy Page's fascination with occult explorer Aleister Crowley occupied the darker side Zeppelin's connection to magic. In time, Page bought several houses and a castle previously owned by Crowley, and opened a bookstore featuring works about the ‘dark arts’. As religious groups played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards and the media questioned Zeppelin's proximity to the occult, fans circulated rumors about Robert Johnson‐like deals made with the devil in exchange for the band's astounding success. But at no time did Led Zeppelin refute any of these accusations in public. In private, the group accepted Page's explanation that he was simply following a different path to enlightenment. Yet Zeppelin's silence only added to the speculation, and the rumors persisted. When a series of tragedies struck the band later in the 1970s, belief that a curse hung over Led Zeppelin became an obsession.

Arnold: The Celt loves bright colors, he becomes easily audacious, overcrowing, full of fanfaronade. This is just their expansive, eager Celtic nature, the head in the air, snuffing and snorting…

Plant: AwAw Awwwww—Ahh! AwAw Awwwww—Ahh!

We come from the land of the ice and snow

From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow!

The hammer of the gods…will drive our ships to new lands

To fight the hordes, and sing and cry ‘Valhalla I am comiiiing!’ (‘The Immigrant Song’, 1970)

Another great contrast between the 1970 and 1973 concerts is the panache with which Zeppelin executes its latter series of shows. The Led Zeppelin of Albert Hall looks like a high school dance band compared to the Led Zeppelin of Madison Square Garden. This can be partly explained by three years of touring, continuing commercial success, and the confidence that would come with them. Yet the look and choreography of the two shows is entirely different. At Albert Hall, Page wears an Oxford shirt, argyle vest, blue jeans and tennis shoes, while Plant wears brown wool slacks, a blue denim shirt, and sheepskin moccasins. There's virtually no interaction between the two. John Paul Jones, normally the most reticent of the group, looks flamboyant in green velvet pants, while Bonham wears an orange tank top – no glitter or headband yet. Tentative and nervous, Plant looks glued to the floor most of the time, unsure of quite how to pull this off. He's covered up, closed in, sometimes forgetting to sing into the microphone. Page is looks at his guitar much more than the audience. Nobody smiles.

At the Garden concert, Plant wears a flowered vest that covers neither his chest nor his midriff. Body parts jiggle. He's in perpetual motion, stutter‐stepping, kicking, gyrating, thrusting—‘snuffing and snorting’ indeed. Elbows at his side, his forearms splay out, palms and fingers opening upward. He leans forward toward the crowd, then snaps his head back, golden locks cascading. And he frequently flashes the most beatific smile, inserting the famous cry, ‘Does anybody remember laughter?’ into ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Page is dressed in a black velvet suit, also open‐chested, embroidered with a red dragon winding from his legs to his lapel. He moves as much as Plant, bowing his guitar one minute, playing it above his head the next before fiddling with the fuzz box. Some of the moves look silly, but with an ironic glance towards Bonham, Jones acknowledges them as such, and the band moves joyously on.

Equally important, too, is the difference in audience reaction in the two concerts. At Albert Hall, the response is a combination of respect and bewilderment. Even as Plant seems unsure how to perform, the kids seem unsure how to react. The first few rows groove enthusiastically; the rest of the crowd is rigid and self‐contained. At the Garden, the fans dance, sing, and smile in synchrony with Plant. Each pushes the other to new heights of exuberance and enjoyment.

Arnold: The echo of the Celt's kindred in other lands is growing every day fainter and more feeble; gone in Cornwall, going in Brittany and the Scotch Highlands, going, too, in Ireland…

Plant: Bring it back! Bring it back! (‘The Battle of Evermore’, 1971)

The evanescence of the mandolin, the dulcimer, the banjo and the tambourine provide the perfect accompaniment to a tale of what used to be but is no longer. The Celt had already faded by the time Arnold characterized him. Like Homer, Led Zeppelin tapped into his forgotten myths and elevated itself to mythic status in the process: the hammer of the gods forging a new ring.

One Celtic scholar has observed that the term Celt is ‘a sliding signifier with greased wheels’ (Jones, 200013. Jones, L. 2000. “Stone circles and tables round.”. In New Directions in Celtic Studies, Edited by: Hale, A and Payton, P. 30–51. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. In
There's a great deal of slippage in the term. In its own way, Zeppelin consumed Arnold's measure of the Celt, and made it its own: artful, but not gimmicky. No matter that for some scholars, the Celt never really existed (Chapman, 19926. Chapman, M. 1992. The Celts: The Construction of a Myth, London: Oxford Press.

; that was the domain of pedantic hair‐splitters. For anyone who wanted the Celt to exist, he did. In formulating and expressing a Celtic identity, Zeppelin committed a heroic act of self‐invention. They were only doing, in a more original and exposed way, what others were doing in the privacy of their own homes (Curtis, 20008. Curtis, D. 2000. “Creative ethnicity.”. In New Directions in Celtic Studies, Edited by: Hale, A and Payton, P. 126–360. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. In
wearing the kilt, learning to play the bagpipes, trying to eat haggis. Zeppelin's exploration of the Celtic may well have encouraged some of its millions of fans to do the same.

For the group itself, the cumulative effect of this newfound Celtic identity arced indelibly across six years and five albums. Using the proportion of Celtic to non‐Celtic songs as a metric, Zeppelin's High Celtic period began with 1970's Led Zeppelin III (five of 10 songs), continued on through the 1971's Zoso album (four of eight songs), culminated in 1973's Houses of the Holy (six of eight songs), passed strongly through 1975's Physical Graffiti (seven of 15 songs) before dissipating entirely with 1976's Presence (zero of nine songs). But even this lack might be explained by the release that same year of the soundtrack to Zeppelin's movie, The Song Remains the Same, also heavily Celtic at five of nine songs.

Led Zeppelin's Celtic embrace was heartfelt and intimate, but not terminal. By the time it released its comeback album, 1979's In through the Out Door, the band moved on to other musical idioms, most notably Indian and Arabic. Celticism gave way to Orientalism, an easy transition from Arnold to Said (197917. Said, E. 1979. Orientalism, New York: Random House.

. Ironically, the anticipation of this album was so intense in the recording industry—then in the doldrums—that its release was strong enough to pull all eight previously‐released Led Zeppelin albums onto the Billboard 200. Even as group tried to evolve away from its Celtic identity, the fans longed for what used to be.


Not only was a great deal of Led Zeppelin's music heavily infused with a Celtic identity; the way in which the group was marketed can also be described as Celtic—if by that term one means counter‐rational, visceral, impetuous, impulsive, intuitive, over‐the‐top and close to the edge. This was due mainly to the impact of Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin's manager from its inception to its demise.

A former tour manager for American acts such as the Everly Brothers and Little Richard, Grant had also worked as a nightclub bouncer, professional wrestler, and body double for overweight British actors such as Robert Morley. At six‐foot‐six, he was an imposing presence who was quick to anger and prone to violence.

Grant's most irrational decision regarding the band was to let Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones decide for themselves how they wished to handle the negative press that had hounded them from the start. Amazingly, Led Zeppelin did not retain an active publicist during its first five years. Grant felt that, if band members were hurt by reviews from musically uneducated journalists, they had the right to ignore the press and suffer the consequences—which were usually more bad reviews. Today we watch U2 and Sting write their songs and instruct us how to receive them, while Prince downloads his music to a New Power Generation the minute he creates it. Thirty‐five years ago, the relationship between artist, media and audience was much more rickety, especially as practiced by Led Zeppelin.

Grant's counter‐rational conviction had two important consequences. First, because of its hostile treatment by the press, Zeppelin became the ‘fan's band’, unimpeded by the corporate hype or social register set which swirled around that most Saxon of bands, the Rolling Stones. This quickly erased the initial perception on the part of some fans that Zeppelin itself was a corporate band after its impressive signing by Atlantic. Grassroots support eventually muffled the press backlash. Secondly, the band didn't need a publicity machine because the fans provided them with one. Because of the short, frequent tours of the US Grant had sent Led Zeppelin on even before it had produced Led Zeppelin I, its fans and groupies from New York to L.A. organized their own communication network, announcing concert dates and spreading rumors well in advance of official press releases. This in turn helped shroud the band in mystery, which it was rarely in a hurry to clarify.

In a related but potentially dangerous move, Grant didn't mind turning his back on England at the outset of the group's career. If Zeppelin was the prophet rejected in its own country, it would be embraced by a new and much bigger one: America. There, the FM stations would play Zeppelin's lengthy cuts on a playlist that included the Dead and the Airplane, while in England, the DJs demanded singles fitting the Top of the Pops mold. The Beatles, Herman's Hermits, and the Stones complied, but. Led Zeppelin would simply not release a single in the U.K.

Grant did want to conquer England, but only when the time was right. It came in 1969, when Zeppelin was asked to perform at the Bath Festival in front of 200,000 people as the headliner over such vaunted acts as the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Frank Zappa. In less than two years, his impetuous strategy of media avoidance had paid off. In another Celtic nod, Grant was concerned about money to a certain extent, but never at the expense of selling out the band. Late in 1969, after the enormous sales of Led Zeppelin II, American promoters offered the band the band the unheard‐of sum of $500,000 for a single concert, to be performed on New Year's Eve in West Germany and telecast live in movie theatres across the United States and Europe. But Grant rejected their idea: he had heard the poor sound quality of satellite transmissions, and it simply wasn't up to the band's standards. When the promoters called back two days later and upped the offer to $1 million, Grant still said no.

Even in the hard‐hitting music industry, Grant's take‐it‐or‐leave‐it attitude shocked and angered many. In 1972, at time when no rock group got rich from touring once the promoters and agents had taken their share (Jagger used to say that the first 30 gigs of any tour were for free), Grant had the temerity to ask for 90% of the gate. Sixty percent was the standard. But this was after the Zoso album, and ticket sales for the band were so explosive that concert promoters could still make a sizeable profit with their ten percent. They agreed, and Grant had set a new industry standard. He and the four band members split the profits five equal ways.

Occasionally, Grant's circular logic got the band into trouble. Even as Led Zeppelin was performing ‘Thank You’ to tens of thousands of concert‐goers across America in 1970, Grant insisted that the band say ‘thank you’ to the few English fans who had supported the group from the beginning. He organized a Return to the Clubs tour in early 1971, in which Zeppelin would play UK venues with no more than 300 to 400 seats, earning only $60,000 per night. The tour, designed with the best of intentions, turned out to be a disaster. Not only had Zeppelin's act grown too big for any hall that size, but the fans’ well‐developed word of mouth ensured that demand would outstrip supply by the thousands. While the band played in cramped conditions, angry fans were turned away at the door. Both were furious with Grant.

In another critical decision, Grant turned an avuncular blind eye to the band's use of illegal substances. Rather than curtail Zeppelin's drug use, he hired a security force to act as watchdog and buffer between the band and police. The classic enabler, his initial concern after $203,000 in cash had been stolen from Zeppelin's safety deposit box at the end of their 1973 tour was whether ‘the police will find anything they shouldn't’ during their search of the band's rooms.

In short, if Page and Plant had forged a new‐found Celtic identity, Peter Grant had already trumped it with a Celtic marketing strategy. Unschooled and unorthodox, it was founded on eccentricity and emotion, intuition and serendipity: exactly the qualities Arnold identified 100 years earlier. Yet measured against the most traditional benchmarks of marketing performance—revenues, market share, brand awareness, customer relationship management, and integrated marketing communication—it simply worked.

Led Zeppelin's Celtic embrace began as an act of connection, but ended as an act of consumption. In Althusserian terms, the group was hailed by a Celtic ideology, but got bogged down by its material practice. The feelings, fantasy and fun that came from being Celtic (Spent my days with a woman and kine/Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine) were heightened to a frenzy in the recontextualized world of rock and roll. The center could not hold, and the band imploded.


  • 1. Althusser, L. 1971. Lenin and Philosophy, London: New Left Books.

  • 2. Arnold, M. 1867. “On the study of Celtic literature.”. In Matthew Arnold: Lectures and Essays in Criticism, Edited by: Super, R. H. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (1962)

  • 3. Aronstein, S. 2005. Becoming Welsh: Counter‐colonialism and the negotiation of native identity in Peredur vab Efrawc

  • 4. Becker, H. 1982. Art Worlds, Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • 5. Bowman, M. 2000. “Contemporary Celtic spirituality.”. In New Directions in Celtic Studies, Edited by: Hale, A and Payton, P. 69–91. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. In

  • 6. Chapman, M. 1992. The Celts: The Construction of a Myth, London: Oxford Press.

  • 7. Cole, R. 2003. Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored, New York: HarperCollins.

  • 8. Curtis, D. 2000. “Creative ethnicity.”. In New Directions in Celtic Studies, Edited by: Hale, A and Payton, P. 126–360. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. In

  • 9. Davis, S. 1985. Hammer of the Gods, New York: William Morrow.

  • 10. Earl, B. Rock Wankman? Paper delivered to the Arthurian Division of the Popular Culture Conference, San Antonio, Texas, April.

  • 11. Fjellman, S. 1992. Vinyl Leaves, Boulder: Westview Press.

  • 12. Hale, A. and Payton, P. 2000. New Directions in Celtic Studies, Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

  • 13. Jones, L. 2000. “Stone circles and tables round.”. In New Directions in Celtic Studies, Edited by: Hale, A and Payton, P. 30–51. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. In

  • 14. LedZeppelin. 1994. No Quarter: Unledded video of the Page/Plant Reunion Concert

  • 15. LedZeppelin. 2004. “A to Zeppelin: The Unauthorized Story of Led Zeppelin,”.

  • 16. Rothenburg, J. 2004. “The mystery of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, Entertainment Weekly”. Vol. 776, 30 July, 26–30.

  • 17. Said, E. 1979. Orientalism, New York: Random House.

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I found this article interesting but a bit strained. It doesn't really back up its definition of "Celtic." True that the band members, certainly Page and Plant, have been interested in British mythology. as for

The blues is a man's game, a virile sturm und drang about life gone wrong, rendered by men, for men

I don't agree with this. There have been plenty of women who've sung the blues, and in fact "When the Levee Breaks" was written by a woman.

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Kent Drummond is onto something when he mentions Plant and Page's flowing hair and penchant for velvets, embroidered clothing and jewelry. Their stage attire and persona were flamboyant; even effeminate. Gender bending was part of their act by 1973, but I don't think this really registered with most of their male fans. When you rock that hard and score with that many chicks, no one questions your masculinity.

Edited to add: Drummond attributes the idea for the "Back to the Clubs" tour to Peter Grant but I've read in other articles that it was Page's idea.

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