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Impossible – but they ARE bigger than the Beatles

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Context is relevant when discussing matters such as the Rolling Stones vs. Led Zeppelin or Beatles vs. Led Zeppelin.

In 1972, The Rolling Stones were the clear top dog of the remaining first wave of the British Invasion bands.

The Beatles were kaput. Each of the Beatles had their solo careers but the sum of the Beatles always was greater than the individual parts. The Who and the Kinks were still around but clearly second-fiddle to the Stones. The Who had their biggest album since "Tommy" in 1971 with "Who's Next" but did not even bother to tour the U.S. in 1972. Cream and Blind Faith were gone. The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, The Animals…all of those British bands from the 1960s were running on fumes, if not extinct by 1972.

As for the Americans, Jimi Hendrix was dead, Janis Joplin was dead, Jim Morrison was dead and by extension so were the Doors. Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Steppenwolf, Grand Funk Railroad, and all of those hippie San Francisco bands were just kind of around, each with their pocket of fans. But none of them, save for the Grateful Dead, were at the level of their "Monterey Pop to Woodstock" popularity and cultural cachet.

Elton John and Pink Floyd was just bubbling under…they were popular to a certain extant but their big breakout would come in 1973 with the release of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "The Dark Side of the Moon", respectively. Queen, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd were all just around the corner.

The Rolling Stones were bona fide superstars in 1972. Their 1969 U.S. tour had established new norms for touring arenas…it laid the blueprint for other bands to follow. It was covered by Time, Newsweek, Life magazine…not just the usual rock music magazines. Then, Altamont happened and their mystique grew even larger. By 1972, it had been three years since the Stones last U.S. tour, so demand was pent-up and so was media curiosity. Which the Stones encouraged and stoked. The release of the film "Gimme Shelter" and live album "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out" in 1970 only helped fuel the fervor.

For rock fans who could only afford to see one concert that summer, most probably chose to see The Rolling Stones. As hard as it is for people today to believe, but there was considerable conjecture in the press at that time that the 1972 tour would be the Rolling Stones last. They had been around for 10 years and were in or approaching their 30s. Rock was considered a young person's game. So many people figured that this would be their last chance to see the Stones, while Led Zeppelin would be around a few more years at least.

This brings us to Led Zeppelin. Clearly, Led Zeppelin sold albums and concert tickets as well, if not better, than the Stones by 1972. But they were still seen as the new kids, along with groups like Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper , Mott the Hoople, David Bowie. They were not part of the old guard and were still seen as an underground thing. Uncouth heavy stoner rock.

Led Zeppelin did not court the media and pop radio like the Stones. FM rock radio was still a new thing in the early 1970s. AM Top 40 radio was still king and the way the majority of kids heard the new music coming out. The Rolling Stones were a far larger presence on AM radio than Led Zeppelin, as the Stones put out singles regularly while Led Zeppelin tended to ignore that part of the market. Led Zeppelin relied on album sales, concerts, and FM album rock radio to get their music to the people.

While the Stones marketed tour posters and merchandise for the 1972 tour, Led Zeppelin did nothing. There was no 1972 Led Zeppelin tour poster to buy, no fancy shirts, no keychains, no scarves, no doodads. Even the concert ads Led Zeppelin put in the newspapers were barebones…they used an old promo photo of the band from 1969 ferchrissakes. They couldn't even be bothered to use a new photo. The whole Led Zeppelin operation spoke of keeping the overhead costs low. No blanket coverage, no hype…totally underground and under the radar.

Which is how us fans figured how Led Zeppelin wanted it. Led Zeppelin didn't need to crow and beat their chests and crank the hype machine. They let their music do the talking. They recorded an album, put it out in the shops and let you decide if you wanted to buy it or not. They didn't pop up on your radio and telly every hour on some dippy talk show trying to badger you to buy the new album. The same with their tour. An ad might pop up in your newspaper or your local radio station, but they kept the advertising pretty low-key and minimal.

Which was kind of refreshing since every other band from Grand Funk Railroad to the Stones felt the need to keep banging the hype machine incessantly.

Of course, 1973 changed that with the hiring of Danny Goldberg and BP Fallon. But even then, Led Zeppelin's hype machine was still low-key compared to Kiss and others of the 1970s.

So, while the Stones overshadowed Led Zeppelin in 1972 in the mainstream media and social elite circles, the kids knew and understood better. Why do you think Led Zeppelin's 1973 tour ticket sales was so bonkers? Because all of us kids who saw Led Zeppelin in 1972 told everyone and their mother what an awesome show they missed and what fools they were to not go.



Edited by Strider
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