January 1969: Led Zeppelin Debut with LED ZEPPELIN
The band had signed to Atlantic Records in splashy fashion on November 23, 1968. Not even two months later, and the freshly minted outfit delivered their self-titled debut album to record stores across America: Led Zeppelin.
Atlantic had wisely seeded promo copies of the LP to key U.S. radio stations, so fans were ready for the record. Led Zeppelin were actually in the middle of the group's first North American tour and wrapping up a four-night stand in San Francisco on January 12, 1969, the date the debut album arrived. Jimmy Page and company would continue rocking across the continent into February, with shows in Detroit, Boston, Chicago and Miami among the remaining dates.
While Led Zeppelin was basking in the glow of their success on this side of the pond with legions of newfound fans, music critics were quick to dismiss the group with scathing reviews. Rolling Stone, in particular, seemed to enjoy digging into the band's rapidly-selling debut:
"In their willingness to waste their considerable talent on unworthy material the Zeppelin has produced an album which is sadly reminiscent of Truth," the magazine sniffed, referencing the 1968 album from the Jeff Beck Group. " It would seem that, if they’re to help fill the void created by the demise of Cream, they will have to find a producer (and editor) and some material worthy of their collective attention."
In the meantime, Zeppelin's live shows were already legendary, as instant classics including "Good Times, Bad Times," "Communication Breakdown," and "Dazed and Confused" became new cornerstones of FM rock radio.
"The record was out and it was played on the underground radio stations, and it was traveling like wildfire across the States," Page remembered in a 2020 Rolling Stone interview. "We’re on the West Coast traveling towards the East, and all of the underground clubs that we’re playing are pretty much full because people have now heard the record. They’ve heard reports of this band that’s gone into San Francisco, literally decimated it, and they want to see what it is. And by the end of 1969, Led Zeppelin II was out. So you contend with a debut album with all those ideas on it, and then you’ve got that second album with the energy of the road on it, because a lot of it’s recorded while we’re actually touring. It was a really good way to launch a band."
On the charts, Led Zeppelin went on to peak at #10 on the Billboard 200. In 2014, the RHINO reissue of Led Zeppelin's debut hit a new chart peak, topping out at #7 for the week of June 22, 2014.