Led Zeppelin formed quickly once the Yardbirds split up. Almost overnight, Jimmy Page went from playing lead guitar in one popular English group he joined to forming his own legendary band. Page paid for Zeppelin’s first record, but he more than made his investment back when the band earned the biggest advance ever in 1968. Decades after the band’s heyday and many years after they split, Led Zeppelin earned a $2 million paycheck thanks to a signature riff Page wrote almost 50 years earlier.
Led Zeppelin made their money from album sales and tours, not singles
Jimmy Page started Led Zeppelin just as the Beatles began to fracture. Zep released their first two albums in 1969, just as the Fab Four all but disintegrated. Both bands became rock and roll royalty, but they had different approaches (and not just with their music).
Led Zeppelin never had a No. 1 single. Only 10 of their songs hit the Billboard singles chart, and “Whole Lotta Love” was the only top 10 single (peaking at No. 4). Meanwhile, the Beatles churned out singles that routinely topped the charts. They had 20 No. 1 hits and 34 songs that entered the top 10.
Zep might not have had hit singles, but they found success with their albums. Five hit No. 1 on Billboard’s album charts, 10 went platinum, and four reached diamond status.
Zeppelin might not have made their money cranking out hit singles, but they scored a $2 million payday nearly 50 years after they wrote one of their signature songs.
Zeppelin earned a $2 million paycheck for ‘Immigrant Song’ to be used in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’
Led Zeppelin had limited chart success with singles, but that doesn’t make their songs any less popular. “Immigrant Song,” the lead song on 1970’s Led Zeppelin III, is a prime example.
Page’s simple, bouncing riff, Robert Plant’s war cry howl, and John Bonham’s insistent beat make it instantly recognizable. The song’s sound evokes mystery and menace while at the same time sounding celebratory.
It’s a perfect song for a movie soundtrack, and it cost a pretty penny when director Taika Waititi included it in Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. It took more than asking nicely for Led Zeppelin to agree, though. Marvel Studios gave Led Zeppelin a $2 million paycheck for the rights, which was just over 1% of Ragnarok’s $180 million budget.
It didn’t hurt that Waititi had a vision of how to use “Immigrant Song” in the movie. He included it in a teaser trailer he showed the band, which he said helped convince the picky Led Zeppelin to approve.
“When we had the first cut of the trailer and showed [Led Zeppelin], they understood how perfect the song was for this character,” Waititi told Business Insider. “I think it wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t start the conversation with them really, really early on.”
What was Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit?
RELATED: Led Zeppelin’s Biggest Hit Songs
The band wasn’t known for its A-sides, but Led Zeppelin wasn’t a complete stranger to the Billboard singles chart. But discussing Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit depends on the criteria.
- “Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin II spent 15 weeks on the singles chart and peaked at No. 4 for Zep’s best chart position.
- “D’yer Mak’er” hit No. 20 as a single but spent 16 weeks on the charts to be the single with the longest duration.
- Both Led Zeppelin II and In Through the Out Door spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the albums chart, but the former lasted 117 weeks on the Billboard 200.
- The Zep album that spent the most time on the charts was 2007’s Mothership, the collection of remastered hits from the catalog, which lasted 292 weeks on the Billboard 200.
- As for the venerated Led Zeppelin IV, which has gone platinum 24 times over? It produced two charting singles (“Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll”) and spent 285 weeks on the chart, but two well-timed albums kept it from hitting No. 1.
“Immigrant Song” might not have been a chart-topper, but Led Zeppelin earned a $2 million paycheck for the song nearly 50 years after they wrote it.