Led Zeppelin Turned to Beatles Songs After Running Out of Material at an Early Show

You can point to a few landmark performances in the 12-year run of Led Zeppelin. The 1979 show at Knebworth, which represented the beginning of Zeppelin’s last stand, has to be on the list. But if you go back to the early days, the January 26, 1969, gig at the Boston Tea Party was one for the ages.

The show on the 26th capped off a four-day stand, and audiences couldn’t get enough of the Zep. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler remembered the band being so good that night that his girlfriend left with Zep guitarist Jimmy Page. (Tyler couldn’t blame her.)

John Paul Jones later recalled it as the night Zeppelin officially took flight. “As far as I’m concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus, was [Jan. 26] at the Boston Tea Party,” Jones told NME in ’73 (via the Led Zeppelin website).

As Jones and others remembered it, Tea Party audiences would simply not let Zeppelin leave the stage. And after several encores, the band had no material left. So Zep started playing rock classics by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, and The Beatles.

Led Zeppelin went so far past its setlist the band played ‘Please Please Me’ and 1 other Beatles classic

Led Zeppelin performing live in 1968
Led Zeppelin performs live for the first time as The New Yardbirds at Gladsaxe Teen Club, Copenhagen, 7 September 1968. | Jorgen Angel/Redferns

RELATED: How Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones Rated Paul McCartney as a Bass Player

In his ’73 NME interview, Jones described how much Zeppelin had to scramble for material after all the encores. “We had to start throwing ideas around,” he said. “Just thinking of songs that we might all know — or that some of us knew a part of — and work it out from there.”

Looking at the setlist on Setlist.fm, you can see the Zep started with rock standards they all knew. At first, they ran through Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.” Then the band dove in with Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and “C’mon Everybody.”

Jones recalled running to close to empty at that point. “I mean, [we played] just anything that would come into our head, and the response was quite amazing,” he told NME. That included the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” followed by “Please Please Me.”

From there, the Zep turned back the clock again, going with two numbers by Berry. And after “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode,” they took their leave of the ravenous Tea Party crowd.

Bootlegs from Zeppelin’s famous Tea Party don’t have the Beatles covers

early Led Zeppelin band portrait
Rock band “Led Zeppelin” poses for a portrait in 1968. | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sadly, existing bootlegs of the show only include Zeppelin’s pre-encore set. but if you drop in at any point, you can see why the Tea Party crowd was electrified that night. Just listen to John Bonham go to work in this clip available on YouTube.

That doesn’t mean Jones’ (or others) recollections were blurred. Clearly, Zep played Beatles songs that night. But either the bootlegger’s tape ran out or they didn’t think they could get away with recording every encore. (Besides, who could see more than three encores coming?)

As Jones told NME, the band’s performance and audience reception were so overwhelming that it reduced Peter Grant (Zep’s enormous manager) to tears. “Peter was crying, if you can imagine that,” Jones said. “I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.”