After Led Zeppelin recorded its fourth album, the band went on the road to try out their new stage act. On top of an acoustic set that featured “That’s the Way” and other gems, Zep premiered “Stairway to Heaven” and “Rock and Roll” to an audience in Belfast, Ireland, in March ’71.
Following the gig, a young woman who’d seen the show approached Zeppelin’s tour manager with a question. “Are they an English band?” she asked (per Stephen Davis’ Hammer of the Gods). “I always thought they were from America.”
Given how the Zep made its name in the U.S., that young Irish fan wasn’t totally off-base. But before long, the group enjoyed success at almost equal levels on both sides of the Atlantic.
If you go by the charts, Led Zeppelin could hardly have had more success than it did in America. And if you go by chart positions, the band did even better in the U.K. Of the eight studio albums and one live album the Zep released between 1969-79, only one failed to top the British charts.
Led Zeppelin’s debut was the only Zep album that didn’t top the UK charts
While having a No. 1 wasn’t everything for a band, for a forward-thinking act like Led Zeppelin it would be a sign that its sound was connecting with the mainstream. Neither Cream nor Jimi Hendrix managed to top the charts with their first two albums.
The Zep did, on both sides of the Atlantic, with Led Zeppelin II (1969). And on both charts the upstart band reached No. 1 by knocking aside The Beatles’ Abbey Road. If you liked symbolism, it was a great way for Zep to close out its first full year on the music scene.
That streak didn’t end until the band dissolved in 1980, following John Bonham’s death. In the U.K., each Zeppelin studio album after the ’69 debut topped the charts. So did the soundtrack to the concert film The Song Remains the Same (1976).
As for Led Zeppelin, the debut peaked at No. 6. In other notable statistics, Led Zeppelin II spent more time (129 weeks) than any other Zep record on the U.K. charts. As for stays at No. 1, the four-week stay at the top for Led Zeppelin III (1970) marked Zep’s longest run in that position.
The ’69 Zep debut album did spend 79 weeks on the UK charts
While Led Zeppelin couldn’t crack the top five in the U.K., the record was without question among the band’s most popular releases. You can see it in the surges on the U.K. charts, beginning with its first push in April ’69, when it peaked.
By late June, the album returned to the charts, and stayed there into October, moving as high as No. 11 along the way. In 1970, Zep’s debut spent another 40-odd weeks on the chart. Clearly, the buzz surrounding II and the group’s live performances sent rock fans back to the record store.
All told, Led Zeppelin would spend 79 weeks on the U.K. charts over the years. Only the blockbuster fourth album (90 weeks) and II would have longer stays. In brief, the only Zep album to not hit No. 1 in the U.K. was an incredibly popular record there.