Why the End of Led Zeppelin Was So Different From The Beatles’ Breakup

By late 1969, The Beatles were well on their way to breaking up as a band. On various occasions, Paul McCartney and John Lennon had nearly fought in the studio; John and George Harrison actually did get into a fistfight; and George and Ringo both quit the group for weeks at a time.

After they went their separate ways, the rancor didn’t die down. At one point, a potshot in one of Paul’s songs led to a scathing response by John on his Imagine album. George and Ringo also had messages for ex-Beatles (Paul, mostly) on their own solo records.

In brief, The Beatles had what you’d call a very public, messy divorce. The end of Led Zeppelin couldn’t have been more different. Not only did the band split up due to John Bonham dying; the ex-Zeppelin members didn’t harbor the sort of animosity the former Beatles had toward one another.

Why The Beatles continued to feud in the early 1970s

John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles during the filming of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ in Devon, UK, 1967 | Jim Gray/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Zeppelin went about conquering the West in the early ’70s, The Beatles continued feuding with one another. The thing is, even though Paul wanted nothing to do with the others (and vice versa), all four remained trapped in a contract together.

That led to negotiations when Paul wanted to release his first album. Even though the Fab Four’s final record hadn’t appeared, Paul refused to delay the release of McCartney until the following month. Before it hit record stores, the public learned of the band’s breakup.

As a result, everyone not named Paul felt betrayed. (Ringo, who’d tried to reason with Paul in good faith, found himself thrown out of the man’s house for his efforts.) It only dug a deeper hole for all involved.

In the following years, you’d have Ringo calling Paul “meathead” on a record and John asking his old songwriting partner how he slept at night. The damage took a long time to repair.

Led Zeppelin’s members were on good terms when Bonham passed.

JUNE ’77, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham perform live onstage in 1977. |George De Sota/Redferns)

When John Bonham died in 1980, Led Zeppelin had already planned its next move. The band was about to launch yet another epic tour of the U.S. A September 11 press release went out announcing the dates as part of “The 1980’s: Part One.” (Zeppelin didn’t do understated.)

While the band had its share of issues by that time, the looming U.S. tour meant the group was together and ready to play. October 17 in Montreal would mark the first show, with multiple dates in Landover, Philadelphia, and Chicago to follow in the opening leg.

Bonham’s death on September 24 canceled all those plans. By the end of the year, the band made it official: Led Zeppelin was done. But since Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones were still near their musical peak, fans wouldn’t let go of the dream of a reunion.

Why not? Considering the three surviving members of Zep were on good terms and could play, the idea of a reunion wasn’t entirely impossible (at least on paper).

Yet the reality was they couldn’t replace Bonham. When they tried, the results were beneath the band’s best work. It’s to Zeppelin’s credit that they didn’t force the issue over the years. It’s more than most bands can say.

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