Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Thoughts On Led Zeppelin’s Live Aid Set In Real-Time

  • Do not watch this.
  • I did it for you so that you would not have to; do not watch this.
  • To set the scene: it is 1985 in Philadelphia.
  • Women’s hair is enormous; men’s shorts are tiny.
  • Led Zeppelin broke up five years previous, choosing not to soldier on after the death of drummer John Bonham.
  • It was a good decision, as every single reunion they’ve performed has been atrocious, starting with this one.
  • Which starts out with an introduction from Phil Collins.
  • Who is also playing drums.
  • Live Aid was like Phil Collins’ bar mitzvah.
  • Smiling little fucker was everywhere.
  • Okay, so Phil introduces Led Zeppelin because I guess Joe Piscopo refused to do it or something, and from the INSTANT they take the stage, it is obvious that this will be a debacle.
  • Remember Queen?
  • This is how they took the stage:
  • [There used to be a GIF here of Queen making their entrance, with Brian waving to the crowd and Freddie doing his kicky run, but it’s gone now and I can’t find it. Pretend you see it.]
  • A little bit of energy, confidence, excitement.
  • Led Zeppelin wanders out, and Jimmy Page trips over a mic stand.
  • Then Robert Plant starts complaining about the monitors and doing the ol’ “One, two. One, two” bit and then his voice cracks.
  • His voice cracks while he’s speaking, not singing.
  • It’s gonna be a long 20 minutes.
  • Plus: Jimmy Page’s guitar is out-of-tune, and he’s shitfaced.
  • Aw, who cares: it’s Rock and Roll!
  • Which is a confusing song, honestly.
  • The narrator states quite plainly that it’s been a long time since he rocked and rolled.
  • And yet he makes this admission via a rock and roll song.
  • Perhaps the song’s true theme is self-abnegation, and the lies we tell ourselves.
  • Anyway, it’s a mess: literally every bar band in the world plays this song better than Led Zeppelin did at this performance.
  • Like I said, Phil Collins in involved.
  • This did not need to end up in tears: Phil Collins was (he fucked up his back and can’t play any more) a monster drummer, and could have filled the role had he rehearsed with the band.
  • But he didn’t, and didn’t even seem to know the songs that well, and plus there was another drummer.
  • Cuz that’s how badass John Bonham was: it took two guys to replace him.
  • Maaaaaaan.
  • The other guy was Tony Thompson, who drummed for Chic, and played on the sessions for about half of the great disco hits.
  • Two legitimately great drummers.
  • Who had never played together before.
  • And the band had not rehearsed.
  • In front of 100,000 people and for a global audience of 1.5 billion.
  • In a way, the arrogance of this performance is amazing: only a Rock Star could expect this to work.
  • It didn’t.
  • John Paul Jones–who Wikipedia says was there, but has received no close-ups yet–is playing with Tony Thompson on stage right; Jimmy Page is playing with Phil Collins on stage left; Robert Plant is in the middle wearing an outfit from Chess King and praying that he will wake up from this nightmare, and he is also singing an octave down from where he used to and it sounds like a boring man vomiting.
  • Oh, thank God it’s over because now we get to hear Robert Plant address the crowd: he asks if they have any requests, and–apparently enjoying his joke–asks the same thing three more times.
  • Robert Plant was always a dipshit, but he looked like this:

  • And you really don’t have to be witty when you look like that.
  • But in 1985, at Live Aid, he looked like this:

  • And the Golden God routine had a bit of tarnish on it.
  • So they start Whole Lotta Love, which is a dreadful song I’ve always hated, and Jimmy Page is still out of tune.
  • Did he only bring one guitar to Philadelphia?
  • I know he owns many.
  • Did he not want to pay to check them on the plane?
  • Jimmy Page is so out of tune that Garcia from 1971 was giving him the stink-eye.
  • And this is where the true train wreck begins: Rock and Roll is easy to fake your way through for a drummer, but Whole Lotta Love has a specific groove to it.
  • Phil Collins does not know the specific groove.
  • So he just plays straight time, with the backbeats on the two and the four.
  • That is not how Whole Lotta Love goes.
  • Y’know the part where the drums  go WHOMP WHOMP, and then Jimmy Page goes BADEEDLE DEEDLEWHEEDLEDEEDLE?
  • (They do that part two times.)
  • Well, Phil Collins did not know that part, and so he just kinda stopped playing for a bit and watched Tony Thompson (who did know how the song went) and then Phil Collins said to himself, “Hey: I’m Phil fucking Collins,” and commenced bashing on his kit without a care in the world.
  • When they all try to come back into the song, it’s hilarious.
  • Remember when the Dead would come back into the song from the Playing Jam?
  • Exactly like that, but the Dead were never surprised when it happened: they had lived through train wrecks before.
  • But Robert Plant was, like, ashen.
  • Utterly humiliated.
  • Jimmy Page is too high and/or drunk to care.
  • John Paul Jones may or may not be there.
  • John Bonham remains dead, and an asshole.
  • Yup, they’re both out of tune.
  • Ugh, Stairway to Heaven.
  • The worst Mott the Hoople song is better than Stairway.
  • Is it because I loved Led Zeppelin so as a 15-year-old that I despise them so now?
  • Jimmy Page plays without intent, or at least he did at this show: it’s not sloppy because that’s the choice he made, it’s sloppy because he’s failing to hit the right notes at the right time.
  • (I really don’t know if I want to do Thoughts on the Led Zep, but I do enjoy saying mean things about them; it might happen.)
  • It’s been years, maybe decades, since I actually listened to Stairway.
  • Have these always been the words?
  • They are not good words.
  • Even if sometimes they do have two meanings.
  • Oh, don’t say it, Robert.
  • Don’t.
  • Have your dignity.
  • “Does anyone remember laughter?”
  • Oh, sweetie.
  • (The crowd cheered. “HE SAID THE THING THAT HE SAID THAT TIME!”)
  • We have not seen Phil Collins since the camera caught him out looking confused and sheepish, and someone has handed Robert Plant a tambourine; he plays it not well; and now the shot is once again of Phil Collins because Live Aid is the First Church of the Infinite Phil Collins, and he is lost again; Jimmy Page’s hair is now out of tune, and John Paul Jones is reported by Wikipedia to be there.
  • And…
  • She’s…
  • Buy-ay-ing…
  • Oh, just get on with it, you preening prick.
  • A.
  • For fuck’s sake.
  • Stair-a-way.
  • Yes?
  • To…
  • SAY IT.
  • Hea-vuuuhhhhhhn.
  • Good night, Philadelphia; there will be no encore.
  • Phil Collins has left the building.


  1. Babyterp

    Sorry, chief: I attended 07 at the 02 and it roared. You’re a funny man, entertaining too, but I stopped reading after … every reunion they ever did sucked….

  2. Babyterp

    Sorry, chief: I attended 07 at the 02 and it roared. You’re a funny man, entertaining too, but I stopped reading after … every reunion they ever did sucked….

  3. Spencer

    There can be only one….

  4. Spencer

    Did you say someone handed Robert Plant a tambourine? Oooooooooooh……

    • PaulCHebert

      Comments such as this photo are why we need a LIKE button.

  5. Dawn

    please please do thoughts on led zep. i love them and i hate them. i want it!

  6. lofer

    Please please keep up Thoughts On Live Aid 1985

    Other terrible performances – Duran Duran, Black Sabbath, The Who & Jagger/Turner.

    • PaulCHebert

      The Bob Dylan/Keef/Ronnie Wood clusterfuck.

      • lofer

        Good one there too!

        I’m in an ’85 Live Aid youtube hole. Someone please Ned Lagin to cyber-save me

        • Thoughts On The Dead

          Goddammit, now I am, too.

          Madonna was pretty good.

  7. Mike

    Babyterp sounds like every Zep guy there is… “You’re a funny man when having fun at any other band’s expense… but if you make haha’s about Zeppelin, I’ll kill you.”

    Garcia just killed himself with drugs; Jimmy Page kidnapped, held, and repeatedly molested a 14 year old.

    Enjoyment of saying mean things be damned: Say no to ToLZ. They don’t deserve your derision. Back to your usual programming (one or two more LZ zingers would be OK).

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      No fighting in the Comment Section.

      • Spencer


  8. Mike

    That wasn’t very zingy.

  9. Wrayven

    I loved Zeppelin as a 9 year old when I became aware of Houses of the Holy in 74(the cover caught my attention. It looked satanic) & I still love them today though not as much as the two “metal” bands from Birmingham that played Live Aid. I would prefer Thoughts on the Sabbath or thoughts on the Priest. Ozzy alone seems more fertile ground and is altogether more interesting than Robert Plant. I love that Geezer was the lyricist of the early material(he wrote more interesting lyrics than Plant). Deadheads love to point Jerry’s lack of a middle finger on his right hand(it caused Jerry to develop his singular style of scalpel picking), but what about the Iommi’s chopped fingers on his fret hand? Imagine the pain this man must have felt before he found better prosthetic tips for those stubbed fingers. I’m seeing many tangential connections such as Sabbath has a drummer named Bill.

    My real question though is why was Children of the Grave ever allowed to be played at festival to prevent starvation? I guess they’re Black Sabbath after all-at least Ozzy didn’t say “We Love You” after it finished. Not sure why Zeppelin didn’t just use Bill Ward instead of Chic stalwart Tony Thompson or the Concorde opportunist Phil Collins. Bill Ward is from Birmingham after all and would have been much more appropriate except for the prissiness of Page & Plant would never have allowed for the lout such as Bill Ward to “replace” the deified Bonzo. I personally like Bill Ward better, but I am surely in the minority. It was that Volume IV record and Ward’s drumming on Supernaut. Zeppelin was certainly more clever and in all aspects better, but I just like Sabbath’s general level of ineptitude better. No Stairway from Sabbath-you get Changes instead.

    Judas Priest: I had forgotten that they ever played Live Aid. When I found the video, I was hoping for a killer version of Turbo Lover. Priest’s cover of The Green Manalishi cover is an odd choice for the Live Aid audience who probably never knew Peter Green or that he played in Fleetwood Mac. Must have been hard to be Living After Midnight at 11 AM or whenever they were hell they were playing it. It’s funny in retrospect that people never realized the overtly homoerotic iconography of the last years of Rob Halford being in Judas Priest. Do many people realize they named themselves after a Dylan song(The Ballad of Frankie Lee & Judas Priest from John Wesley Harding)?

    The thing I love about JP is they never created their own power ballad(they just named themselves after one). Turbo Lover is probably the closest they ever came. Though I don’t know the band as well as Sabbath, even their version of Diamonds & Rust was kind of mid tempo. I am just saying they never made a November Rain, Home Sweet Home or even Changes on their own which made JP cool in my book.

    Both bands fared better than Zeppelin did that day-then again that wasn’t Zeppelin. It was weird paint by numbers version of them with all members hating each other. Sabbath fully detested one another by this point and they did much better. Then again it was all four original members so that isn’t surprising.

    While “researching” this(if that means fucking off on YouTube! on bong hits, then there you go), I found this. It even ties back to Queen:

    Phil Collins is a great drummer, but he’s no match for the force that is Bill Ward. Weird version without Geezer’s killer bass playing(doesn’t sound like him on the track. Looks like Glenn Hughes playing bass, but the shot is too quick to tell). Queen appears on a kick drum for those that care.

    I put this on for you:

    I forgot that he added a horn section & female backing vocals for a short period. Thankfully that period ended quickly. Maybe a Hearbreakers on the Dead.

  10. Rushit

    So did anyone besides Queen play live aide well on either continent?

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      Judas Priest killed it.

    • PaulCHebert

      Dire Straits. U2 became THE band after their Live Aid performance. Sade was good. So was Bowie, IIRC. Patti LaBelle. The Hall and Oates meets Motown thing was pretty solid. Tom Petty’s “Refugee” was damn good.

      • Slothencod

        I saw Dire Straits twice that summer…and the Dead 4 times…had just graduated from HS.

        Met Jerry (very briefly) at the Columbia Inn and phoned his room the morning of the 2nd Merriweather show, to beg them to play Scarlet/Fire, which they did that night.

        Also saw Bob in the hotel lobby when they were checking in. He was wearing a spiffy pair of purple suede dress shoes. Wish I had a pic.

  11. Spencer


  12. Luther Von Baconson


  13. Elaine

    I was there. It was my first concert, aged 15.
    Your take on this has me and my 19 year old son in stitches

    • Reality

      Watched other Zep on YouTube. They sound bad EVERY time. Live Aid not an off-day.

  14. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Dirty Workshirt

    Just read this after searching “did zeppelin do live aid” after watching Bohemian Rhapsody. Now I know why I didn’t know. A fine read. Many out loud laughs. I’m going to make my wife read it. Then we’re watching that video.

    And yes, it is because you loved them at 15 that you hate them now. I thought Joe Perry was the coolest MFer in the world. When I was 14. Now he’s been revealed to me as a posing, pretend cowboy fraudster. And then someone told me Jack Douglas brought in some true gunslingers to create the leads on Get Your Wings? Dead to me, Joe.

  15. Richard

    If you don’t like Whole Lotta Love, what are you doing listening to Led Zeppelin? Go listen to some jazz and have your cocktail, non-rocker.

    • Thoughts On The Dead

      A cocktail does sound lovely.

  16. Larry Rader

    This thread badly needed a bump because the original post is so fucking hysterical. If you read slowly enough and listen to the audio, the vocal cues hit the jokes perfectly, like some fucking wizard of dark side thing. I was laughing out loud already when plant asked if anyone remembered laughter. And as i write this, page is playing the single worst solo on stairway that any band in any bar has ever played. My son is 12 and has had four bass lessons, and he could play the stairway solo better. Too bad about the mix. JPJ is probably spot on for the whole set. True about phil collins once being a monster drummer . Brand X!! But what a fool he is, and i recall hating him that whole day as he jetted around from set to set and continent to continent. I do agree with the angry Zep apologist that the O2 performance in ‘07 was good, save for the downtuning to accommodate the octogenarian singer. They rehearsed. Bonham’s kid knows the songs. And sober Jimmy Page is a delight. I just saw the ‘play it loud’ guitar exhibit at the Met in NY (closing in a week if you can but haven’t caught it yet. Wolf is there, so the 2/3 of you who never listen to anything except the GD will be pleased.). Page is terrific in the video he filmed for the exhibit. And under his screen is the entire Zep rig, theramin and all. But 07 aside, their reunions and so many of their shows are complete messes. I was at MSG for Ahmed Erdagun’s birthday (if i misspelled his name, fuck him) and Zep was even worse there.

    • Larry Rader

      Oh wait. 07 was Ahmet Ertogan. The thing at the garden was Atlantic 40th anniversary. As if it matters. Speaking of downtuning to accommodate the shriveled up singer, the mighty jane’s Addiction still plays occasionally and perry is a baritone. Thoughts on the Jane’s anyone? Did you know that Dave Navarro is shorter than that Emmy winning dwarf from the dragon show?

  17. Stefan

    Saw that lost “jewel” for the first time and can understand your thoughts completely.
    However, even me being a fully-fledged Phil-hater from the time he started singing at Genesis, I have to say you are doing too much on the Phil-bashing side here.
    He is a great drummer, when he concentrates on drumming – which he did here – but I think he expected this to be something where he could get into the vibe … But there was no vibe. Everything was awkward and he was just puzzled that these great musicians in front of him just played shit (JPJones probably felt the same as Phil). The other drummer guy just stayed with the beat (which in this case I think kind of saved the performance of becoming an utter desaster), but I guess Phil looked out for some spots where he could shine like Bonham, but the …let’s call it “sloppiness” of the other actors didn’t give him any opportunity.
    So, trying to be concise, Phil had the eagerness and Page and Plant just wanted it to get over with.

  18. Marshall_Will

    Firstly, the 80’s were not kind to blues based rock bands.

    In 1977 bread & butter boogie band Foghat was the top paid touring act in America. Kids couldn’t get enough Slow Ride. A few short years later in 1980, they’d lost their recording contract… Their spiritual inception, Savoy Brown, quickly became a foot note, beating the stampede to “play smaller venues”. Even The Stones sounded hopelessly dated as fans treated news of their impending breakup an eventuality.

    With or without MTV, the 80’s were bound to be an era increasingly dominated by sterile, studio generated effects and hired gun session musicians propping up shallow imagery. Over the basic tools of drums, bass and guitars, delivering amped up versions of Delta/Chicago Blues, emulating their boyhood idols. Energy and devotion, replaced with technology and money. Anyone with the slightest grounding in classic rock, fan or not, has to concede these bands never envisioned playing stadium scale productions from the Cavern Club or Crawdaddy?

    That established, LZ’s “Rock & Roll” was intended to be “the final word”! The END of an era. ( I thought that much was obvious? ) And [in] its original form, there simply isn’t a finer example of basic 3-chord rock and roll. Everything before and since is vying for 2nd.

    Then there’s the whole issue of, purpose. How pragmatic, hard scrabble post-war Brit lads are supposed to contend with freshly minted political correctness ( and best of intentions! ) of “saving the world” should escape all of us. Having a private room let alone private JET, traverse enough. Ahem, the truly deflating legacy of Live Aid’s impact on its intended beneficiaries are amply borne out against harsh and daunting reality. Res ipsa loquitur.

    To the song and its performance. Recording geeks and music majors weigh in here, but the original version was mastered down a full step! While little challenge for bass & guitar ( none for the drums ) it’s the devil on vocals to perform live [in] the key we’re all accustomed to hearing! This was done by the engineers for a reason! They knew going in it would be low hanging fruit for cover bands and this method became their three lock box to stay also rans from pilfering the material. So effective in fact, it had the built in landmine of quickly eclipsing live performance of its original singer. And remember, Robert carried the full weight vocally.

    Drugs and drink. If the 80’s are to be remembered for their plastic, insufferable recordings, equally so for excess. The homegrown habits of the 60’s and 70’s ( now with money! ) Born in ’59, I was young enough to witness the ill effects of drug abuse at early age. If seeing formerly sharp older neighbor’s kids become babbling idiots before 25 wasn’t enough to scare you, I don’t know what would? The [equally] dreadful impact of alcohol ( as seen in this performance ) takes longer to play out. Oddly, Jimmy closed out an otherwise regrettable decade for -all- of us redeeming himself with 1989’s “Outrider”. Give it a listen, you’ll feel better about the whole sordid topic of the 80’s.

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