They were louder than Deep Purple, hairier than the Rolling Stones and demolished more hotel rooms than the Who. And Jimmy Page's buzz-saw chords on "Whole Lotta Love" introduced millions of teenage boys to the pleasures of playing air guitar.
Now, 23 years after they split, Led Zeppelin are back at the top of the US charts with an album of recordings made more than three decades ago. And they have done it through the medium most often derided as overblown and mere contract fulfilling - the triple live album, which, almost inevitably, has a 25-minute version of "Dazed and Confused".
The album, How the West Was Won, which features recordings of gigs in Los Angeles and Long Beach in 1972 at the height of their fame, has sold more than 154,000 copies to go straight to the top of the US album charts, their first time in the slot since 1979.
A DVD of live performances from the Albert Hall in 1970 to Knebworth in 1979 also topped the music video charts.
Andrew Male, deputy editor of Mojo magazine, said Led Zeppelin had retained their popularity, particularly in the States, because their music was associated with the two most popular US musical styles: metal and hip-hop.
"Many of their songs have been sampled by rap and hip-hop artists, so there is a great acceptance of them over there. So many lines by John Bonham [Zeppelin's drummer, who died in 1980] underpin hip-hop records. At the same time, the singing of Robert Plant pretty much defined the metal style, while rooted in American R&B.
"I think they are being bought by both their original fans and by a new, younger audience who constantly read in Rolling Stone of them being cited as influences.''
Led Zeppelin were formed in 1968 by Page, out of the ashes of the Yardbirds, the British R&B pioneers who also included, at various times, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
Most of their best-known songs were on their first four albums, huge sellers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The fourth, untitled album featured the incredibly popular "Stairway to Heaven", and has so far sold 16 million copies.
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During the incessant touring of this period the band acquired their reputation for drunken excess and groupies. There were also rumours of interest in darker matters - Page once owned the former home of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley.
The band broke up in 1980 after Bonham died because of a drinking binge. Although Page and Plant have continued to work together, they have resisted lucrative offers to reunite as Led Zeppelin.
Page said yesterday: "If ever there was a situation that I would personally ridicule, it would be a band that was doing something from 30 years ago, putting it out, and then 30 years later going out to promote it with live shows.''
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