Led Zeppelin is one of the most impressive — and successful — bands of the rock era – over 100 million records sold. For Led Zeppelin, The Swan Song story starts in 1974, when Jimmy Page brought elements of what was meant to become a four-part suite about the seasons… to the sessions of the album Physical Graffiti. And although it was worked on for a long period of time it was ultimately cast aside.
But they never forgot about the name, Swan Song. When they had the idea to start their own label, that was the name they chose. The label was overseen by Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant and was a vehicle for the band to promote its own products as well as sign artists who found it difficult to win contracts with other major labels. The decision to launch the label came after Led Zeppelin’s five-year contract with Atlantic Records expired. The group launched Swan Song Records in 1974 with their first UK release by the Pretty Things. The first US release for Swan Song was the self-titled debut album from Bad Company, which ended up selling over 5 million copies and becoming a classic – The songs Can’t Get Enough, Movin’ On, Rock Steady, Bad Company and Ready For Love all are now classic rock staples and, even cooler, lead singer Paul Rodgers is now a Canadian, too. The Swan Song recording label also partly funded film projects such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975. That was a good investment for the label. The budget for the movie was $365,274. It’s now made $127 million. The first Zeppelin release on this label was Physical Graffiti, the title coming from Page to illustrate the whole physical and written energy that had gone into producing the set. It contained a song whose lyrics were inspired by blues musician Robert Johnson’s 1936 “Terraplane Blues.” While “Terraplane Blues” is about infidelity, “Trampled Under Foot” is about giving in to sexual temptation, something the band knew quite a lot about in 1975.
The recording sessions for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti were going well, except for when John Paul Jones considered leaving the band. He wanted to take up a position as choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral. That’s how far away he wanted to get from the monster that was Led Zeppelin. He came back, and the business of Swan Song carried on – artists who signed with the label but did not produce any releases included The Message, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them, but they featured future Bon Jovi members Alec John Such and Richie Sambora). When Swan Song’s offices were cleared out in 1983 when the label closed, early demo tapes were found unplayed and stored, on the shelves. Those bands included Iron Maiden, Heart and a band called The Q-Tips which featured a singer, named Paul Young.
Ah, Paul Young, the very first and last voice you hear on Band Aid’s hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas” got that for a reason – in 1984 he was massive. He went on to have 14 British Top 40 singles in his long career, Paul Young’s debut album, No Parlez, hit #1 on the UK Albums Chart and stayed on that chart for 2 years. The album has been certified Triple Platinum, and on that album, along with the hits Wherever I Lay My Hat, and Come Back and Stay, there was another cover, although it went went fairly unheard at track #2 – a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.
The band, before being known as Joy Division, chose the name Warsaw shortly before their first gig, in reference to the song Warszawa by David Bowie. In order to avoid confusion with the London punk band Warsaw Pakt, the band renamed themselves Joy Division in early 1978. They borrowed their new name from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp found in the 1955 novel The House of Dolls. Warszawa is a mostly instrumental song was co-written with Brian Eno and originally released in 1977 on the album Low. Now widely regarded as one of his most influential releases of Bowie’s career, Low was the first of the “Berlin Trilogy”, though the album was mainly recorded in France and only mixed in West Berlin. The writing of Warszawa started around Bowie’s previous album Station to Station, and some of the music from Low he intended for the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth. When Bowie presented his material for the film to Nicolas Roeg, the director, Nicholas decided that it would not be suitable. Roeg preferred a more folksy sound, liking John Phillips – yes, that John Phillips from The Mamas and Papas. Another side note, Nick Lowe humorously “retaliated” against the name of the album by naming his 1977 EP Bowi. When the album was released, it got mixed reviews, especially since the first side were more songs-based, and the second side was mostly instrumental. Now, it’s rated high, not Low. It was rated the #1 album of the 1970s by Pitchfork Media. In 2000 Q placed it at number 14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever, a large part owing to Brian Eno’s sound. So, fast forward to June 2009, Eno curated the Luminous Festival at Sydney Opera House, this was going to be his first live appearance in many years. The show was called “Pure Scenius” and consisted of three live improvised performances on the same day, featuring Eno, Australian improv trio The Necks, and Karl Hyde from Underworld.
In 1987, the band Underworld featuring Karl Hyde was formed. Back then they were a more guitar-oriented funky electro-pop sound. Their debut album, Change The Weather did alright, but it was the single “Stand Up”, which became the band’s biggest US hit, peaking at #69 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it wasn’t until DJ Darren Emerson joined them when they really began exploding. Their next release, DubNoBassWithMyHeadMan, crossed a large spectrum of dance music. When the band released their second studio album in 1996, Second Toughest In The Infants, it really took off, coinciding with that of the film Trainspotting. The film featured Underworld’s “Dark & Long (Dark Train)”, as well as the band’s biggest track to date, “Born Slippy”, the song you just saw and heard, and the track was originally released only as a B-side of a single and does not appear on the Second Toughest album. You see, sometimes even bands don’t even know what they’re sitting on. Trainspotting was directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. The music was spectacular, and the movie is a classic, one of the best British films of all time. When Danny Boyle was chosen to direct the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, this was IT for Danny – quite simply, the biggest production of his life. His first call? Underworld. They were chosen by Danny to direct the music for the opening ceremony. Not only did they help create the feel and sounds you heard, but they had to also detail the entire history of British culture – from Shakespeare to James Bond, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and JK Rowling, and music played a big part of the night. After all, it’s what we all love about the Brits. With a budget in the millions, and featuring thousands of volunteers, the production featured an extended dance sequence, with some of the biggest songs, from the biggest British bands in music history.
That night, an audience of a billion heard songs like “My Generation” by The Who, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, “She Loves You” by the Beatles, and “Trampled Under Foot” by Led Zeppelin found on the album Physical Graffiti, released on the Swan Song record label.
And that, is how you can link Led Zeppelin to Underworld.