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Discussion » Statements » Rosie's Corner » Led Zeppelin? Lead Zeppelin? Why did a rock group name itself after a tragedy? The Hindenburg was a zeppelin. It did not end well. Did they?

Led Zeppelin? Lead Zeppelin? Why did a rock group name itself after a tragedy? The Hindenburg was a zeppelin. It did not end well. Did they?

Posted - October 17


  • 2506
    The saying "going down like a lead balloon" already existed and was not a reference to either the Hindenburg or the R101 disasters.

    I have no idea what inspired the band to call themselves "Led Zeppelin", and to use the photo of the blazing Hindenburg on the second LP sleeve; but it certainly didn't do them any harm musically and commercially.


    I don't think the cause of the disaster was ever determined but I have seen the full news-reel, starting a few minutes before the fire broke out. Usually we see only the fire, but it is obvious from the earlier part that the airship was going out of control in the last mile or so to the mooring-mast. It was pitching wildly, and the crew were discharging a lot of the ballast water in their efforts to control it. I think it's safe to assume that pitching was due to it losing buoyancy and trim by a massive leak of hydrogen; and eventually some of that gas found its way to some unknown source of ignition.
      October 17, 2020 4:37 PM MDT

  • 96279
    I remember the reporter who witnessed it. So impassioned and full of emotion. I remember seeing it catching on fire and going down. It is probably among the most famous news clips ever seen and heard. A terrible way to die. I have heard that said Durdle.  Something "goes over like a lead balloon" . Meaning it cannot fly and does not fly. It just sits there. Thank you for your thoughtful and informative reply and Happy Sunday to thee and thine! :) I am not familiar with their sound. So they were very popular then?
      October 18, 2020 1:47 AM MDT

  • 2506

    Yes, I have heard the newsreel a few times. The poor reporter was reduced to tears by seeing the disaster happening in front of him. Am I right thinking a few survived by jumping out, though badly injured in the fall?

    That era also saw the similar loss of the British airship R101, which crashed-landed and burst into flames in France on its maiden voyage to India. No-one survived. By a terrible irony its passengers included the Government big-wigs who had forced its construction and testing to be rushed, and insisted on changes to the specifications for political reasons, to show a government can be just as good as the aeronautical industry itself at building such things.   They wanted R101 in service before its fully-commercial R100 sister-ship, which did fly safely in service until the two disasters so destroyed public confidence in airships that no-one wanted to travel in them.


    The "lead balloon" context may differ across the Atlantic. In use in Britain I have always heard it to refer not to some physical object or enterprise failing, but to the reception of an ill-timed or misjudged comment: "His attempted joke about it went down like a lead balloon".

    I once saw the delightful simile "... handles like a lead wheelbarrow!" I think it was actually made by the doyen of vehicle customising, Ed Roth, who insisted that however artistic, the vehicles should also be functional and road-legal, not just static show-pieces. A "lead wheelbarrow" referred to motorcycles with forks so over-long that they would be pretty well un-steerable in normal use. 


    You asked about the band. Led Zeppelin was formed in the late 1960s and rapidly became a best-selling heavy rock band whose output was actually very varied in style. Though more straightforwardly blues-based than some of their fellow Progressive Rock contemporaries, they were more inventive than a lot of heavy-metal groups then or since. In later years Led Zeppelin became influenced by folk music and rather fey "magic" themes, in the era when J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings suddenly found a new readership and spawned a fad for writing would-be sword-and-sorcery epics.

    I don't know when they disbanded, or if in fact they have,  but they have not worked as a band for many years. Lead singer Robert Plant mellowed his style as age mellowed his formidable singing voice, but in recent years he made something of a name for himself in the rather unexpected directions of folk- and gospel- inspired songs.  He is also said to be a regular member of his local Pub Quiz team - or was until Covid put a stop to everything. 

      October 18, 2020 3:00 PM MDT

  • 96279
    So they were more than just another rock band? In those days I was pretty much only listening to jazz and classical music. Later when my son (born in 1966) was a teenager and introduced music popular at that time to me I got hooked on Steely Dan/Donald Fagin. Also Fleetwood Mac Larry Carlton Peter Gabriel Genesis Eric Clapton and others of that time. And Christopher Cross singing SAILING. Took me away to another place. Music I probably would never have listened to which would have been my loss. We can't know what we like or dislike if we never venture outside our comfort zone. I don't unless someone guides me through it. Socially. Every other way I go on my own to just see what's there. Curiosity is stronger than timidity or shyness. But there will never be better than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron. I loved those musicals. Oh and Eleanor Power who was the very best tap dancer ever. Fred Astaire feared dancing with her because he thought he could not keep up with her. She was something! Thank you for your reply m'dear. There will be the likes of them again I fear. Sad that. This post was edited by RosieG at October 19, 2020 4:12 AM MDT
      October 19, 2020 4:10 AM MDT

  • 10995
    The cause of the ignition is not proven, but believed to be either a static discharge from the mooring tower to the rope trailing from the airship, or "St Elmo's Fire" which a few observers saw flickering on the tail surfaces seconds before the crash. The ship was attempting to land in the immediate aftermath of a thunderstorm.
      October 18, 2020 2:48 AM MDT

  • 2506
    Thank you for that additional information. It is known that the airship's German operators were very thorough with fire precautions, so lightning or static discharge are certainly feasible.   
      October 18, 2020 2:23 PM MDT