By 1988, Led Zeppelin had been disbanded for the better part of a decade, its members having moved on to solo careers in a show of respect for their fallen drummer John Bonham. But as they’d shown in 1985 with their mini-reunion for Live Aid, they were willing to come together for the right cause.
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Despite singer Robert Plant telling Details magazine that the Live Aid show was “probably one of the worst performances I’ve ever done in my life,” On May 14, 1988, they did just that. They took the stage with Bonham’s son Jason behind the drum kit to deliver a five-song set (‘Kashmir,’ ‘Heartbreaker,’ ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ ‘Misty Mountain Hop,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven’) that closed out the concert event of the year: ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll,’ an all-star extravaganza celebrating Atlantic Records’ landmark 40th anniversary.
Watch Led Zeppelin Perform at the Atlantic 40th Anniversary Concert
Running nearly 13 hours in length and assembling an amazing lineup of performers that ran the gamut from classic R&B and soul acts like the Coasters, LaVern Baker, and Ben E. King to the contemporary rock bands that defined the label’s ’70s and ’80s success (including Yes, Genesis, and Crosby, Stills & Nash). And while the organizers’ decision to forgo an all-star jam at the end seems like a missed opportunity, they came up with a pretty solid substitute in the briefly reunited Led Zeppelin.
Originally aired on HBO, ABC, and the BBC, ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll’ is available in various places around the web (we’ve embedded a 90-minute chunk below, set to begin with Zeppelin’s set), and well worth seeking out, if only to experience the joy of watching the often-incongruous acts in the lineup follow one another to the stage. (The performances themselves are pretty solid too, of course.)
As for Led Zeppelin, they’d quickly return to hibernation following the show, and though Robert Plant and Jimmy Page reunited for a series of concerts and a pair of LPs during the ’90s, they wouldn’t share a stage with John Paul Jones again until 2007, when they reunited at London’s O2 Arena to deliver their first full-length set in nearly 30 years as a tribute to the recently deceased Ahmet Ertegun — founder and president of Atlantic Records.