45 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Kick Off Their 1973 U.S. Tour
By the spring of 1973, Led Zep had become the biggest band in the land. The immediate success of their new album, Houses of the Holy, only made that case stronger. Released just a couple of weeks prior to the tour, Houses was already all over radio and flying off store shelves, and even though Zeppelin had just hit the U.S. the year before, demand for the band was at an all-time high.
The tour kicked off on May 4 at the Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta with a record crowd of around 50,000. This was topped the following night in Tampa, where the band drew more than 55,000 fans, grossing $309,000 and breaking the record for a one-day event for one act, which was previously held by the Beatles for their legendary 1965 Shea Stadium show.
Fans worldwide got to see the shows for themselves when the three Madison Square Garden gigs that ended the tour in July were recorded for what would become The Song Remains the Same movie and LP. "The kind of speed we were moving at, the creative juices in the air, the whole thing was just an absolute mixture of adrenaline, chemical, euphoria, and there were no brakes," said Robert Plant in the liner notes to The Song Remains the Same's reissue.
Living the high life of '70s rock stars, the band even had their own private jet for the tour. A United Airlines Boeing 720B passenger jet, called the Starship and emblazoned with the band's logo, got them from gig to gig. But the tour wasn't without its problems. As documented in the film, the band had money (more than $200,000) stolen from a safe in the hotel they were staying at while in New York.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know why we’ve had such phenomenal success," Jimmy Page told the Los Angeles Times in 1973. "Perhaps you could relate it to street music and the fact that people feel more of an affinity to Zep’s music because it’s not constantly hammered down their throats from every direction. All I can say is that whenever we've gone on stage or into the studio, we've always done our best. We've never really been involved in the media, we've never done a TV program, and air play, of course, is limited because of the fact that we don’t record singles."
The tour would end up as, for the time being anyway, the largest grossing tour in rock history grossing $4 million for 36 dates. “We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of becoming fascinated with our own popularity,” said Page. “The way I look at it, if the Beatles were to get back together, they’d forget all about us again.”