How Led Zeppelin’s ‘Coda’ Marked the Definitive End of an Era
Most people wouldn't have blamed Led Zeppelin for soldiering on with a new drummer following the untimely death of John Bonham in 1980; they certainly wouldn't have been the first group to do it. Instead, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones put their world-conquering band to bed, issuing a final send-off with the odds-and-ends compilation Coda on Nov. 19, 1982.
The lean, contractually obligated LP doesn't have the same flow as Zeppelin's proper studio albums, but its eight tracks paint a compelling portrait of their musical evolution over the course of their staggering 12-year career. Live renditions of "I Can't Quit You Baby" and the previously unreleased "I'm Gonna Groove" from a 1970 Royal Albert Hall performance demonstrate Zep's reverence for blues and R&B (which they pilfered freely in their early days) and their unparalleled onstage thunder. "Poor Tom" and "Walter's Walk," taken from the Led Zeppelin III and Houses of the Holy sessions, respectively, show the band's ability to switch effortlessly between yearning, acoustic folk-rock and swaggering electric blues.
Coda's second side, meanwhile, contains three outtakes from the band's final studio album, 1979's In Through the Out Door. "Ozone Baby" and "Darlene" are cocksure rock 'n' roll romps, the former anchored by Page's slinky riffs and the latter by Jones' urgent piano playing. The blistering "Wearing and Tearing," written as a reaction to the nascent punk revolution, is the liveliest tune of the bunch. And "Bonzo's Montreux," the instrumental "drum orchestra" that Page dressed up with studio effects, is a succinct display of Bonham's inimitable groove and a touching tribute to the late skinsman.
Listen to Led Zeppelin's 'Wearing and Tearing'
It would have been easy for Led Zeppelin to hastily assemble a cheap, artless collection of archival material to satisfy Atlantic Records, but they wanted Coda to honor their legacy and stand up to the rest of their towering discography. "When I started to think about it originally, we wanted to do something in the best taste possible, under the circumstances," Page told the Daily Beast in 2017. "Obviously some people were disappointed, because they'd have liked a new album rather than something which was posthumous, and they didn't want John Bonham to not be around anymore. But who did, man?"
Commercially, Coda fell short of Led Zeppelin's previous chart-topping, multi-platinum successes, but it was no slouch. The album entered the Billboard 200 at No. 9 and eventually peaked at No. 6, going platinum within a few months of release. It was a fitting ode to one of the most dizzying careers in rock history, and it marked the definitive end of an era.
By the time Coda hit shelves, Plant had already launched his solo career, releasing Pictures at Eleven in June 1982. Markedly more subdued than Zeppelin's output and victim in spots to sterile '80s production, the album nonetheless peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and eventually went platinum. Pictures at Eleven began a six-album, decade-long solo run for Plant that peaked with 1988's Now and Zen, which married the digitized pop-rock du jour with the swaggering hard rock of his former band to the tune of 3 million U.S. sales.
Page, meanwhile, made a more tepid foray into solo territory, barely grazing the Top 50 of the Billboard 200 with his scored soundtrack for Death Wish II, released in February 1982. His next album and first proper commercial post-Zeppelin release ironically reunited him with Plant for the rock/R&B supergroup the Honeydrippers. The band's debut EP and sole release, 1984's The Honeydrippers: Volume One, also featured Jeff Beck, Chic's Nile Rodgers and David Letterman's musical director Paul Shaffer. It soared to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum, spawning the No. 3 hit "Sea of Love" in the process.
Despite Plant's promises, a full-length Honeydrippers album never materialized. Page instead formed a new supergroup, the Firm, with then-ex-Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. Their eponymous 1985 debut went gold and produced a moderate hit in "Radioactive," but the group disbanded after 1986's Mean Business underperformed critically and commercially. A 1985 collaborative album with folk-rock singer-songwriter Roy Harper (whom Zep honored on Led Zeppelin III) titled Whatever Happened to Jugula? also flew under the radar.
Amid the Firm's brief tenure, the three surviving Led Zeppelin members staged a ballyhooed — and disastrous— reunion at Live Aid in July 1985. Backed by a jet-lagged Phil Collins, who had flown to Philadelphia immediately after performing in London, the band fumbled through a three-song set that featured hoarse vocals from Plant and sloppy, out-of-tune guitar playing from a clearly inebriated Page. “It was horrendous,” Plant told Rolling Stone in 1988. “Emotionally, I was eating every word that I had uttered. And I was hoarse. I’d done three gigs on the trot before I got to Live Aid. We rehearsed in the afternoon, and by the time I got onstage, my voice was long gone.”
Watch Led Zeppelin's Live Aid Reunion
Following Live Aid and the dissolution of the Firm, Page issued his first (and only) solo album, Outrider, in June 1988. It performed respectably, reaching No. 26 on the Billboard 200 and going gold. Perhaps more notably, the album and supporting tour featured Jason Bonham on drums. The 21-year-old Bonham also backed Page, Plant and Jones at another abortive reunion show in 1988, for Atlantic Records' 40th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. As with Live Aid, the band squabbled about whether to play "Stairway to Heaven," with Plant once again reluctantly agreeing at the last minute. And as with Live Aid, they were displeased with the performance, which Plant later described as "foul."
Page and Plant would not reconvene for several years after their messy 1988 reunion. In the meantime, Page linked up with then-former Whitesnake and Deep Purple vocalist David Coverdale for 1993's Coverdale-Page. The album was a Top 5, platinum-selling success and earned some favorable reviews, as well as the inevitable, unsavory Zeppelin comparisons. It certainly didn't make a fan out of Plant, who for years had referred to Page's new partner as "David Cover-version." But the leonine singer didn't have to stew for long: Page and Plant reunited in 1994 for an MTV Unplugged special, which became the platinum-selling No Quarter live album, released that October.
The duo supported No Quarter with an extensive world tour, followed by the 1998 studio album Walking Into Clarksdale. None of these ventures featured Jones, who had learned about the reunion through media reports. The bassist had only recorded sporadically since Zeppelin's dissolution, scoring the Scream for Help soundtrack in 1985 and collaborating with avant-garde singer Diamanda Galas on 1994's The Sporting Life. Jones' displeasure at his exclusion was evident at Zeppelin's 1995 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, when he sniped at his former bandmates, "Thank you, my friends, for finally remembering my phone number." He went on to issue two proper solo albums, 1999's Zooma and 2001's The Thunderthief, to little fanfare.
Page and Plant both insisted that they hadn't meant to snub Jones and their reunion was never meant to be a Led Zeppelin project. That fabled gathering would not come until Dec. 10, 2007, when Page, Plant, Jones and Jason Bonham held their first — and last — full-length concert in nearly 30 years at London's O2 Arena to honor late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. The historic show, which was far better-received than Zeppelin's previous reunion attempts, was memorialized on the 2012 live album and film Celebration Day.
Watch Led Zeppelin Perform 'Kashmir' Live From 'Celebration Day'
Both Page and Jones expressed interest in a full reunion tour, but Plant staunchly refused to pick up the mantle again. During his 2008 tour with Alison Krauss in support of their 2007 collaborative album Raising Sand, the singer issued a statement debunking further Zeppelin reunion rumors. "It's both frustrating and ridiculous for this story to continue to rear its head when all the musicians that surround the story are keen to get on with their individual projects and move forward," Plant said. "I wish Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham nothing but success with any future projects."
Plant stuck to his word, releasing additional solo albums with Band of Joy, the Sensational Space Shifters and Krauss throughout the 2010s and early 2020s. Jones got back to his hard-rock roots by teaming up with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme to form Them Crooked Vultures, who released their eponymous debut album in 2009. Page, meanwhile, remained the self-appointed steward of Led Zeppelin's legacy, reissuing the band's discography with hordes of previously unreleased bonus material. The most recent reissue, Coda, arrived in 2015 as a three-disc set, full of alternate mixes, outtakes and live cuts. It was no doubt a cathartic release for Page, the band's stalwart archivist.
"When I was mapping the whole project out, I'd already made up my mind that Coda was again going to be a huge celebration of everything," Page told the Daily Beast. "Purely by the fact of making Coda a double, I really wanted to put out just about everything [in the vaults]. I knew I was going to finish with two companion discs for the last one, with all the studio stuff that people might have heard about, the stuff that helped create the mythology of Led Zeppelin. So here it is, folks. I'm giving it all to you!"