Remember When Led Zeppelin Played an Underwhelming Reunion Set at Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary Concert in 1988

Since the death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham on September 25, 1980, the band’s three surviving members—singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones—have reunited to perform in public only three times. The second of those reunions took place 36 years ago, on May 14, 1988, at Madison Square Garden in New York, as part of a star-studded concert celebrating Atlantic Records’ 40th anniversary.

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Filling in for Bonham at the show was his son, Jason, who also played drums with the group when they reunited for the third, and to date, last time at the O2 Arena in London in 2007.

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Led Zeppelin’s set at the 1988 concert was the finale of a marathon event that featured a long list of artists who had recorded for Atlantic Records. The show aired live in the U.S. on radio and on the HBO cable channel.

About the Other Performers

Among the other performers were Yes, Genesis, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Foreigner, the Bee Gees, Phil Collins, Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, Paul Rodgers, The Rascals, Iron Butterfly, Bob Geldof, Wilson Pickett, The Coasters, The Spinners, Roberta Flack, Ben E. King, and Vanilla Fudge. Plant also played a three-song solo set.

About Led Zeppelin’s Performance

Led Zeppelin played a five-song set that featured “Kashmir,” “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

Unfortunately, the performance was widely considered underwhelming. The band didn’t rehearse for the gig, and Plant did not want to sing “Stairway to Heaven”; Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun had to persuaded him.

[RELATED: Remember When Led Zeppelin Haphazardly Reunited at Live Aid]

When Led Zeppelin did play, the band seemed a bit disjointed, with Page playing sloppily and sounding out of tune at times. In addition, Jones’ keyboards weren’t heard on the live TV feed.

A high point of the set was the young Bonham, who enthusiastically and passionately pounded away at the drums just like his dearly departed dad did.

Between the band’s renditions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” Plant addressed the audience and introduced Jason Bonham.

He then said, “It’s been a wonderful day. … It’s been really great. … [There’s] been all manner of niceness backstage. It’s been great to be a part of this I would say one of the most distinguished birthday parties, and [one of] the most righteous ones too.”

Page later described the group’s performance as “one big disappointment,” while Plant called it “foul.”

About Led Zeppelin’s Other Reunions

Led Zeppelin for reunion performance had taken place in Philadelphia in 1985 as part of the U.S. Live Aid event. That show, which featured Collins on drums, also was considered disappointing. Thankfully, when the three Led Zeppelin members got back together with Jason Bonham for the 2007 London concert, the show was a triumphant one.

That performance was released on multiple audio and video formats in 2012 under the title Celebration Day.

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