Most great bands have a great rhythm section. Led Zeppelin wasn't great just because Robert Plant was unique. Jimmy Page was hailed as a guitar idol, but he wasn't really even that great as a lead guitarist. He was a dynamic rhythm guitarist, however. Page's rhythm playing combined with a very solid bassist in John Paul Jones and a brilliant drummer in John Bonham created a rhythm section that was the perfect backing unit to be matched with a groundbreaking vocalist and make music that changed the direction of rock.
John Bonham is worthy of special mention in this discussion. He was able to play very firm tempos, but with a laid back feel, better than just about anyone. My friend Mario once described him as sounding like he's playng in the next room. That's better than any description I have been able to come up with.
Where can you hear what I'm talking about? You need only listen to The Lemon Song on Led Zeppelin II. Page starts with a great riff, Bonham completely overloads the mics with his first cymbal crash, then Jones joins in and they simply cook through six minutes at three different tempos while Plant wails in the foreground. After hearing that track you know why Led Zeppelin became superstars, and it wasn't just because of Robert Plant.
In future posts I'll discuss similar characteristics of other great bands, and talk about how those characteristics cut across different genres.
A lawyer who likes to write music commentary.