‘In Through the Out Door’: the bleak circumstances behind Led Zeppelin’s final record

‘In Through the Out Door’: the bleak circumstances behind Led Zeppelin’s final record

Led Zeppelin
Photo: Jim Summaria (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Words by Kate Streader

The band’s swansong is a tale of heartbreak, addiction and tragedy.

Despite being at the height of their success, the mid to late ’70s were riddled with obstacles for Led Zeppelin and, consequently, 1979’s In Through the Out Door would serve as the band’s final album.

Britain’s high tax rates across the ‘60s and ‘70s meant that a number of popular UK bands and artists fled the country as ‘tax exiles’ to avoid funnelling 95 per cent of their earnings back into the government’s pocket.

Such extortionate rates inspired The Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ — “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street/If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat/If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet”. It also pushed The Rolling Stones to escape to France and inspired the title of their album Exile on Main St.

For Led Zeppelin, British tax laws meant the band could not stay in the UK for more than 30 days across a period of over two years if they wished to abstain from paying what they owed, leading the band to spend the entirety of 1975 touring abroad.

While a year dedicated to touring internationally may seem like a small price to pay to maintain one’s wealth, especially for a rock’n’roll band of such global stature, it certainly took its toll.

Such a stretch of time spent abroad also caused tension between the band and their UK fans, who took Zeppelin’s absence personally and put their tax evasion tactics down to greed.

In an interview with New Musical Express in 1976, Plant spoke openly of the band’s exile status and the impact of being unable to return home.

“If the government could lead a renovation, under reasonable terms I’d have no qualms about going back and saying okay, let’s make a deal,” said Plant.

“And I know everybody else feels the same. But it’s just this attitude of gotta get it all, gotta fill me pockets. Which is not where I’ve ever been at despite a few rather uneducated people commenting that that is all. So…I suppose when I do go home it’ll be Hallelujah and I shall kiss the soil again.”

Not only were the band homesick and disgruntled with their government, but the inability to remain in the UK would also cause further issues for Plant when he and his family were involved in a car accident in Greece.

He and his wife Maureen each suffered serious injuries as a result of the crash and were flown back to the motherland for treatment. However, Plant was forced to leave the country again immediately after receiving medical care, unable to remain by his wife’s side as she recovered from surgery.

Plant had to temporarily rely on a wheelchair and had a cast stretching from his hip to his toes. He was told he wouldn’t walk for six months and there was no telling if he would ever fully recover. The uncertainty of his future as a performer, coupled with the inability to return home and be with his family, caused Plant to slink into a depression.

The singer’s injuries meant he was unable to tour and the band were forced into a hiatus while he recuperated. However, it was during this downtime that the band wrote much of their penultimate album, Presence.

In April 1976, Zeppelin’s tax exile status was moot, Presence had just been released and, although Plant was still unable to tour, it looked as though the band’s luck was on the rise. Despite the promise of better days to come, the car accident proved to be the first of a string of personal tragedies for Plant.

The next blow for the frontman came in 1977, when his five-year-old son Karac died of a stomach infection. News of his son’s passing came while the band were touring in North America and, upon receiving word from home, the band’s remaining shows were cancelled so the vocalist could return to the UK to grieve with his family.

Plant was not the only member of Led Zeppelin to be met with personal troubles during this period. Jimmy Page and John Bonham were each falling deeper down the rabbit hole of drug and alcohol abuse while John Paul Jones desperately tried to maintain some stability within the group.

In late 1978, Led Zeppelin regrouped to record their would-be final album. In Through the Out Door was an amalgamation of the troubles which had plagued the band over the previous handful of years; its title serving as a testament to the difficulty of returning home and winning over their UK fans post-exile.

With only seven tracks, In Through the Out Door was hardly seen as an epic and failed to impress critics. While the band’s incorporation of synthesisers certainly fit within the musical landscape of the late ’70s, this slight deviation from their signature sound was met with mixed reviews.

Where Presence was the result of Page’s desperation to propel the band forward, his increasing use of heroin meant that he’d largely checked out by the time the band convened in ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm to record In Through the Out Door.

In fact, the record features the only two tracks in the Led Zeppelin discography that Page had no part in writing, ‘South Bound Saurez’ and ‘All My Love’. Between Plant’s personal life, Page’s heroin use and Bonham’s heavy drinking, it’s of little surprise that the album failed to make a mark.

Though In Through the Out Door certainly has its moments – from the Latin-flavoured jaunt of ‘Fool In The Rain’ to the sprawling synth-driven elegy that is ‘Carouselambra’ — it struggles to stand tall alongside the band’s bold and bombastic catalogue.

The following year marked the end of Led Zeppelin when the band’s drummer died after choking on his vomit during his sleep. Having already waded through a sludge of tragedy and setbacks, the supernova that was Led Zeppelin fizzled and its members went their separate ways.

While In Through the Out Door is far from a triumphant end note for one of the world’s biggest rock’n’roll bands of all time, it is certainly a product of its circumstances and provides a glimpse of what may have been the next chapter in the Led Zeppelin story, had it not met an abrupt end.

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