When Led Zeppelin Started Breaking Records Set by The Beatles

Did the top rock ‘n’ roll bands really scrutinize record sales and box-office receipts from their tours? In the case of Led Zeppelin, they absolutely did — especially when it came to topping a mythical band like The Beatles.

When Zeppelin set a new mark for concert attendance in 1973, lead singer Robert Plant couldn’t stop talking about it. “Looks like we’ve done something nobody’s done before,” Plant said soon after the band took the stage that night. He’d mention it several more times in the course of the show.

In effect, Plant and his bandmates were celebrating regime change that night in Florida. By May ’73, Zeppelin was a few years removed from the release of the epic Led Zeppelin IV and a few months past the issue of Houses of the Holy.

They were on top of the world, in the midst of a quest to topple all recording and concert-sales records in existence. And, for a long stretch of the ’70s, it looked like they might break them all.

Zeppelin’s Tampa concert shattered a Beatles record with 56,800 fans.

On May 5 of ’73, Zeppelin rolled into Tampa on the second night of the band’s U.S. tour. There were no opening acts on the bill, nothing to see except the band at the height of its powers (mostly). And 56,800 fans showed up, making it the biggest crowd for any concert in America.

Prior to that night, The Beatles’ 1965 Shea Stadium gig (55,000 fans) ruled as the biggest show in history. Granted, the Fab Four stopped touring late in ’66 and might have posted Zeppelin-level numbers later in their career — but they didn’t.

Paul Iorio, who attended the concert as a 15-year-old, discovered a recording of the show later. In an account published in The Huffington Post, he described Plant’s voice as hoarse but Jimmy Page on fire that evening. He also mentioned Plant’s references to the record they’d set.

“We want this to be a really joyous occasion,” Plant noted at one point when fans were scuffling by the stage. For the band, several more joyous occasions were to come with the release of Physical Graffiti — again, with milestone The Beatles never matched.

Zeppelin toppled records for No. 1 hits with the release of ‘Physical Graffiti.’

The Beatles had their record label (Apple) by the end of the band’s run. Led Zeppelin did the same with Swan Song. Physical Graffiti, the double album that was the group’s debut on the label, arrived on the charts in March ’75 and quickly made mincemeat of the competition.

By March 24, Physical Graffiti set a record by catapulting to No. 1 faster than any album in history (two weeks). Meanwhile, that release also brought the band’s five other records back onto the Billboard 200 chart. No recording artist ever had six albums charting simultaneously.

Considering the Fab Four was a virtual factory of No. 1 records, that was quite an achievement for Zeppelin. When the band’s run ended in 1980, it might not have topped The Beatles’ track record for No. 1 albums, and Zep never did have much interest in releasing singles.

However, Zeppelin clipped quite a few of the Fab Four’s records in their day — and ended up (at the latest tally) No. 5 on the list of biggest-selling recording artists in American history.

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