Led Zeppelin have always been regarded as innovators within the realms of rock music, combining hippie mysticism, acoustic folk, and deafening power chords full of distortion.
Their album artwork has been similarly notable, with the band responsible for some of the most iconic and striking album cover designs of the 60s and 70s. This was partly guided by guitarist Jimmy Page’s influence – he was a keen painter, and attended art college.
The band’s cultural significance certainly contributes to the desirability of their vinyl back-catalogue. But this is bolstered by the fact that the band were prone to releasing cover variants and album sleeves littered with printing mistakes. These unique and exceptional copies have transformed some of the band’s best works into rare collector’s items.
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at some of these rare Led Zeppelin records.
7. Physical Graffiti – First Issue (1975)
Approximate value: $1,000
The cover art of 1975’s Physical Graffiti is immediately striking. Its main image depicts a wall of apartment buildings taken from street level, with the back featuring the track listing in between windows.
The artwork is particularly notable because the band had been refraining from featuring any text on their album covers since the release of Led Zeppelin IV (1971) and onwards. Physical Graffiti broke that trend.
As Page explained in an interview, the intentional omission of the band name from much of their album artwork was “designed as our response to the music critics who maintained that the success of our first three albums was driven by hype and not talent. So, we stripped everything away, and let the music do the talking.”
The album’s tracklist includes songs such as ‘Ten Years Gone,’ ‘Trampled Under Foot’ and ‘In My Time Of Dying.’
The most valuable version of the record is its first issue which can be worth over $1,000. That certain iteration has red title text on the spine and catalogue numbers on the inside sleeves. The printer’s name “Gothic Print Finishers Ltd” also appears on the insert.
6. Led Zeppelin II – Original Labels (1969)
Approximate value: $1,500
Released in 1969, the band’s second album Led Zeppelin II was famously strewn with inconsistencies in printing. For that reason, several versions of the record went on to become collector’s items.
Songs on the record include the likes of ‘Ramble On,’ ‘Heartbreaker’ and most famously ‘Whole Lotta Love.’ The first label to feature on this album’s cover detailed the presence of ‘The Lemon Song’ which in later editions was renamed as ‘Killing Floor.’
The original labelling displays the words “Copyright Control” and an error incorrectly names track two as ‘Living Loving Wreck.’ Its design also includes a production credit for Jimmy Page.
Copies printed with this original label, which are accompanied by the sleeve, typically sell for around $1,500.
5. Led Zeppelin III – Plum/Red Label (1970)
Approximate value: $2,000
Very early original UK pressings of Led Zeppelin III feature a distinctive half plum and half red Atlantic label. The album features tracks such as ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You,’ ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Immigrant Song.’
The record sports a credit to Peter Grant as executive producer, and hand etched matrices on both sides, along with publishing credited to “Warner Bros. Music Ltd.”
Later pressings were made in Germany, but it is the ones produced in the UK deemed most valuable, with copies typically fetching in the region of $2,000.
4. Led Zeppelin Volume One (2005)
Approximate value: $2,000
Volume One is a rare Led Zeppelin box set that’s out of print and thus unavailable, making it of special interest to collectors.
Released in 2005 under the Classic Records label, the collection is limited edition and gathers together test pressings of Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III and Untitled (“Led Zeppelin IV”) onto four single-sided 12” LPs.
Jimmy Page is said to have overseen the production of this set, with all discs pressed from the original masters. This meant that these editions were as authentic sounding as possible to the originals, with copies of the rare record worth around $2,000 today.
3. Houses Of The Holy (1973)
Approximate value: $2,500
Houses Of The Holy is Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album. For its recording, two band members installed studios at home, which allowed for the development of more sophisticated musical arrangements.
The record includes several numbers that became well-established within Led Zeppelin’s discography, including the likes of ‘No Quarter,’ ‘The Song Remains the Same’ and ‘The Rain Song.’
The original sleeve, which is deemed most valuable in collecting circles – has no markings across the front or back, inside sleeve or even the spine. Atlantic Records were wary of Jimmy Page’s tendency to use no labelling on their works and so decided to place a strip on the record that read “Led Zeppelin” and “Houses of the Holy.”
Whilst Page didn’t give permission for this design choice, the record label went ahead and included it anyway. Copies featuring this artwork are estimated to be worth around $2,500.
The Houses of the Holy artwork itself is hugely striking. No expenses were spared to produce the right album cover, and artists Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson spent days at the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, trying (and failing) to catch a clear and bright sunrise for the photo.
Thorgerson described his intention to create a cover that was “large, strong, powerful, awesome and mythic” – he certainly achieved it.
2. Led Zeppelin I – Turquoise Version (1969)
Approximate value: $7,500
Led Zeppelin’s debut album introduced songs such as ‘Communication Breakdown,’ ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘Good Times Bad Times’ to the music world.
The artwork features the iconic image of the German zeppelin Hindenburg, bursting into flames, as shot by Sam Shere on 6 May 1937.
The masses recognise Led Zeppelin’s inaugural release as having an orange colour scheme, and on the back cover all four band members in portrait with the same orange hue. Yet before deciding upon this design, the record’s very first iteration featured the classic Hindenburg disaster, with the band’s name in the top left corner and coloured blue.
Subsequently becoming known as “the turquoise version” within collecting communities, the record’s value increases significantly to as much as $7,500 in near mint condition. There are other less valuable adaptations available that contain red lettering instead.
1. Past, Present And Future (1979)
Approximate value: $9,000
Released in 1979, the official promotional album Past, Present and Future is one of Led Zeppelin’s rarest records. Uncharacteristically, its cover takes the form of a full-colour photo with the band posing in a verdant field.
The record features an interview conducted at Knebworth on 11 August 1979 with Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. It was never officially issued, and as such, only two or three test pressings are thought to exist. These copies were reportedly salvaged from the Atlantic Production Department before being disposed of with several others.
There is one track on each side of the record. On Side A is ‘Robert Plant and John Paul Jones Interview – Part I’ and on its flipside ‘Robert Plant and John Paul Jones Interview – Part II.’
The back of the vinyl contains fascinating liner notes, which are of particular interest to fans. Back in 2009, a copy of this vinyl was valued at just short of $9,000.
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