On This Day in 1974: Led Zeppelin Launch Swan Song
44 years ago today, Led Zeppelin officially launched their very own record label, one which would – in addition to serving as a home for their own material – also released LPs by Bad Company, Dave Edmunds, the Pretty Things, and Sad Café, to name but a few.
The actual deal to start Swan Song Records was hashed out in January 1974, but the formal existence of the label began on May 10, 1974. It would still be another month, however, before Bad Company’s self-titled debut would earn the honor of being the first album released on the label. This was a pretty big deal, as you might imagine, resulting in launch parties on the east coast (New York City) and the west coast (Los Angeles), and when Swan Song released their first album in the UK, The Pretty Things’ SILK TORPEDO, they held yet another party, this one at Chislehurst Caves in Kent, England.
“We've got some good things lined up,” Jimmy Page said in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview with future filmmaker Cameron Crowe. “I think the Pretty Things LP is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We're [record] executives and all that crap, but I'll tell you one thing: the label was never right from the top Led Zeppelin records. It's designed to bring in other groups and promote acts that have had raw deals in the past. It's a vehicle for them and not for us to just make a few extra pennies over the top.”
Bad Company was the most successful non-Zeppelin artist on Swan Song Records by a considerable margin, but the label did serve as a significant launching point for Dave Edmunds’ solo career. The Pretty Things didn’t find much in the way of new fans, but they did get a boost from the label: the album they released immediately prior to signing to Swan Song, FREEWAY MADNESS, failed to chart, whereas both SILK TORPEDO and SAVAGE EYE both made their way into the Billboard 200, something which no album by the band had ever done before…and they’d been releasing albums since 1965!
Swan Song Records might have lasted longer if Led Zeppelin hadn’t ceased to exist in the wake of John Bonham’s death, but they did release some fine LPs in their time. Still, there’s a real what-might-have-been thing going on, too. Why? Because when the label closed up shop and cleared out their offices, they found a few demos that no one had ever gotten around to playing, including some by Heart and Iron Maiden!
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