It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin greatly inspired Geddy Lee and Rush. The Canadian trio, comprised of Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, were fans of the British quartet from the beginning. From the moment Lee first put the needle onto their 1969 self-titled debut album, he was hooked. Following that momentous experience, he would do his utmost to make it as a rock god himself. As we now know, he accomplished his dream with flying colours.
Speaking to Classic Rock in 2021, Lee explained how Zeppelin inspired him and Rush. “I remember when the first album dropped and we waited at our local Sam The Record Man store in Willowdale, grabbed the record, ran to my house, put it on and sat on my bed freaking out over ‘Communication Breakdown’,” he recalled. “They were a huge, huge influence on us. We wanted to be them instantly. But their stuff was hard to play. We tried a number of Zeppelin songs when we played in the bars, but we felt we couldn’t pull them off. We did have Livin’ Lovin’ Maid in our set for a while though.”
Rush’s self-titled debut from 1974 is brimming with the similar bluesy swagger and primal vocals that marked out Zeppelin’s best work. ‘Finding My Way’ even features an impression of Plant’s classic “ooh yeah” vocal from Led Zeppelin IV‘s ‘Black Dog’. Then, following Rush’s breakout period, Lee and Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant became friends. The English frontman is said to have brought Rush back from hiatus in the late 1990s after the deaths of Neil Peart’s daughter and wife.
Over the years, Geddy Lee has also been kind enough to name his favourite Led Zeppelin songs, and they’re all early classics. In 2012, the Rush frontman and bassist listed his 13 favourite albums of all time for The Quietus, and aptly, one of them was Led Zeppelin. There, he went into more detail about the effect the high-octane single ‘Communication Breakdown’ had on him. He went so far as to label it “my punk rock” moment, which is interesting, as it has long been deemed a piece of proto-punk.
He said: “To some it might seem like an unlikely Led Zeppelin album to choose. But, for me, it captures a moment. Led Zeppelin came to Toronto. I remember staying up all night to get tickets. I think I am right in saying that this album had only just been released and we went to see them. We were very young and, as such, a little bit on edge and eager to sample anything.”
He added: “Then I heard ‘Communication Breakdown’ and a trigger went off in my head. That was my punk rock, really. The surge of power was something I had never experienced before. There are greater and more adept and adventurous Led Zeppelin albums. We all know which they are. But this was just the kind of explosion you can only really enjoy when you are young”.
The next Zeppelin cut Lee has mentioned as one of his favourites is ‘How Many More Times’, also from their debut. This piece had a significant influence on his bass playing. “I saw them in Toronto at a little place called the Rockpile. We were in the second row, and when they played this song it just blew me away. It reaffirmed for me all the creative potential in blending hard rock with progressive music. John Paul Jones was the unsung hero in that band,” he told Guitar World in 2014. “What bass player of that period didn’t know how to play that riff? I still jam to it sometimes at soundchecks”.
Third in the list in ‘You Shook Me’, another hallowed moment on Led Zeppelin’s debut. In 2013, Lee sat down with Sirius XM’s Classic Vinyl Influences to outline how the song affected him. Again, he remembered the moment he first heard Led Zeppelin and the amazement it aroused. He said of the track and album: “It was bluesy, but it was progressive heavy. The term ‘heavy’ didn’t really exist back then in terms of characterizing rock music that had this power behind it that was not volume. So it was the power that was weight, the chord structure and the impact had weight.”
Moving on from Zeppelin’s debut album, when speaking to Rolling Stone in 2019, Lee acknowledged the masterpiece that is Led Zeppelin II – also from 1969. He named ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ one of his favourite Zeppelin tracks and one of his ultimate “bass songs”.
Mentioning the “understated” power of Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones once more, he opined: “There are so many songs I could choose from Zep that feature profound but understated bass playing. But this one is my fave. The way John Paul Jones changes gear, holds down the heavy bottom and adds terrific melody throughout the song. He is such a fluid player and all-round musical talent”.
The final Led Zeppelin track Geddy Lee has listed as his favourite is ‘The Lemon Song’ from Led Zeppelin II. This came in 2019 when he chose 22 songs that inspired his bass playing for a feature with Amazon Music. Famously, the Led Zeppelin piece is similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’, and after a legal battle, the influential bluesman was awarded a songwriting credit.
“I chose these songs because I’m such a ‘bass-centric dude’. That’s all I’ve been thinking about for the last few years”, he explained. “Is the role of bass in popular music and what I tried to do with my book (The Beautiful Book of Bass) was provide an alternate history of popular music through the point of view of the bass player. From the murky bottom end to the twangy top end”.
Find the playlist of Geddy Lee’s favourite Led Zeppelin songs below.
Geddy Lee’s favourite Led Zeppelin songs:
‘How Many More Times’
‘You Shook Me’
‘What Is and What Should Never Be’
‘The Lemon Song’