David Bowie and Marc Bolan’s T-Rex were also criticised when they first tried to get their music on the BBC, a report added. Led Zeppelin, fronted by singer Robert Plant, went on to sell more than 300 million albums worldwide and are viewed as one of most important groups in rock history with their mix of blues, folk and rock guitar.
The group were invited to appear before a BBC audition panel in 1969, one year after they were signed, but faced a highly critical response.
One producer said they were “not for daytime radio — specialist listening only”, another described them as “derivative” and “unconvincing”, while a third said the group had “an old-fashioned sound”.
Led Zeppelin, comprising Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, went on to play several sessions for BBC radio.
The band, who had a string of hits in the 1970s including “Stairway to Heaven”, split up in 1980 following the death of Bonham, who famously choked on his own vomit following a drinking binge.
Bowie, meanwhile, was dismissed as “a singer devoid of personality” when he tried to get his songs on the BBC in 1965, and Bolan?s T-Rex was labelled “crap and pretentious crap at that,” according to the Times.
An early version of the Rolling Stones was also rejected by a BBC panel, the newspaper reported, but quoted former BBC producer Jimmy Grant as approving of Led Zeppelin, as an “excellent progressive blues group”.
“The system was quite tight in those days. Bands had to audition to see if they were suitable to make personal appearances and the producers would decide,” said 89-year-old Grant, who was on the BBC audition panel.
Amanda Bruckshaw, who was given access to the BBC archive, commented: “The producers? language sounds ridiculously pompous to us, but they did the right thing in the end and passed Led Zeppelin.”
Page, 65, explained why it was important for the band to perform on the BBC.
“It just gave us an opportunity to come in and do what we had on our albums,” he told the BBC 6 Music radio station, which will air a programme drawing on the archives on Christmas Day, December 25.
“It gave an opportunity for anyone who hadn?t heard us to hear how we were moving the songs and making them take on a life of their own.”
The three surviving Led Zeppelin members returned for a comeback gig in London in December 2007, playing together for the first time in 19 years with Bonham’s son Jason on drums.
Over the years a long line of ground-breaking acts have made their debut on the BBC, notably under the maverick DJ John Peel who gave early exposure to the Smiths and the White Stripes. (AFP)