Jack Hamilton has a column in Slate arguing that modern rock began not with the Beatles or Bob Dylan but with Led Zeppelin. He declares them the most influential band in rock history, both in the bands they inspired to emulate and the ones they inspired to reject them.
Led Zeppelin’s legacy is fittingly long and fittingly loud. Depending on your preference in white male hagiography, “modern” rock music is often said to have started with Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” or Sgt. Pepper, but these myths are wishful, and overly fanciful: Modern rock music started with Led Zeppelin. Their influence, for better and worse, over all that’s come since is singular. Punk in the 1970s was a rejection of their pompous pretentiousness, metal in the 1980s an affirmation of their excesses, grunge in the 1990s a reclamation of punk that often sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin. We have Led Zeppelin to blame for Creed; we have Led Zeppelin to thank for the White Stripes. They were a band loved by millions, but if you were smart, or just cool, you probably hated them. Led Zeppelin lifted popular music to new heights of opulence and ambition and in doing so made people fear for its future. They were a microcosm of age-old anxieties about music and commerce and youth and race and sex: if the music of the ’60s—Motown, the Beatles, Stax and Muscle Shoals, Woodstock—brought unprecedented consensus, Led Zeppelin brought something like the opposite. Forty-five years later, we live in their aftershocks…For a band so fundamentally associated with the 1970s, it’s startling to remember that Led Zeppelin came out seven months before Woodstock, eight months before Abbey Road, 11 months before Altamont.
He’s actually quite critical of Zeppelin, thought he loved their fourth album (as should everyone). It’s been said that every hard rock or metal band after about 1973 can trace its roots to either Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, and that is mostly true. I would add Deep Purple in there as well, alongside Zeppelin. And I would argue that Zeppelin is not just the most influential rock band of all time but also the best — and that Kashmir is the single greatest song of the rock era. All that is highly arguable, of course, and almost entirely subjective. Tastes differ. But that’s how I hear it.