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Squeezing the Lemon: Led Zeppelin & the 10 Most Shocking Rock and Roll Reunions

Zeppelin, pre-united
Zeppelin, pre-united

Five years ago this week, Led Zeppelin fans young and old squeezed their pants full of lemon juice when the band's three surviving golden gods -- Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones - announced that they'd be reuniting for a one-off concert in London. John Bonham's son Jason would man the skins.

The show was part of a tribute to the late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, a renowned champion of global superstars from Ray Charles to the Rolling Stones. All of the proceeds would go to scholarships in his name. For all Zepheads cared, however, the concert could have been held in tribute to desiccated dog dicks.

For the first time since Bonzo's death in 1980, tickets with the words "Led Zeppelin" on them would be printed up and sold to the public. This was big.

By all accounts, the reunion show was a success. Not only did the white wizards in Zeppelin manage to do themselves justice onstage, but the performance made the Guinness Book of World Records for sparking the "Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert." Why was demand so high? Because by 2007, very few fans still held out hope of ever seeing Led Zeppelin together again.

In a day and age when everybody from the Backstreet Boys to the Fat Boys eventually get back together for the money, the only musical reunions that raise eyebrows anymore are the groups that no one suspected could be reassembled without threat of violence. Led Zep may have reunited for a cause, but more often it's the promise of riches that wields the power to patch over even the most festering of old wounds.

And frankly, that's just fine with us. Without further ado, Rocks Off brings you the ten most shocking rock and roll reunions in history (thus far!):

 

10. Black Sabbath

When Black Sabbath fired singer Ozzy Osbourne for general drunken uselessness in 1979, both parties appeared to bitterly turn a corner with little intention of ever looking back. Sabbath continued on with Ronnie James Dio on the mike, releasing a couple of classic albums in the process, and Ozzy managed to actually eclipse his old band in stardom as a solo act thanks to a major assist from guitarist Randy Rhoads. Aside from a brief reunion at Live Aid in 1985, Sabbath's original lineup kept in touch only through the courts.

Then, in 1997, everybody just... got over it. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler joined Osbourne for a string of Ozzfest dates before all three reunited with drummer Bill Ward to record two shows in their hometown of Birmingham for the live album Reunion. There's no doubt that some big money greased the wheels, but what was stunning is that the hard feelings between the bandmates seemed to melt away effortlessly. Suddenly, they were laughing and joking together just like the old days. The original lineup has performed together intermittently ever since.

9. Refused

"Refused Are Fucking Dead." That was the altogether clear title of the highly influential Swedish hardcore band's online breakup manifesto after calling it quits in 1998. For 14 years, no one ever doubted that they meant it, either, despite the band's legend growing far beyond any success or popularity that they achieved while together. Refused played heavy, angry punk because it was fun, and stopped when it wasn't anymore. The integrity of that decision became part of the band's appeal.

Then, earlier this year, Refused shocked fans by announcing a reunion gig at Coachella, with more to follow. It was totally unexpected, happy news for multitudes of hardcore fans who never had a chance to see their idols during the first go-round. After turning down offers for more than a decade, the time just felt right, the band (sort of) explained. They'll hit Texas hard come November at Fun Fun Fun Fest.

8. Eagles

Few bands in history have harbored as much open animosity toward one another as much as California easy-rockers the Eagles. After releasing a metric shit-ton of hit songs in the '70s, constant (possibly drug-fueled) tensions finally boiled over at a show in Long Beach in 1980 that featured members Glenn Frey and Don Felder threatening to assault one another throughout the set. The "Peaceful Easy Feeling" was long gone.

The fact that the Eagles' principals achieving varying degrees of success post-breakup made a reunion seem all the more unlikely. Drummer Don Henley said on repeated occasions that the Eagles would reunite "when hell freezes over." Well, money talks a hell of a lot louder than Henley, and Hell Freezes Over became the title of the band's 1994 comeback live album. The group would go on to shatter records for astronomical ticket prices on its lengthy reunion tour.

 

7. Van Halen

If there's one band that can match the Eagles for open contempt between members, it's the original lineup of Van Halen. After ascending to rock-god status behind a string of huge hits in the '70s and early '80s, it was clear that singer David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen could no longer work together. Roth blamed Eddie's drug abuse; Eddie blamed Roth's grating flamboyance. They parted ways, and Van Halen continued its success with Sammy Hagar until he grew sick of Eddie, too.

After a 1996 reunion attempt with Roth fizzled, it looked like any chance of a new album or tour featuring the original band was finished for good. It would be another decade before the two camps came together once more, but after all the lead-singer drama in the band's history, it didn't feel as exciting as it should have. Bassist Michael Anthony's non-involvement didn't help. Still, Van Halen's new album and tour with Roth earlier this year were received about as well as could possibly be expected, considering the dysfunction.

6. The Pixies

Things typically aren't great within a band when the singer throws a guitar at the bassist during a show. That famous incident during the Pixies' tour of Germany in 1989 wasn't the first blowup between Black Francis and Kim Deal, and it certainly wasn't the last. After a miserable trek supporting U2 on their ZOO TV tour in 1992, the band dissolved in acrimony, apparently never again to reform.

Time heals all wounds, however, and the Pixies were back 11 years later, presumably older, wiser and readier to make some money. Anticipation was high, as the band's influence had grown significantly in their absence. When the group's first reunion tour was announced in 2004, tickets for nearly every show sold out within minutes.

5. Cream

Practically no other band in hard rock history has been as influential as Cream, the ultimate power trio that united the "cream" of the U.K.'s burgeoning late-'60s blues scene. Their four albums released between 1966 and '69 more or less invented hard rock, but interpersonal issues between the band members were present from the very beginning. Drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce simply never got along, and all three members' show-off tendencies kept professional tensions high.

After going their separate ways in 1969, Baker, Bruce and Eric Clapton each moved on with purpose. Outside of a brief set commemorating their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there was no indication that the band would ever play together in concert again. Until, that is, they reformed for a series of shows in London and New York in 2005, nearly 40 years after their first jam sessions.

Advancing age, competing interests and continued squabbling between Bruce and Baker scuttled any possibility of touring, but it was an exhilarating, mind-boggling blast from the past regardless.

 

4. Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols famously burned out quick - possibly by design. After a memorable but tumultuous U.S. tour in 1978, the Pistols and their equally notorious manager Malcolm McLaren collapsed into a squall of drug addiction, lawsuits and bitterness. "No Future" became the epitaph of the short-lived but massively influential group.

Not surprisingly, a river of cynicism flowed strong and free when the Pistols' original lineup reunited in 1996 for the six-month Filthy Lucre Tour. By now, the band bore a sad, striking resemblance to the dinosaur-rockers they'd been assembled to depose 20 years earlier, but the tour did manage to give younger fans a faint taste of the group that shocked the world with its attitude and antics.

3. Pink Floyd

One of the most popular (and lucrative) rock bands in the world, Pink Floyd had turned down any number of offers over the years to reunite with bassist and songwriter Roger Waters following their split in 1985. The extreme interest in the reconciliation from fans was in no way matched by any of the classic-era bandmembers: After long years of enduring control-freak Waters' dictatorial ways, including a legal struggle over the band's name and legacy, David Gilmour and company exhibited no desire to forgive and forget.

Then, the unthinkable happened when Waters joined his ex-bandmates onstage at the 2005 Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park. The 23-minute set was the Dark Side lineup's first performance together in 24 years. Just as remarkably, it wasn't half bad. Rumors of a tour inevitably followed, which were summarily laughed off by both sides.

2. The Police

Fame, money and the egos those elements spawned were widely credited for the breakup of the Police, a major touchstone band for music fans who came of age in the '80s. When the group's monumental Synchronicity Tour ended in 1984, the Police found themselves unable and uninterested in recording a worthy follow-up to their classic album. They parted ways, and singer Sting found greater fame as a solo artist/actor/tantric sex icon. Constant pleas for a reunion were rebuffed for more than two decades.

That's why longtime fans were ecstatic when it was announced that the Police would reunite for a tour in 2007. They were so excited, in fact, that they helped make the tour one of the most profitable in history, grossing $340 million. Despite some grumblings that the songs' arrangements sounded closer to Sting's solo performances than the band's classic period, the reunion served as a proper memorial to the Police's 30-year legacy.

 

1. The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson

There were plenty of reasons why no one particularly expected to see or hear Brian Wilson perform with the Beach Boys again. In addition to Brian's well-publicized battles with mental illness, there were also the deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson in the '90s as well as decades of legal wrangling over royalties, credit and the Beach Boys' name to help drive both parties apart. Not to mention the fact that Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine were each creeping into their 70s.

Somehow - almost impossibly, it seems - all of that was pushed aside for a mammoth reunion tour celebrating the iconic band's 50th anniversary this year. It's Wilson's first trek with band since 1965. As if that weren't enough, the reunited band even recorded its 29th studio album, That's Why God Made the Radio. Released in June, it's the group's highest-charting record in nearly four decades. The tour has already stopped in The Woodlands in June, and rumors of another area date (Nutty Jerry's?) on an additional leg have circulated.


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