Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: The Grandmother of All Drop Parties

Before moving forward, the title of this post – “The Grandmother of All Drop Parties!” – demands an explanation-slash-definition.  

Naked woman (center) frolicking in a casket beneath the stage at Led Zeppelin’s famed drop party in the Chislehurst Caves in southeast London, October 31, 1974
Naked woman (center) frolicking in a casket beneath the stage at Led Zeppelin’s famed drop party in the Chislehurst Caves in southeast London, October 31, 1974

A “grandmother” is the mother of a parent, though in this usage, thank you, it is meant to indicate the ultimate example of what follows, as in “the grandmother of all drop parties.”

I know you knew that.  On to the important definition.

A “drop party” or “release party” or “launch party” is a festive event sponsored by someone or some corporate entity to celebrate the release of a new product or service. 

In these here parts – meaning the San Francisco Bay Area – the most familiar sort of drop parties are those usually lavish affairs thrown by tech companies to launch new hardware or software (as opposed to underwear, overwear, everywhere, nowhere, or whatever-ware).  Certainly, the pandemic put a major crimp on such parties, but I have little doubt they will be back, and that’s because they check off so many important boxes.  They allow a company to celebrate itself and to entertain its employees and clients while also drawing in potential customers at the same time. They increase brand visibility and status, and presumably serve as venues for networking.  

They can also cost a freaking fortune as companies continue to up the ante in order to one-up the competition. Yes: of course such parties will be held in desirable, exclusive, high-end venues.  Of course they will offer copious amounts of the best quality food and drink, often prepared by celebrity chefs and bartenders.  And of course there will be entertainment, typically provided by everyone from famous musicians to circus performers, and perhaps even a few “celebrity guests” circulating around as well, celebrity guests that will press the flesh, take selfies with, and provide autographs for the attendees.  And let’s not forget the freebies and gift bags, containing everything from branded clothing to expensive foodstuffs to jewelry, electronics, and so forth.  

Writes tech industry observer Mary McMahon:

“In the late 1990s, the launch party took off, with some cities such as San Francisco hosting upwards of 20 such parties a week in spaces ranging from exclusive venues to rented convention centers. As more companies started to have these events, the pressure to have a catchy gimmick or draw increased, with most companies consulting with party planning firms for their expensive soirees. Many firms also hoped to use the launch party for new employee recruitment, projecting a forceful, trendy image of the company to prospective new employees.”

Question: are such launch parties, in fact, outdated rituals, resource-wasting exercises in corporate hubris?  Many folks today would say yes.  But there are a lot of event planners and caterers out there desperate to get back into business, so I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

The Musical Launch or Drop Party

Led Zeppelin, clockwise from left: John Bonham (1948-1980), John Paul Jones (born 1946), Robert Plant (born 1948), and Jimmy Page (born 1944)
Led Zeppelin, clockwise from left: John Bonham (1948-1980), John Paul Jones (born 1946), Robert Plant (born 1948), and Jimmy Page (born 1944)

For our information, it wasn’t the high-tech industry that created the lavish, over-the-top launch party.  Long before the phrase “high-tech” ever entered our vocabulary, there was the musical drop party.

A musical “drop party” or “release party” or “launch party” is a gathering held to celebrate the release of a new song or album (or even the creation of a new record label!).  

We’re not talking about the smallish, ultra-civilized, wine-and-cheese soirees that pass for the parties surrounding the release of a concert recording.  No, no: we’re talking about pop and rock ‘n’ roll drop parties, which are (or at least were) a different animal entirely.  

Which brings us, finally, to the grandmother of all drop parties, what is generally considered the craziest drop party of all, one that took place 48 years ago today.

Swan Song Records

On October 31, 1974 – 48 years ago today – the band Led Zeppelin threw a drop party to celebrate both their new, in-house record label called “Swan Song Records” as well as the label’s first United Kingdom release, an album called Silk Torpedo by the band “Pretty Things.” 

Swan Song” logo
Swan Song” logo

It was the drop party by which all subsequent musical drop parties have been measured and found wanting.  

Led Zeppelin had initially launched their new label – named after an unfinished and unreleased instrumental number called Swan Song – in May of 1974.  In an interview conducted in 1977, Jimmy Page (born 1944), guitarist and founder of the band, explained why the members and management of Led Zeppelin had created their own record label:

“We’d been thinking about it for a while, and we knew if we formed a label there wouldn’t be the kind of fuss and bother we’d been going through over album covers and things like that.  Having gone through, ourselves, interference on the artistic side by record companies, we wanted to form a label where the artists would be able to fulfill themselves without all of that hassle.”

In introducing/launching Swan Song Records, Led Zeppelin initially hosted two drop parties in Los Angeles, the second of which was held at the five-star luxury “Hotel Bel-Air” on May 10, 1974.  This party featured a bevy of then A-list celebrity guests, including Groucho Marx, David Geffen, Lloyd Bridges, Dr. John, Michelle Phillips, and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees.

(Wow: to think that there was a time when Mickey Dolenz was considered to be “A-list” material!)

However, these parties in The City of Angels were but a prelude, a warm-up act for the main event, the Swan Song Records drop party to be held back home in Britain, which was scheduled for October 31, 1974.…

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