Music History: XYZ, The Super-Group That Could Have Been

In the early eighties, two rock behemoths were undergoing major lineup changes and breakups, yet their members were all looking to go in new directions with their music careers. For a short time, their paths crossed; let me tell you, it could have been amazing.

As of December of 1980, British blues rock legends Led Zeppelin decided to break up after the tragic and sudden passing of their drummer, John Bonham. Bonham died after consuming the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka and passing out, which led to him vomiting in his sleep and blocking his airway — a case called pulmonary aspiration. The remaining members of Zeppelin — guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, and bassist John Paul Jones — made an official announcement that they simply couldn’t continue without Bonham, and had decided to break up the group.

Meanwhile, the future of British progressive rock band Yes was hanging on a thread due to the departure of lead vocalist Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. The remaining members had just finished up their Drama tour when vocalist Trevor Horn opted out of the band to pursue a career in music production. Soon after, drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire left as well, and the remaining members decided they couldn’t continue due to the departures.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, Jimmy Page said that he “had great respect for the music of Yes, how precise it was,” and rumour has it that Chris Squire eventually met Page at a Christmas party in 1980. The two lived very close together, and decided to enlist Alan White and keyboardist Dave Lawson to form a new supergroup that got named XYZ (for ex- Yes and Zeppelin).

Jimmy Page initially tried to recruit Robert Plant, noting that XYZ should have a strong lead vocalist as well. Although Plant said he wasn’t at all interested, he did attend a single XYZ rehearsal. In the end, he ultimately decided against joining the group; the music was too progressive for him and he wanted more time to mourn the loss of John Bonham before starting a new chapter of his career. Chris Squire was assigned the job of lead vocalist instead, and XYZ proceeded to record four demo tracks.

The members of XYZ eventually decided against working together due to the lack of a powerful lead vocalist, as well as disagreements about whether the group would be managed by Zeppelin’s former manager or Yes’.

Alan White has said that some of XYZ’s material made it onto the Yes reunion album, 90125 (1983), and the tracks “Can You Imagine” and “Mind Drive” also made it onto two future Yes albums (2001’s Magnification and 2014’s Keys to Ascension 2, respectively).

The original tracks from XYZ demo sessions have also been released on YouTube, though not by the group members. Chris Squire said in a 2012 interview with Guitar World that “somehow [the tapes] got snuck out of the studio by some engineer or somebody.”

After the passing of Chris Squire in 2015, both Jimmy Page and Alan White have expressed their desires to have the XYZ tapes officially released to the public. We can only hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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