In 1973, the five-year contract agreement that Led Zeppelin had made with Atlantic Records expired, and instead of signing a new deal with Atlantic or another label, the band decided to start their own record label.
This label was called Swan Song Records, and it launched in May of 1974 featuring an artists rendition of the angel Icarus as its mascot.
You’ve certainly seen the Icarus symbol on Led Zeppelin t-shirts, posters, and the works, but it’s important to note that the logo was initially not for the band itself but rather just for the label.
In time, of course, the Icarus symbol became synonymous with the band itself, and today it can certainly be counted in the ranks of Led Zeppelin logos, right along with the four symbols (i.e Zoso) that initially appeared on the inner sleeve of Led Zeppelin IV.
The Led Zeppelin Icarus symbol was initially based upon a drawing done sometime around 1870 by the American painter William Rimmer, which the band saw and decided to adopt into their Swan Song Records logo.
Rimmer’s drawing is called Evening (The Fall of Day), naturally his most famous work due to the connection with Zeppelin, and it currently resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The original artwork is said to be a depiction of Apollo, the Olympian god of the sun and light, though others have considered it to be a depiction of Lucifer, or in Led Zeppelin’s case, Icarus.
Though much speculation exists on whether the logo actually represents Icarus, the official Led Zeppelin website sells merchandise with the symbol on it and refers to it as Icarus, so that’s what we’re going with here.
So, who is Icarus?
According to ancient Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, whom had crafted wings for his son out of feathers and wax in order to escape from Crete.
In the classic story of complacency and hubris, Daedalus warns Icarus to fly neither too close to the sun, for fear of the heat melting the waxen wings, nor too close to the sea, for fear of the moisture from the water dampening the feathers.
Icarus chooses to ignore his father’s instructions and flies too close to the sun, thus melting the wax on his wings causing him to fall into the sea and drown. This is where the classic saying “don’t fly too close to the sun” originates from.
Perhaps Led Zeppelin enjoyed this message, considering how it could be tied to their fame and status as one of the biggest bands in the world, and used the symbol as a reminder both to themselves and the other artists on Swan Song Records to not let success get to their heads.
The Swan Song symbol never appeared on any of Led Zeppelin’s album covers, though the angelic figurine has come to be symbolic of the band over time.
Swan Song Records existed from 1974 until 1983, when the label was dissolved following the 1980 breakup of Led Zeppelin after the death of drummer John Bonham, and health problems affecting the band’s manager and Swan Song Records executive Peter Grant.
Today, Swan Song exists to produce reprints of albums that were initially signed to the label, though no new releases have been added since 1983.
Perhaps, like Icarus, Led Zeppelin did fly too close to the sun after all, but their legacy will surely continue to impact the music landscape until the end of time.