Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin Second Night At The Forum (LA Forum, June 1977)


The Forum, Los Angeles, CA – June 22nd, 1977

Disc 1 (79:18): Introduction, The Song Remains The Same, Sick Again, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, In My Time Of Dying, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter

Disc 2 (55:01): Ten Years Gone, The Battle Of Evermore, Going To California, Black Country Woman, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, Kashmir

Disc 3 (74:12): Moby Dick, Over The Hills And Far Away, guitar solo, Achillies Last Stand, Stairway To Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll

With Second Night At The Forum, Scorpio makes an astute judgement to press a relatively obscure Led Zeppelin show to silver disc. Because the sound quality of the tapes are not up to the same standards as most of the other LA shows, it is mostly found only in large and expensive boxsets priced out of reach of most collectors.

In 1994 it was included in the famous Tarantura box set A Week For Badgeholders (T19CD) and released independently on Over The Hills And Far Away (Tarantura T19CD, 4~6). The first disc of this release is actually the June 14th New York show. The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin released this show several years afterwards in the Power And Glory box set and independently as Time Traveler (TDOLZ Vol. 51), but they use tape from the previous night’s show to fill the hole in “Ten Years Gone.”

One Day After Eddie (Immigrant IM-054~56) use tape from the June 25th show for “Ten Years Gone” and is missing about five minutes of “No Quarter.” The latest release can be found on Thirty Years Gone(Empress Valley from EVSD-468/469/470) from Empress Valley’s disastrous For Badgeholders Only boxset. They mix the tape sources frome the end of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to several minutes into “No Quarter” and for “Ten Years Gone.”

EV also significantly amplified the tape making it difficult to really enjoy and since it was only available in an expensive boxset with inferior versions of common shows is one of the more cynical marketing schemes in recent Led Zeppelin bootlegs. Scorpio on the other hand have produced a really nice edition of this show. The mastering isn’t as loud and although these aren’t the best sounding tape it is an enjoyable listen. The first tape source is used for the bulk of the show but the second is used for “No Quarter” and “Ten Years Gone” in seamless edits.

June 22nd is considered to be the sloppiest of the six Los Angeles shows. The opening song “The Song Remains The Same” is a bit rough and both “Achilles Last Stand” and “Stairway To Heaven” contains many mistakes. But otherwise it is a solid show and very fun show to listen to. Plant himself sets the tone early on by saying “well we don’t intend to mess about” and “For the concerts in the next few days, you’ll see that the state of mind of the four of us is very light hearted cause we really are, without any spiel, we’re just having a good time. It’s nice to be back on the road.” It is interesting to note that “Over The Hills And Far Away,” which was normally played early in the set, is played after “Moby Dick.”

Scorpio use a standard fatboy jewel case with many photos from the LA gigs on the artwork.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Second Night At The Forum | , | Leave a comment

Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who by Dave Marsh (1983)


Review Dave Marsh can be an arrogant, snotty, and belligerent writer. Which is fitting as The Who often shared the same faults. Marsh does everything he possibly can to don the cloak of The Who and write as though he was one of them.
I agree with other reviewers in criticising the book’s overall veracity. But that really is a small matter as “Before I Get Old” frequently is as entertaining as the group it documents.

Pete Townsend certainly is one of the few geniuses Rock music has produced. “Before I Get Old” certainly works extremely hard at presenting Townsend as Rock’s All Father, a mantel Townsend himself worked very hard to develop. As a result, Townsend often comes off a real pretentious jerk. But God, what great music he and his band mates produced out of their many disputes.

Marsh works hard at praising the contributions of Daltrey, Entwhistle and of course the incomparable Moon the Loon in producing some of the finest music Rock could ever hope to produce (boy, that was an arrogant statement- see the book rubs off. Marsh also never loses the fact that he is first and foremost a rabid fan. Maybe that is the book’s biggest weakness, maybe it is the book’s biggest strength. Marsh builds the case that The Who were the greatest Rock and Roll group of all time. An opinion I share (The Beatles are in a class all by them selves). He also makes the case that The Who really died with Keith Moon.

“Before I Get Old” is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it will do until we get the definitive work. As is, this is a blast to read.

Review Nobody would mistake the warring personalities of The Who with, say, the unified (pre-White Album) Beatles. But the group was one of the best British outfits of all time, and Dave Marsh’s book, although lengthier and more involved than other books on the band, still manages to miss the drama. Would that Philip Norman could turn his sights on this magnificent band!

Most of the trouble Marsh has with the subject is the emphasis on Pete Townshend’s natterings about pop music. Townshend was (and is, if he gets the chance) a voluble man when it comes to music. It’s certain that, if he didn’t possess an ounce of musical talent, he would’ve become a first-rate novelist or journalist.

But Marsh’s own extended forays into pop culture theory bog down the reader. Fans of The Who are not stupid types. They understand where the band came from, much as Beatle fans know about that band’s origins. But, history aside, it’s the telling of the tale that counts. Having read Marsh’s book several times over twenty years, I’ve come to like it less and less.

The author seems to take a subconsciously perverse delight in skewering the band’s foibles, whether it’s their reliance on staged ritual drama/violence for a few years longer than deemed acceptable (by Marsh), or Townshend’s complexes and frustrations in getting his grandiose ideas across to the other band members. These were part of the band’s core identity and they wrestled for years with the image of the angry upstart Mods and, later, bona-fide rock legends who pounded stage after stage until Moon’s untimely end.

Another writer would perhaps come across as sympathetic while still taking a critical view of the group’s history. By the book’s end (in 1982, when Kenney Jones filled in for Moon), the band are seen as nothing more than an exhausted assembly of sell-outs going through one more corporate-sponsored mega-tour. What would Marsh later make of U2, Springsteen, Oasis and a dozen reunited 60s bands? Such a disappointing book for the group that gave us The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia.

Review This book is not badly written, but it is not the story of The Who, as the title suggests. It is a book by a man fascinated by Pete Townshend, who writes a bit about the other band members only when he has to.

For example, we read early on that Roger Daltrey got married to his pregnant girlfriend. Almost a hundred pages later we read that he was divorced and paying child support. No mention of anything in between, nothing about whether he had a son or a daughter or even if the child is in his life. We’re told at one point that John Entwhistle is on his honeymoon, without anything leading up to it. In fact, we only hear this because we’re told that Pete had to get hold of him on board the yacht the newly-married couple were on. But in those pages there is no end to the detail about every aspect of Pete’s life.

Worst of all, important musical facts are left out. Half-way through the book, while talking about a 1968 U.S. tour, Marsh mentions that the Who were intimately involved with the creation of Marshall amplifiers during the early- to mid-sixties. I knew that, and I was looking for some details on it, but in all the pages he devoted to Townshend’s life in that period, he never once mentioned it.

I didn’t find a single factual error (that’s good), but there was nothing in here that I didn’t already know about the band (and I didn’t know all that much), making it kind of a pointless read. All the well-known facts are simply arranged here to pump up Pete’s image and make his band-mates look like hangers-on. I can see why Pete liked the book, but I can’t imagine why the others did.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Book Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who by Dave Marsh | , | Leave a comment

Oasis The Masterplan (1998)


The Masterplan? Part of Noels ‘master-plan’ was that Oasis would be perceived as a great singles act in addition to a generally great albums band. All the groups he admired ( The Jam, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Beatles ) had wonderful b-sides. Noel forgot one thing though.

Even though all the aforementioned acts DID have great b-sides, these b-sides were very rarely better than either the a-sides or songs picked to go onto the albums. Noel tossed away so many songs as b-sides to prove how great his Oasis band was. Too many good songs ended up as b-sides to the general detriment of the regular albums. Fortunately for us, they decided to release this b-sides compilation! ‘Acquiesce’ is a sheer thing of splendorous wonder. Menace, rocking guitars, a great lead from Liam and effective counterpoint vocals from Noel in the chorus. Brilliant.

‘Going Nowhere’ appeared on the b-side of ‘Stand By Me’ from ‘Be Here Now’. Its rather lovely…..far better than at least half of what appeared on that album. Its quiet, un-ambitious, full of melody, tender effective vocals….

All of the ballads here are top-notch, affecting songs. We have ‘Talk Tonight’ which is Noel plus guitar and a few handclaps. That’s all. It’s refreshing to hear Oasis this way. For me, they sound so much more effective when they aren’t trying to bludgeon you round the head! ‘Half The World Away’ will be familiar to fans of English TV show ‘The Royle Family’. Brush-stroked drums and again, a stripped back and sympathetic production. ‘Rockin Chair’ appeared on the b-side to ‘Roll With It’ – lovely lilting melodies, an astutely judged vocal performance from Liam.

An absolute highlight on this set of alternative Oasis. ‘Listen Up’, ‘Stay Young’ but especially the very raw ‘Fade Away’ work as the highlights of the rockier songs. ‘Fade Away’ in particular has an addictive melody and impassioned but not over the top vocal performance. Some of the other songs here are merely OK, but none fail to offer at least a little to the listener.

I could have done without ‘I Am The Walrus’ but there you go. With their love of The Beatles, it was inevitable really.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Oasis The Masterplan | | Leave a comment

Jimmy Page And Robert Plant interview: Only The Song Remains (1994)


They’ve certainly seen worse than this dark oak lined bar where Sydney Harbour glitters seductively just through the panelled doors. And they’ve certainly done this whole thing before, one of them with forgivable ill-humour.

But today they are jocular, blokey and their living-legend status is resting comfortably with them.

Robert Plant exchanges a firm handshake and throws a dismissive, “New Zealand, eh? Well, at least you’ve not apologising for it,” at which Jimmy Page roars with laughter and starts in about Canadians always apologising for being Canadians.

There is mutual hilarity, Robert leaves looking for a coffee, and Jimmy settles back with the air of nothing to prove – and not much to say, really.

By the time Plant returns, we’ve canvassed good places to stay in Marrakesh, illicit substances found therein and the five interviews already this morning (“and I haven’t had bloody lunch yet”). And this is day four. There’s talk of their performing on some television show tonight hosted by Andrew Denton whose previous programme closed with various people – Rolf Harris among them – doing versions of Stairway to Heaven.

Maybe you should do a Rolf song tonight, then?

“Too obvious,” pronounces an imperious Plant sweeping back into the room and challenging: “So, how’s New Zealand then? Still all getting pissed at that racetrack?”

At 47, Robert Plant is, despite some facial crumpling, an unimpressive figure: taller than expected, draped in a flowing hippie shirt, encased in crushed velvet pants, the unruly ringlets constantly pushed back over the ears and shoulders … He’s also a formidable interview subject.

While 50-year–old Page, all in faded black and languid beneath a worrying amount of seemingly windswept hair, offers anecdotes and mild laughter, Plant makes disconcertingly penetrating eye contact and is not a man to suffer fools at all – and he’s suffered a few at the previous day’s press conference.

Someone said “dinosaur,” to which he tartly rejoined, “Look, we are old blokes. But you journalists are neve short of the old cliché, are you?”

Plant might well feel miffed at the reception he is occasionally given. He is a witty, well read and sharply barbed conversationalist, who will – and often enough to make for awkwardness, does – answer a question with a monosyllabic “yes” or “no” to leave interviewers despairing. He’d done it to a few over these days in Sydney where he and Page have been promoting their new album No Quarter.

There’s something disconcerting about taking to Robert Plant – less so the pug-nosed, personable Jimmy Page – because here is the man who was the pivot of the sexual and pharmaceutical excess that was Led Zeppelin on tour in the 70s. The stories are legion and legendary, the girl in handcuffs, the customised jet (“Airforce One with satin sheets”), the notorious fish incident at the Edgewater Inn…

And the other stuff: Plant lost his son, drummer John Bonham died in Jimmy Page’s house, tour manager Richie Cole telling all the heroin ‘n’ harem stories in his Led Zepplin Uncensored, the occult, Stairway to Heaven …

Plant and Page carry that with them, and it’s difficult to get your head round, especially if you have only 20 minutes – and it’s ebbing away while Plant gets a coffee.

These guys not only invented a whole genre of music but also were ambassadors of the lifestyle. They made a million when a million meant something and when a truckload of cocaine was a very big truck indeed.

Understandably these aren’t matters either warms to and even when Plant broaches such subjects himself he’s quick to shut them down. He mentions dismissively being “crowned the kings of rock tedium.”

And the crown rests uneasily?

“It’s in the bin, it’s a paper crown anyway and comes from a glossy magazine with a bloke on the cover with his tongue sticking out,” he sniffs.

“Let it pass that at one time that bloke might have been him.

But settling back with a coffee on its way, he’s laughing about cricketer Geoffrey Boycott in the lobby (“still got that same bird with him with the tinsel skirt on”) and confusing Page with his reference to that racetrack in New Zealand.

“We didn’t play … oh, you and the Big Log thing” says Page, who seemingly gets considerable private humour out of Plant’s solo Big Log album/tour. “We played at Western Springs and Richie had that motorbike…”

He embarks on an enjoyable reminiscence, then is reminded of playing the Auckland Town Hall when he was in the Yardbirds, way back in the mid-60s.

“Yeah, with Roy Orbison and the Walker Brothers on the bill ,” he recalls with remarkable clarity, given the manipulation of body chemistry since then. He strikes you as a loose, likeable fellow.

But jocularity isn’t why anyone is in this room for scrupulously timed interviews. Page and Plant are back – not as half of Led Zeppelin but as musicians with a new album and that has placed them and the media on this collision course again. Both remind the press of the consistently poor critical reception Led Zepp got.

FourSeasonsHotelTokyoNov1994Plant is a man who takes himself seriously – and challenges all others to do the same. And he’s keen to talk up No Quarter, an album born of an MTV Unplugged invitation. It’s a musical cross-fertilisation which sees them revisiting some Zepp material, notably a swirling version of Kashmir with Egyptian musicians, a claustrophobically intense reworking of Gallows Pole and The Battle of Evermore with Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar. There’s dull stuff, too, but also new songs: the hypnotic Yallah and City Don’t Cry, extended chant pieces recorded in Marrakesh with musicians of the Gnawa, a religious fraternity whose members are descendants of slaves brought from across the Sahara by Arab traders.

But the story of No Quarter starts slightly further back, when Page was remastering the Zepp albums.

“There’s no doubt for me there was a certain amount of nostalgia when I was listening to that variety of material” says Page. “I couldn’t fail to think I’d want to work with Robert again, but he was really busy touring – and there was the whole time-span of 14 years apart.

“But MTV gave us something that was concrete other than just meeting in offices to discuss old Zeppelin business or getting together to do charity things. And if we were coming back together again, we didn’t want to step backwards but move forward in every respect with new material or pulling new colours into the old songs. And presenting the Celtic-Gaelic aspect in higher focus…and exactly the same with the Egyptians.”

No Quarter Addresses those often over-looked aspects of Led Zeppelin and Plant makes a dismissive comment about journalists who think “Whole Lotta Love and Black Dog sums up a career of 12 years.”

By deliberately not inviting former Zepp keyboard player John Paul Jones into the project (he, somewhat miffed, says it would have been nice to have been told rather than read about it in the paper), they have avoided all the “Led Zeppelin Reunion” headlines. This was an opportunity to address unfinished musical business, not Zepp business, and when Martin Meissonnier (a French producer) provided them with some percussion loops, “it gave us the opportunity to get in a room and see what we could do after all that time,” says Page. “And the momentum of the writing process was so fast we worked with Michael [Lee, drums] and Charlie [Jones, bass] who had been Robert’s rhythm section.”

Later they relocated to Marrakesh for four days to record with the Gnawa, back to the city that Plant clearly loves. He accords considerable respect to the musicians of the region and is acutely aware of the history of western musicians – , Ornette Coleman and others – going to the area to record or rip off. Bill Laswell, who has recorded both the Gnawa and Master Musicians of Jajouka for his Axiom label, is “doing basically the equivalent of what Alan Lomax did in the Mississippi Delta in the 50s – field recordings of the very highest quality,” Plant says.

“The trouble is, a lot of other people are going out to Morocco now and are fusing – if that’s the right word – with the different musical traits there, but in a very obvious and flaccid way. So you get this sort of jazzy fusion mix with Gnawa or Berber music, but neither idiom gains from it.

“We’d never met the Gnawa when we went there but they were very patient and smiling is a great currency. There was a lot of that going on. Establishing some kind of spiritual relationship comes when you are making the music to some degree. But these people are spiritual tradesmen, so they know how far to go to get the results they need – and what they were doing with us was having a morning jam. And that about as far as it went.

“But it still makes a lot of other stuff I do feel useless. I waste a lot of time diddling about in rock star mode – which is pretty innocuous, really, and a very fine line between parody and invention – or in some great illumination of art and skill. Somewhere between that and Cliff Richard is a huge chasm.”

The spiritual aspect of the Gnawa – a people whose musical ceremonies are most often held to placate spirits and for healing purposes – is something both feel attracted to. Plant dismisses ‘negative music or negative attitudes” with a sniff of derision and maturely observes there’s a lot of negative music out there today, “but you can trade anger for solutions, rather than compounding the fury.”

With No Quarter the idea was to reopen doors. Page notes that 20 years ago they recorded Four Sticks and Friends (both reconsidered on No Quarter) with Indian musicians in Bombay, and Plant indicates that after sessions with the Meissonnier tapes they could hear possibilities opening up.

“We did a lot of work developing the music before going to Morocco and it was so strong and powerful it almost begged the question whether we needed to do any of the MTV stuff and whether it might be nice to just make a new record and be counted along with everybody else in a totally contemporary form without using the past and reiterating it. But, of course, the lure was working with the Egyptians and making Kashmir, Four Sticks and Friends the way we’d always dreamed of.

“We didn’t envision Kashmir this way originally, but as time goes by, you know, you can elaborate things and make them into something which is probably more fitting for the mood of the song.”

As you get older?

“As you get old,” he laughs. ”And also the fact that there’s now the whole linking of North African music with – well, between everywhere and everywhere. Youssou N’Dour [from Senegal] is in the charts with Seven Seconds now. It’s great all this meld is taking place … but I can’t see Aerosmith working with a gamelan orchestra!

“So there are certain marriages made in hell. But if you’ve written songs that can have a new incarnation, then it’s worth exploring. We were very lucky because we travelled when we were young and used our concert tours over this way to go through Thailand and India. We were inspired by the big, beautiful world and, as Jimmy says, recorded in India in ’72. Then you go from that to … last year I played in Chicago, before Jimmy and I got together, with James Cotton, a great harp player. He played so fantastically – so there’s another reference across and sideways. All that blues thing alongside the Celtic stuff and the North African musics.

“James wasn’t all that well and there certainly wasn’t much Johnnie Walker left within a mile of the gig but his playing was fantastic. But because he wasn’t Robert Cray, the polite burghers of Chicago weren’t’ sure whether they should be standing up, sitting down or getting popcorn.

“It’s all labels – that’s the problem we’ve got,” he says in exasperation … and without a pause for breath adds, “Well, it’s been nice meeting you.”

The interview – polite but perfunctory – is terminated firmly, unequivocally, and professionally. No chance to compliment Robert on his contribution to the Arthur Alexander tribute album or even blurt, “So Jimmy, just how did you write Stairway?”

On departure the conversation turns back to Marrakesh, Plant offering the name of a cheap hotel ($60 a day) and Page, smiling but unstirring from his leather chair, says impishly, “You’ll like it there.” There are some nice-to-have-met-you lines but by the time you reach the door they are already asking the record company guy if they’ve got any more of these.

It’s a long day … but they’ve known longer.

Plant and Page live with impossible, and somewhat tedious, expectations so you have to respect their professionalism and patience. Playing with Gnawa musicians or an orchestra of Egyptian musician might not be as innovative as they wish to claim, but somehow their peers who don’t explore the parameters seem less interesting. No Quarter doesn’t always work, but at least it tries.

Rock culture, however, doesn’t applaud effort, only results. Sales mean more than sentiment, so it must have given them great satisfaction to see that – once again despite typically indifferent reviews – No Quarter debuted on the American charts at number four and in Britain at seven. And it didn’t even have a new Stairway on it.

But that crown’s in the bin, of course.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Jimmy Page And Robert Plant Interview 1994 | , | Leave a comment

Darker Than The Deepest Sea: The Search For Nick Drake by Trevor Dann (2007)


Review This second biography of the musician Nick Drake (1948-1974) uncovers new turf by conducting the first interview with Sophia Ryde (to whom, it is revealed, Drake wrote a letter left by his bedside when he died) and drawing upon a 2004 Belgian radio interview with Drake’s sister and friends. Trevor Dann went up to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, four years after Drake and thus has the advantage of being able to draw upon his near-contemporary recollections.

Dann’s narration of Drake’s childhood and early adult experiences is evenly paced and open-minded. With both of Drake’s parents having died, Dann speculates openly on the atmosphere at home in Tanworth-in-Arden, concluding that “childhood in a posh family in a quiet, isolated village could indeed be a torment”. Nick is painted as an aloof, somewhat supercilious figure, “the apple of his mother’s eye”, who was tall, articulate, academically unmotivated and, as he got older, near-schizophrenic as a result of excessive cannabis consumption. Stories of sex are conspicuous by their absence: Nick seemed to “float above the carnal world of student sex”, Dann states. Both Linda Thompson and Robin Frederick deny that their relationships with him were consummated. Rumours that Drake’s bulging jeans on the front cover of his first album betray an erection brought on by the male photographer are humorously handled by Dann, who states that this might rather be “…well, bollocks”.

His handling of Drake’s three albums – Five Leaves Left (1970), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972) – is hampered by scant analysis of his lyrics, and is rather too influenced by Joe Boyd’s and Robert Kirby’s recollections. He does suggest that the proliferation of the word “ride” in later songs (e.g. Free Ride, Rider on the wheel) was a play on Sophia Ryde’s name and that the “ban on feeling free” in River Man and “Do you curse where you come from?” in Hazey Jane I indicate a stifling and depression-inducing family atmosphere. Dann comments that Nick’s sister Gabrielle did not seem to know him well and that all those who met him seemed to have the impression of a spectral, but nevertheless unmistakable presence. Luckily, Dann doesn’t make the mistake of assuming he has access to Drake’s ‘inner truth’, himself admitting that Nick seems “always elusive, never predictable; capable of warmth and affection, but never quite reliable enough to form a staunch friendship or be a dependable workmate”. The person who understood Drake best would appear to be John Martyn, who wrote the track ‘Solid Air’ about him.

In spite of the bubbling adoration to be found within the Drake cult, Trevor Dann is not afraid of quoting unflattering opinions (one recalls his job was to “get [Nick] out of his stinky bed in his grotty flat in Notting Hill…He was a complete pain in the arse”). Nevertheless, there are two key flaws to this well-written and otherwise delightful biography: Why does Dann not discuss what exactly was in the letter found by Nick’s bed? Even if Ryde refused to show it to him (presuming she still has it in her possession), it seems remarkable that Dann doesn’t flesh out his scoop more. Secondly, he closes his book with speculations that Drake’s depression and overdose of antidepressants at 26 point to child abuse, claiming that eight of Nick’s songs “fit the child abuse template”. Having meticulously presented his account of Drake’s life up to now, it does seem a shame that Dann chooses to leave the reader at the close in a wilderness of unsubstantiated speculation.

Review Dann’s book is a fine book in that it provides additional information to what is already known and is not simply a rehash of everything else already said – with the detail of Sophia Ryde’s letter thrown in. Dann tells us that ‘Sophia’ rhymes with ‘higher’ and it is this type of helpful ‘anorak’-style information that gives the book its page-turning hook. Dann lists every address that Nick ever lived at – complete with house number – in Burma, Tanworth-in-Arden and London; there is even a potted history of his father’s career in Burma and a brief summary of the career of Rodney’s father.

There are reproductions of old school and Cambridge college reports – complete with lists of exams passed and at what grade – interviews with his masters and room mates and reproductions of furious exchanges of letters – when Nick dropped out – between father Rodney and Fitzwilliam. There are new interviews with Linda Thompson, Chris Blackwell, Jeremy Mason, Richard Charkin, et al. There is no direct interview with Sophia apart from a mention of the track, Free Ride, and her reaction to it + plus a reference to the alleged ‘suicide note’ addressed to her. The extra details are commendable and the writing original. Not an easy achievement on a topic that has been worked to death with little scope for new material.

On the reservations side, there are unsubtantiated claims that Nick was a rather heavy heroin user, suffered from schizophrenia and also, various ‘digs’ at his character. The source of the heroin user claim is not revealed, so presumably, it could come from either of three sources: John Cale, keyboardist, ex-Velvet Underground who provided the backing music to ‘Northern Sky’, obliquely refers to it, the late Scott Appel – who gets a mention in the book – but as far as can be seen, Scott in his attempt to ‘reveal the truth’ is possibly blurring Nick with himself, e.g., the ‘speedballs’ and ‘demerol’, etc., these sound very ‘American’ in description.

If the source is his actress sister, Gabrielle Drake, and this is possible, because the letter she read out in the film ‘A Skin Too Few’ is reproduced here, there is clearly approval by Nick Drake’s Estate for at least some of the content Dann’s. Many details possibly could only have come from Gabrielle, in which case, the claims are probably more substantial than if they were merely speculation based on hearsay. Dann’s view that Nick Drake had schizophrenia caused by too much cannabis use is, he says, based on recent research, however even more recent research suggests that there is actually no link between cannabis use and mental illness, after all.

The latter part of the book has a brief track by track analysis of Nick’s work.

All in all, the book is in easy to read print, which makes it a rather short book, but is better than expected, over all. It has lilac end papers and a cover which is a photgraph taken by the late Keith Morris. It supplements Patrick Humprhies in-depth biography well, although the title ‘in search of’, with rock writer Peter Guralnick’s leit motif of a ‘quest’ to ‘find’ a mysterious long-gone figure, probably sits better with Humphries’ book. A good analogy would be that Dann’s book is the equivalent of the sensationalist Life & Death of Sylvia Plath by Ronald Hayman to Jacqueline Rose’s learned The Haunting of Sylvia Plath in that you get a better sense of Nick Drake’s true character from the cautious Humphries’ biography, but the ‘squalid facts’ from Dann with no punches pulled nor pussyfooting around the family’s possible sensibilties.

In addition, there are some new and interesting photographs included.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Book Darker Than The Deepest Sea: The Search For Nick Drake by Trevor Dann | , | Leave a comment

When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography Of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall (2010)


When Mick Wall’s “When Giants Walked the Earth” was published in a hardcover edition last year for the U.K. market, it contained some timely commentary about their highly successful one-night show staged at the end of 2007. The author notes that Plant, who had been interested enough in the making of a re-released The Song Remains the Same movie and soundtrack that year to actually sit in, thought the Led Zeppelin reunion show ought to be a proper farewell from the band. Wall says Plant had a bigger say in what songs would and would not be included; gone were songs that were “too heavy metal,” and he would do “Stairway to Heaven” but only buried in the middle of their two-hour set, not as a finale or an encore.

Of course, the others had learned by then to cater to his wishes; after all, the last time a Zeppelin reunion had been seriously considered with Plant going along with it had been back about 16 years earlier. He even cites a remark made in 1993 by Peter Grant to Dave Lewis: “You’ve got to realize Robert always wanted to be the boss of the band anyway. He finally got his own way.” This appears to be Wall’s thesis, that the band was, in essence, hijacked over the course of time by Robert Plant, stolen from the reins of founder Jimmy Page. To illustrate this concept, Wall starts by going to the very beginning of the story: Page as a child learning from the earliest rock ‘n’ roll in existence and wanting to be a part of it, and eventually wanting to do certain things with a band of his own. Wall, leaving no part of the story unturned, lists it all.

“When Giants Walked the Earth,” now available in paperback and hardcover editions in the United States, is quite perhaps the most detailed a book has been in attempting to uncover the mindsets of the men behind Led Zeppelin. The most unique part of this book is one very irregular style of writing that helps the reader understand the bigger pictures as presented. Wall writes long odes to the characters of the story, as if somebody were speaking to them at a certain period of time but with knowledge of the future. This style of writing is definitely jarring at first, but once accustomed, the reader can learn the larger context of the story.

Wall, who was editor-in-chief of Classic Rock magazine, has been somewhat criticized for questionable sourcing of information in the book, but to his credit he has logged many hours with the Zeppelin members over the years. Further, he notes there are some sources who “for reasons of privacy do not wish to be named.” Still, he says he has taken heat for the book; he wrote in August 2008: “I appear to have lost the 20-year friendship of Jimmy Page (how dare I try and write a better book than the bog-awful Hammer Of The Gods), Robert Plant (he’ll change his mind when he sees it) and related friends like – apparently.”

While some biographies of Led Zeppelin delve briefly into the topic of Jimmy Page’s alleged interest in the occult and the works of Aleister Crowley, Wall devotes 28 entire pages to unravelling that mystery. In a manner that probably no other author has attempted, Wall goes long into details about precisely what teachings of Crowley’s might have most appealed to Page. Here, Wall attempts to represent Crowley’s teachings in a manner that separates the original intentions from the way they have been conveyed popularly. It’s a lot of information, more than this particular reader enjoyed although other opinions and levels of interest may vary considerably. The author discusses the possibility of a curse alleged to have been placed on Page by filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Wall notes that the hardships Led Zeppelin experienced in the second half of the 1970s began around the time Anger was supposed to have made this curse.

One bias of Wall’s appears to be that the second half of Led Zeppelin’s existence contained nothing but bad experiences, in sharp contrast to the mostly good experiences of the first half. He does go too far in dismissing the efforts on the albums Presence and In Through the Out Door, and his opinions of the judgment that guided Led Zeppelin in the later years are not high either. Taking these biases into consideration, the biography still does much to demystify the personalities behind Led Zeppelin as the years progressed. This is one biography that should not be overlooked.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Book When Giants Walked The Earth The Biography Of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden 19th September 1970

led-zeppelin-live-madison-square-garden-9-19-1970-4cd-71493From Underground Uprising

“On Sept.19th, 1970, I attended one of many shows that came to the New York and Philadelphia area of the U.S. Although I have many detailed memories of all the shows ranging from Philly ’69 to Philly ’76, I am constantly reminded (based on other reviews and memories I’ve read about) about how unique the afternoon, 2 pm show at Madison Square Garden was on the aforementioned date.

After being hopelessly addicted to live Zep after a Philly show in early ’69, where they were still doing the very flashy premiere shows with the then mysterious Immigrant Song flowing right into the monstrous Dazed and Confused…..Jimmy doing his “sit down” numbers Black Mountain Side and White Summer…etc., my best friend and I (both just 15 ) learned of a new third album to be released very soon. in late summer of ’70, my older brother (who just returned home after a stay in Vietnam with the Army), told my friend and I that a local AM radio station – yes…AM…… had received a promo 45rmp pre release of the song Gallows Pole. My brother knew the director at the station and by that evening we had the record in our hands and on a record player. We all sat there listening very seriously and somewhat wondering about what we were hearing. We couldn’t help but wonder what was in store with the third LP, based on this promo record.

The next day, as we were driving to a local record shop, on the same AM station, came an almost overwhelming advertisement : “Led Zeppelin next week in New York at MSG – evening show sold out – but tickets remain for an added show at 2 pm that same day”. Needless to say we were on the phone with MSG and making sure that what we heard was for real…. a show way before the expected release date of LZ3! So, after borrowing a cassette tape recorder (sorry – the tapes are lost) from a poor soul who couldn’t go along with us, we took a bus to MSG , hoping to get tickets on the spot when we arrived. Well, tickets we got, and by some stroke of luck, they were 5th row center. We were ready. But not for what came.

About an hour before Showtime, as we sat there in total awe from the events, we saw a dark haired bearded man with a floppy hat (like a hiker or gardener would wear) walk up by the guitar amp area (Marshalls and Orange) . We looked at each other and said at once, “New…..that couldn’t be….. it must be his brother…. or….. new….” . It was. Jimmy had a beard and looked totally different than anything we expected. Jimmy talked with a stage hand about something for a few minutes from behind the amps, but I don’t think anyone else recognized him due to his new look. (At this point, before I review the concert and the unique aspects of it, I should mention that at this point in time, no one in the audience knew about the band members new look, the names of the songs from THREE which were about to be performed, not even the name of IMMIGRANT SONG which was used in previous concert openers from ’69 — due to the fact that there were no internet , and even magazine articles were way behind on new events and up to the moment happenings).

……………So, on with the show !!!!!! ………. At about 2:15 PM , a radio personality from a local NY station walked on stage with the houselights still on and said “From all of us at new FM – peace – and from England and he new survey just taken, the number one most popular group in the World replacing The Beatles …… Led Zeppelin !”The announcer walked off as the lights went down and on walked all four member of the band. As mentioned before, we had a preview of Jimmy with his beard, hat, and blue jeans. Robert we now saw was sporting his “sir guy de guy” swashbuckler moustache/goatee, dressed rather typically for him in tight blue jean bellbottoms and a stretchy knitted top that showed off his middle. John Paul and Bonham were both dressed rather conservative in a way that looked like they were just there to do a few practice numbers…regular men’s casual shirts, very uncommon-like and no glitz at all.

After a few thumps on the bass, a couple of drum whacks and a bit of guitar test notes , within about two minutes Immigrant Song (though we didn’t know it’s name – it wasn’t out yet) started out of no where in tight thunderous fashion. No counting down 1,2,3 or even clicking of drum sticks. And that’s not an easy tune for that to happen right on spot! Looking around , I noticed that there was something very different about this crowd compared to the first ’69 show I saw in Philadelphia……. everyone was seated and staring up at the stage with jaws dropped in awe at who and what was on stage. No jumping around. No screaming. No standing. Not even the smell of marijuana or alcohol in the air. Just a packed arena of early Zep fans that had been totally taken aback by the event that was to be the most unique of all periods in Zepdom. So, from this perspective of uniqueness, (which was made more evident by the passage of these last thirty some years), our new claimants to “fab-fourdom” proceeded to deliver the very best of live music shows.

Overall sound was , to my collective memory of many shows and venues, the most excellent of mix, volume level, and super home audios that I have ever experienced. It was powerful without being ear splitting. Wild without the typical mid-range mush so common even in our new millennium. The sound, the music, the Boys natural presence, the absence of goofy substance abusers acting like the apes from 2001 A Space Odyssey &trying to touch or get near the monolith on stage………..well, I guess you get the picture. It wasn’t the “band playing off the crowd” stuff we hear so much about but rather, Led Zeppelin delivering their goods to the consumers in audience land. This was a delivery. And in much the same way that people come to hear classical music performed at a musical academy – sitting in reverent respect of what is delivered, followed by enthusiastic applause from their hearts, so did this afternoon crowd of respectful LZ fans. Immigrant Song flowed into Heartbreaker (hey, we knew the name of this one!!!) and Jimmy gave his usual command performance of guitar improvisation. Funny, but he, as well as his three mates, looked quite sober and visceral for 2 in the afternoon…… considering their reputation for being party boys. Well, they sure weren’t burnt out looking on this day in New York.

With a pause after Heartbreaker, my friend decided to yell out requesting Dazed and Confused. With the lack of usual ambient crowd noise, his yell stood out like a sore thumb. But guess what song was next on their play list anyway? You got it. Plant looked our way and said : “Right>>>> this next one is from way>>>” , John Paul came in with the ominous baseline and my friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. But rather than continue reviewing the rest of the show (the set list can be found in the TABLE tour history pages) I’ll just give a few highlights……. When the folding chairs were put out on stage and acoustic guitars and mandolins appeared, I knew that this show had nothing to do with anything from the raucous early few years. At the time, I was somewhat shocked, but looking back from Jan.2002 , I now realize that these guys had a gift matched by no other pop music group from that time – or even since. Bonham played the bass notes on John Paul’s organ foot petals at the end of That’s The Way. Robert hit freaking’ high notes on the stuff from THREE that I never heard him do ever again in future shows.

Since I’ve Been Loving You gave new hope for the blues edge that was the basis for the band, and the show went on and on and on and on. No opening act. Sound quality to mesmerize. Performance without faking or cover-up. No goofy crowd to distract the worshiper. A set list that was exhaustive for both performer and audience alike repeat with new songs that were never heard before……. sometimes when your lucky enough to have witnessed a show as good as this, you almost have to wonder if you might have dreamed it. But not because of what you may have consumed prior to show or whatever….. but because it was good. It was good.

Finally, at the end when LZ reappeared for an encore, someone up front yelled out for “Hangman” !!!!! My friend and I yelled back at him and said quite proudly ” Hey man , the song’s name is Gallows Pole!!!!”We had the 45rpm solo. We knew.

Oh….sheeeeesh… I almost forgot one other really unique thing about this show……at the acoustic part of the show, Garden personnel allowed people with cameras from about the first ten rows to come up to the front and take pictures !!!!!!!!! Row by row for about fifteen minutes ………….That is definitely something never seen by this guy again.

Another of many LZ shows that I was at was the July ’73 show where they shot film for the TSRTS movie. But for all the reasons I just gave, I chose to offer my memory of this very unique period in time.Cheers to all who read. Double Cheers to those who may have also been there !!!!!!

Craig, Pennsylvania, USA”.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concert Memories: Madison Square Garden 19th September 1970 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Adelaide Revival (February 1972)


Memorial Drive, Adelaide, Australia – 19 February, 1972

Disc 1: Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way, Tangerine, Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Moby Dick, Whole Lotta Love

In early 1972 Led Zeppelin undertook their only Australian Tour. Between 16 and 29 February the band played six concerts in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Auckland, Sydney and Brisbane (as well as a show in Auckland, New Zealand). Recordings have appeared on CD for five of these shows, Perth being the exception. The Adelaide concert was staged at a tennis venue, Memorial Drive, on 19 February. Originally, Creedence Clearwater Revival was due to play on 17 and 18 February, but the band relinquished the latter date in favour of Zeppelin. However, the effects of heavy rain caused the show to be postponed until the next day. As reported in The Advertiser for 19 February, “a buckled stage and damp amplifying equipment forced last night the postponement of the UK rock group Led Zeppelin’s performance at Memorial Drive until tonight.”

The show has appeared on CD in several incarnations. An hour of the show constituted one disc of Shivers ‘N’ Shakes (Red Hot), the songs included being Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker, Black Dog, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, That’s The Way and Dazed And Confused. The first appearance of the complete tape was on Tarantura’s Voo Doo Drive in 1994 and this was followed by Oooh My Ears, Man! (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin) in 1997. Then in 2000 the Equinox label included the show in their boxed set of Australian concerts Thunder Down Under. All of these releases had their origin in a fourth generation tape.

A superior tape was utilized by the new Tarantura label for Voo Doo Drive Vers. 2004 and by Empress Valley for Deep Downunder; as gsparaco pointed out in his review of the latter release, “in 2002 a first generation copy surfaced on FBO. This had a much better and clearer sound than the older copies in circulation with much less hiss.” Godfather has now issued its version as Adelaide Revival. In addition to these CD releases, there has been a DVD (audio and picture montage) from Genuine Masters.

Obviously, the sound quality of these releases has been subject to some variation. There is more hiss on the older versions and the Red Hot release runs, according to Brian Ingham on the Underground Uprising website, “2% slow.” The BootLedZ website points out that the Tarantura version “runs a hair slow.” Gsparaco’s review expressed a preference for the Empress Valley release over the new Tarantura, stating, “Deep Downunder has excellent sound quality. EV didn’t try to eliminate the hiss which leaves the entire sonic range intact unlike the Tarantura who, in attempting to reduce hiss, also took off the upper frequencies.”

Overall, this tape, in whatever version, has consistently attracted praise its for quality of sound. A visit to the Underground Uprising website reveals a plethora of positive comments, including, ”a near excellent audience recording from very close to the stage” (Brian Ingham, TDOLZ and Equinox); “a bright, clear and balanced audience recording, obviously from close to the stage” (Tony Gassett, TDOLZ); “the best recorded of all the 1972 Australian & New Zealand Tour” (Jules McTrainspotter, Genuine Masters).

The performance has also garnered praise. Gsparaco’s review noted that this show (along with the other Antipodean concerts) was “outstanding with the band giving potent performances.” The Led Zeppelin Live website comments that it was, “das beste Konzert der Australien Tour.” Argenteum Astrum refers on his website, Led Zeppelin Database, to “this powerful and excellent show.” There was also praise from the press at the time. Richard Mitchell’s article “Led Zeppelin Is Shattering Rock Experience” (The Advertiser, 21 February, 1972), commented:

“The Led Zeppelin concert at Memorial Drive on Saturday was a shattering experience of some of the world’s heaviest, wildest rock. The controlled violence with which the UK group produced many of its sounds, hurled out of two giant banks of speakers at the 8,000-strong crowd, has never been seen here.”

This “controlled violence” is at its most evident at the beginning of the show, which opens with Immigrant Song. With Jimmy Page’s heavy guitar underpinned by the relentless ferocity of John Bonham’s drumming and overlaid by Robert Plant’s Valkyrie wailing, the song constitutes a stunningly visceral aural assault. It is no surprise that someone close to the taper (perhaps the taper himself) is heard to say, “oh, my ears, man!” thereby providing the title for the TDOLZ release. Page plays a fine solo in Immigrant Song, setting himself up for an excellent evening’s performance, and he also contributes prominently to the next number, Heartbreaker. His guitar solo here is the highlght of the song. Initially it is literally a solo, with page playing alone. This section includes a short section from the bouree (fifth movement) of J. S. Bach’s Suite in E minor for Lute, BVW 996, a piece many will be familiar with from its inclusion on Jethro Tull’s album Stand Up. He then goes off on a blistering run, accompanied by Jones and Bonham. The latter again plays drums in a thunderous fashion, typical of his performance during this show, which, to quote Mitchell, “at times sounded like a hammer striking steel.” Plant is then heard bemoaning the fact that the band was suffering from “an Australian bug, and we got the colds and flus and shivers and shakes.” (He later recalled that “my voice was a bit rough. We’d been travelling a lot and not sleeping and everything like that.”) Fortunately, Plant’s voice is largely untroubled by this and he only has problems with hitting notes at the top of his vocal range. Then we are treated to a crunching version of Black Dog to complete a trio of songs that Gasset calls, “very heavy, aggressively played.” As AA puts it. “the opening salvo is awesome.”

The band then slows things down with Since I’ve Been Loving You. It is an effective performance in a live context, though it rather lacks the subtlety and atmosphere of the original version from Led Zeppelin III, possibly simply by being played to a large audience in an open-air venue, partly perhaps because it has been influenced by the preceding musical mayhem. Plant then appeals for quiet from an audience which remained noisy and unruly throughout the show. Fortunately, at this point, they heed his words, for the next number is an excellent version of Stairway To Heaven, characterized by further fine playing from Page, both in the delicate opening section and in his solo. As AA points out, “Jimmy plays one of the best solos in Stairway To Heaven, and its only 1972!”

The band then comes to the front of the stage for the acoustic segment of the show, beginning with Going To California from the untitled fourth album and reverting to Led Zeppelin III for the ensuing trio of That’s The Way. Tangerine and Bryn-Yr-Aur Stomp (Godfather utilize the correct spelling for the latter title). Indeed, all the material on the first disc come from these then most recent releases, aside from Heatrbreaker from the second album. As Godfather’s sleeve notes put it, “the acoustic set is very warm,” and Plant sings beautifully and with appropriate restraint on the first three songs. Martin Armiger, a musician, composer and novelist interviewed by Keith Shadwick for his book, Led Zeppelin: The Story Of A Band And Their Music 1968-1980, remembers that the acoustic set “struck me as ultra-musical, Celtic-folky and deliberately anti-rock ‘n’ roll in stance.” Unfortunately, Tangerine is incomplete, cutting out after only a minute or so. Disc one then concludes with Plant’s withering put-down of a particularly annoying member of the audience.

Disc two takes us back to the band’s debut album for a performance of Dazed and Confused that is relatively brief at twenty minutes. This song, of course, showcases Page’s astonishing instrumental virtuosity. As Mitchell states, “his electric gutar work was extraordinary. At one stage, using a bow, he smashed out a string of piercing notes only to end with a run of delicate sitar-sounding music.” AA rates this version as “truly awesome.” This is followed by Moby Dick, which cuts out after three-and-a-half minutes. Presumably the taper was aware that his tape would soon be running out and did not want to fill the rest of it with an extensive drum solo. Disc two concludes with a wild and riotous Whole Lotta Love, which includes in the medley John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillun, recorded in 1948; the Gene Pitney-penned Ricky Nelson hit from 1961, Hello Mary Lou; Let’s Have A Party, sung by Elvis Presley in the film Loving You and also a hit for Wanda Jackson in 1960; That’s Alright Mama, the Arthur Crudup number from 1946 recorded by Presley eight years later; and Going Down Slow, the St. Louis Jimmy Oden song from 1941. Unfortunately the tape cuts out during this last number.

As to sound quality, the first two numbers see Page’s guitar and Bonham’s drums dominate the mix; Plant’s vocals are a little thin and detached and John Paul Jones’ bass is rather recessed. Plant’s vocal sound begins to improve during the first number, Immigrant Song, and by the time the band gets to Black Dog and Since I’ve Been Loving You, Jones’ bass sound is also fuller and clearer so that we have a full and well-balanced sound picture. There is virtually no tape hiss discernible, even when listening through headphones. Fortunately the noisy audience, whose behaviour Plant blamed partially on inadequate security (“a little guy of about 80 with a flash-lamp”) does not intrude badly on the recording. Overall, Butterking’s comment on the Genuine Masters version, from the Underground Uprising website, “this outstanding-for-its-time audience recording,” applies equally well to the Godfather version. One problem with this, as with all versions, is that the taper stopped his tape recorder between songs. This results in the loss of some, though obviously not all, of Plant’s between-song banter. There is also distortion to the sound due to tape speed-up each time that recording is resumed. As with the Equinox and Empress Valley versions, Godfather has removed this between songs but it does last a couple of seconds into many of the songs themselves. Godfather states that its release is not based directly on the FBO torrent or the other CD releases that resulted from it, rather that, “we have remastered an unworked original source,” though the BootLedZ website contends that all of the CD releases dating from after the FBO torrent, including this latest Godfather CD, ”are very similar in sound.”

Godfather’s release comes in the usual trifold packaging, featuring a psychadelic front cover reproducing artwork by John Barnett. Inside there are some onstage photos from the Sydney concert and the rear of the sleeve features a colour photograph of Plant, Page and Jones performing the acoustic set. The latter will be familiar to many collectors from the front cover of Empress Valley’s Swinging In San Bernadino (San Bernadino, CA – 22 June 1972) and a similar shot, clearly taken during the same performance, adorns the cover of their Auckland concert release, Live In New Zealand 1972. Godfather, however, stoutly maintains that is is definitely from Adelaide. There is no booklet, but there are sleeve notes by “Paul De Luxe.” Godfather have produced some fine Led Zeppelin titles recently, such as That’s Alright New York and The Dancing Avocado, and their latest release is recommended to anyone who has not yet acquired this show.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Adelaide Revival | , | Leave a comment

Trampled Under Foot: The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin by Barney Hoskyns (2012)

Led ZeppelinFrom The Guardian

Stairway to heaven and hell: the rise and fall of Led Zeppelin

The author of a new oral history of the band on how they became the biggest cult rock music has ever seen

“This social phenomenon – in no way was it ever in existence in the past and in no way will it ever exist again,” the American rock promoter Bill Graham told filmmaker Tony Palmer in 1975. “I don’t think we’ll ever see this again – the adulation, the massness.”

He was talking about the phenomenon of Led Zeppelin, then the biggest band in the world. Coming from a man who, two years later, would suffer a notorious run-in with Led Zeppelin in Oakland, California, these were prescient words. For rock music never has surpassed the “massness” Zeppelin then enjoyed, a story told in my new oral history of the group, Trampled Under Foot.

“The legions of disenfranchised young American warriors had no outlet whatsoever,” says the singer Michael Des Barres, whom Zeppelin signed to their Swan Song label. “Led Zeppelin came along and gave them a hard-on like they’d never had before. Their lives became three chords and a stadium parking lot. There was no TMZ, no internet. There was just this incantation, this wailing to the gods.”

At a time when rock consists of little more than footnotes to the Big Bang that began with Presley and burned out with Cobain, it’s hard to explain the scale of Led Zeppelin’s 70s success except by framing it in terms of a kind of cult worship. Their final British gigs – two shows at Knebworth in 1979 – were watched by an estimated 200,000 people. But it was in the US where the cult of Zeppelin was at its deepest.

“America fell in love with Led Zeppelin because most people hadn’t had the opportunity to see the Beatles,” says Denny Somach, producer of Get the Led Out, a long-running Zeppelin segment that is syndicated on classic-rock radio across the States. “Zeppelin became a religion.”

“They redefined the 60s in the image of all teenagers for whom hippiedom was a cultural given rather than a historical inevitability,” wrote Robert Christgau of the Village Voice. “All the kids forced by economic reality and personal limitation … to settle for representation of power because the real power their older siblings pretended to was so obviously a hallucination.”

The music had something to do with their success, of course. After suffering critical scorn for much of their existence and then being forgotten for most of the 80s, only now are Zeppelin being embraced by pop snobs as the eclectic and mercurial unit they were. Guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboard player John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were three of rock’s most united, thrilling players, and Robert Plant the most frighteningly exciting hard rock singer who ever shrieked into a microphone.

The critics didn’t know, but the young boys understood. “Zeppelin had this exotic otherworldly appeal,” says Brad Tolinski, author of a forthcoming collection of interviews with Page. “They took us out of our environment. But unlike prog rock, it had real balls to it.”

Led Zeppelin’s first six albums – from Led Zeppelin to Physical Graffiti – remain by some distance the greatest hard rock records ever made. They’re great soft rock records, too, for that matter, the unplugged Friends and Going to California easily the equal of sledge-hammering classics like Whole Lotta Love and Immigrant Song.

But the astounding music wasn’t the whole story: it never is. The psychic investment in Zeppelin as “your overlords” (to quote Immigrant Song) reflected rock’s evolution from the boys-next-door Beatles to the orgiastic longhair communion of festivals like Woodstock.

“Led Zeppelin were both dangerous and spiritual,” notes LA svengali-scenester Kim Fowley, a pal of the band’s in their heyday. “They get you with all that maudlin melancholy acoustic music from Wales, but then they have the Willie-Dixon-derived blues stuff going on at the same time. The mystery kept people coming to the live shows, and they got to read meanings into the lyrics that weren’t there.”

The mystery lies in the association of Zeppelin with the occult, and the appeal to adolescents of that hint of darkness cannot be underplayed. Millions were convinced they heard satanic messages recorded backwards on the epic Stairway to Heaven. Jimmy Page’s fascination with the writings of Aleister Crowley – he even bought Crowley’s old mansion – proved irresistible to kids searching for dark magic in their anonymous suburban lives. His beguiling ZoSo symbol, seen on the sleeve of the band’s huge-selling fourth album in 1971, became an iconic magnet for a generation.

“The children of ZoSo are Zep’s legacy,” wrote Donna Gaines, a sociologist and music writer. “Mostly white males, non-affluent American kids mixing up the old-school proletariat values of their parents, mass culture, pagan yearnings and 60s hedonism.”

Stoking the mystery was the group’s larger-than-life manager Peter Grant, who – knowing that word-of-mouth was the most potent marketing tool of all – consistently refused to release singles or allow the band to perform on television. “[Peter] defended the band as though they were his only children in life,” recalled the late Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records, the label that signed Zeppelin in 1968. “He was a sensational manager – he built an aura of mystique around that group that still exists.”

Barney-Hoskyns-Trampled-Under-FootOnly in 1973 did Zeppelin decide to emerge from behind their PR shield and allow fans a peek behind the scenes. Even then they chose not to ape the social aspirations of their great rivals the Rolling Stones. Where Mick Jagger wanted Princess Lee Radziwill in his dressing room, Zeppelin’s idea of glamour was the sixth floor of the Continental Hyatt (or “Riot”) House on LA’s Sunset Strip. Here they held court, mad dogs in the California sun attended by a retinue of drug dealers and underage groupies.

“I’d be on the road writing for the NME, and we’d check into the Hyatt and Zeppelin would be there,” recalls Mick Farren. “The whole place was full of the stinkiest fucking groupies. Keith Moon actually blew up hotel rooms, but with Zeppelin it just seemed to be running in semen and beer and unpleasantness.”

Los Angeles was where things began to unravel for Zeppelin and their heavy friends. The sheer depravity of their behaviour in the city – dangling people over balconies and chaining groupies to radiators – topped anything British bands had previously perpetrated in America. “Something about Zeppelin’s energy really altered the joie de vivre of the LA rock scene,” says super-groupie Pamela Des Barres. “They thought they could get away with anything – and they could.”

So where do you go from the top of the entertainment mountain? That’s right, downhill – creatively, physically and morally. After 1975’s Physical Graffiti, they were never the same creative force. Page sank into heroin addiction, Bonham into the chronic alcoholism that killed him – and thereby ended the group – in 1980.

The group’s last show on US soil followed the incident in Oakland. First a security guard, Jim Matzorkis, was attacked by John Bonham after a perceived slight against Grant’s son, then Grant – aided by John Bindon, a psychopathic actor and semi-gangster recruited to the entourage – followed up, more brutally. The incident was hushed up, and Zeppelin left the city after charges were brought against four people, including Bonham and Grant.

A day later, Robert Plant’s five-year-old son Karac died from a respiratory infection, a devastating loss that almost made the singer walk away from music forever.

As a narrative, Led Zeppelin’s is an old fable: be careful what you wish for, and never fly too close to the sun. Plant survived to tell his tale and to blossom as a solo explorer. Jones always took the mega-success with a pinch of salt anyway. Only Page seems stuck in his past, surviving on a steady diet of awards shows and Classic Rock magazine covers.

Could the surviving trio ever reunite for a swan-song tour, capitalising on the great show they staged at London’s O2 five years ago in memory of Ahmet Ertegun? Probably not.

“It would be so interesting to have a candid conversation with the three of them sitting there and know that they were over it all,” says Benji LeFevre, Plant’s vocal engineer from 1972 to 1985. “Clearly they aren’t.”

Still, it would take a fool to completely rule out a hugely lucrative reunion. “Robert wanted to prove his success on his own and he did,” says Lori Mattix, Page’s favoured groupie in the mid-70s. “Now that’s out of the way he might just go there, because he’d like that adoration one more time.”

“My guess is that sometime in the next five years, Robert will call Jimmy and John Paul and they’ll do a tour,” says Danny Goldberg, the former US president of Swan Song. “It’s still an extraordinary opportunity.”

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Book Trampled Under Foot The Power And Excess Of Led Zeppelin By Barney Hoskyns | , , | Leave a comment

Supertramp Breakfast In America (1979)


Is there really any doubt that this was Supertramp’s shimmering moment? Not only was this by far their greatest commercial success, but it also has their highest concentration of excellent songs.

“The Logical Song” I’m sure everyone recognizes from the classic rock radio–each station of which must play it at least a half dozen times per week. And if you’re anything like me, you really love hearing it when it pops up. Not only does it have a very catchy melody that was designed by Roger Hodgson to sound like a Beatles song, but it has lyrics that contain some enjoyable rhyming patterns. (“When I was young / It seemed that life was so wonderful / A miracle / Oh, it was beautiful, magical”).

Of course the song is beautifully produced, too. It contains use of their characteristic pulsating electric piano, and in this instance, it actually helps lend the song a crunchy texture as opposed to a simple flurry as it was in “Dreamer.” And everyone who ever discusses the song loves to bring up the saxophone solo, which they should bring up because it is utterly phenomenal.

This album, by the way, is usually called Supertramp’s pop album. It is said they were inspired to make this album, because they wanted to do something fun for a change. Which wasn’t a bad idea at all, because all albums ought to be fun… Shouldn’t they? The opening song “Gone Hollywood” is instantly notable for Hodgson giving an impeccable imitation of the Bee Gees’ feathery falsetto vocals. But don’t worry if you’re the type who hates disco: the song is rooted far more in progressive-rock than it is disco. If you doubt that statement, notice that it contains an extensive section that is heavy on the subdued atmosphere and noodly saxophone, which requires a grand-sized crescendo to return to the verses.

Another progressive-ish song is the album’s closing song “Child of Vision,” which is tight and polished, and I like those moments when Hodgson sings his long-drawn-out crooning “Chiiiiiiild of Viiiiiision, Wooooon’t Yooooooou Liiiiiiiisten?” It also has a very enjoyable, extended jazz piano solo in its final third. However, the main thing holding it back, for me, is that’s yet another instance of Supertramp totally abusing their signature, pulsating synthesizer sound. I mean, it just gets monotonous.

The title track is pretty great, though. It’s not really Beatles-esque, but I could definitely see it appearing on Band on the Run. Except I don’t think Paul McCartney would have brought in those not-so-subtle Middle-Eastern influences into the mix! …And, yes, you’re going to have to hear that bendy clarinet solo in there, which is positively golden. “Oh Darling” might share the name of a Beatles song, but it’s a totally different tune. Not as good, of course, but it’s nevertheless perfectly nice with a decent melody and some lovely acoustic guitar textures. (With that said, I’m less enamored with that keyboard pattern they play throughout the song that never changes.)

If Hodgson was in the habit of writing Beatles-esque tunes, then “Lord is It Mine” must have been his “Let it Be.” It’s the kind of piano ballad with a beautiful melody that sticks in your mind, and its melancholic lyrics that manage to manifest itself in my throat with a lump. Although the standalone lyrics aren’t exactly great poetry. (“I never cease to wonder at the cruelty of this land / but it seems a time of sadness is a time to understand / is it mine, Lord is it mine?”) But hearing how Hodgson performs it in the song, he has a way of making me hang onto every word of it for dear life. Another one of this album’s great songs is “Take the Long Way Home,” which starts off with one of the coolest harmonica solos that I’ve ever heard in a pop song. Its melody is so catchy and the chorus is so soaring that it’s one of those songs that I have the irrepressible urge to sing along with.

The weakest bits of the album end up coming towards the end, starting with “Just Another Nervous Wreck,” a theatrical number with heavy vocals. It makes a fine listen, but there’s nothing particularly spectacular there in terms of melody. It doesn’t even have a cool sax solo to keep me interested! (There is an electric guitar solo in there, but somehow Supertramp seems better with woodwinds.) “Casual Conversations” is another song that doesn’t thrill me to death; it comes off as a undeveloped, especially with that plodding synthesizer pattern that doesn’t go anywhere. But it has a perfectly pleasant tune, so I won’t complain about it too much.

This isn’t a perfect album by any means, but I think I am in agreement with the world that this is by far Supertramp’s greatest album. I mean, it’s the one with “The Logical Song” on it. What else do you want?

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Supertramp Breakfast In America | | Leave a comment