Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick (2005)


There are many Led Zeppelin biographies out there, some good and some downright awful, but this one by Keith Shadwick is easily the most heavily researched and journalistic. Shadwick largely avoids the sordid tales of touring exploits and personal lives that populate many inferior Zep biographies, and focuses on the musical and business sides of the band. Even fans who have read most of the other biographies will pick up many new details here.

Shadwick digs up long-lost period interviews (including invaluable tidbits from the historically under-quoted John Paul Jones and John Bonham), and finds some useful source material on the operations of Swan Song Records and everything that went wrong creatively and businesswise with the film “The Song Remains the Same.”

Here the studious Zep fan will find a great deal of insight on what matters most now – the music, not to mention a great many photos that you may not have seen before (although the designers should have used a much better pic for the cover). But despite its great insight and attention to detail, this book suffers from some important structural weaknesses.

One technical problem is that Shadwick relies way too much on discredited tour manager Richard Cole as a source for happenings on the road, even while mostly avoiding Cole’s well-known weakness for distorted tales of drunkenness and debauchery. See a plethora of latter-day interviews by Page, Plant, and Jones for their opinions on the usefulness of Cole’s memories.

But the biggest underlying problem here is Shadwick’s musical snobbery. While he usually analyzes the songs from a useful technical standpoint, other reviewers are justified in questioning whether Shadwick is really an impartial biographer or if he is just a frustrated jazzbo trying to show off his technical knowledge. Especially annoying examples include “Friends” and “Black Dog” – first praised by Shadwick as unappreciated masterpieces (true) before complaints about how the band screwed up those songs’ conclusions.

He even says that “Stairway to Heaven” could have been even more glorious if the band had only done the conclusion slightly differently. Shadwick also shoots down fan favourites like “Thank You” and “All My Love” for being heartfelt and simplistic, and fully dismisses other unique and unconventional tracks like “Four Sticks” and “Carouselambra” for not displaying his own sense of musicianly chops.

Despite these flaws, the faithful and knowledgeable Zep fan will appreciate the strong research focus of this book but is likely to become disillusioned when Shadwick whips out his often condescending opinions about the songs, which is frustrating because he mostly keeps his opinions to himself otherwise. Regardless, this biography is at or near the top of the heap for useful info on Led Zep’s business and musical sides.

For a less overwhelming treatment of those same topics, I also recommend the out-of-print “Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell” by Charles Cross.


April 26, 2013 - Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick | , ,

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