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What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born by Michael Walker (2013)

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Review: To me, a litmus test of a good nonfiction book is how much of it I wind up sharing aloud – and with whom. Family and friends heard major portions of this and factoids are still appearing, days after I finished reading.

I found this book utterly fascinating. I was around in 1973 and really just starting to get into music, and I was a major fan in my adolescence of two of these bands (and had a healthy respect for the third). This book was filled with details about the career arcs of all three, placing them solidly in the evolving rock and roll landscape. I’m sure that there are points in here that are debatable – I know there were a few claims that prompted skepticism and disagreement in me – but that’s going to happen when any historian goes beyond relating bare fact and tries to draw critical conclusions about impact and influence. And in spite of those moments, I felt confident enough in Walker’s research that they didn’t make me question his conclusions entirely.

This does bring me to another point – I see from existing reviews that this book is divisive, with opinions all along the spectrum. Some people seem to be unhappy that Walker was not actually “on the road” with these bands, expecting more of a memoir than an academic treatise. I can understand, if that’s what they were expecting, why this might have disappointed. My academic background is in history – and not recent history, either – so Walker’s methods of reviewing sources from the period and interviewing experts (in this case, people who actually were there) is very comfortable to me. I was not expecting a memoir, so I was not disappointed. If you know what you’re in for, it can help you better select (or not) this book.

It’s also worth noting that in a book on the career arc of all three and the music landscape in general, Walker’s information on any band is not as exhaustive as you might find in a book specifically devoted to it. I have read (though not recently) several books specifically about the Who including the 500+ page 1983 edition of Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, and there’s a lot I’ve read that’s not in here. I wouldn’t expect it to be. Nevertheless, there were things in here about even that band which I didn’t know.

I am personally very happy with this book. I enjoyed it immensely. I found it an easy read, an interesting read, and an informative one. I look forward to sharing snippets of rock history with friends and family for years to come and will recommend it to them.

Review: “The year 1973 distills a decade’s worth of decadence into twelve awesome months and resets the clock for the rest of the seventies and all that they imply. It’s a year that, by any measure, ought to be its own decade.” – Michael Walker

What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and the Who in 1973, the year that the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born is a very thorough look at the year in which three bands, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and The Who became megahits, superstars, ultra sensations and every adjective in between. From skyrocketing album sales, to publicity (both good and bad), tickets sales, fans (and groupies) and the hype, if ever there was a formula for bands on how to succeed, these three bands figured it out.

What this book succeeded in what truly laying down the blueprints for this formula: how the bands formed, what the state the world was in at this time, what outside influences there were, and how the bands catapulted from the rest of the musical crowds. This all formed the catalyst, the tinder for the explosive fire that was what the bands experienced in 1973.

The book is very well written. It gives an intellectual immersion into these bands’ lives, not necessarily in a day-by-day basis, but selected important events that allows any reader to understand how they became as ridiculously popular as they were without over-stimulation.

My attention was definitely kept to the stories contained within this book from start to finish. Some of the information was sourced from existing interviews, which as a self-proclaimed superfan, I’ve read before, however, it is how the information was sewn together, molded and formed, was how it was made into such an enjoyable read. And yes, author Michael Walker did go the full distance in how the bands advanced beyond the year 1973 into the present day.

When I first found out about the book, the main title What You Want Is In The Limo obviously invoked salacious thoughts in my head of potentially embarrassing recollections of the band members by groupies who had enjoyed their own portion of the bands, but this book is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. What the bands wanted wasn’t just five minutes in heaven with offered wanton product, it was the fame, the money, the music, the buzz!

It is quite a tall task to prove the theory that one year in each of these bands’ lives was the equivalent of a decade, however, Walker absolutely succeeded.

Review: This was light reading about a heavy year in rock. Focusing on 1973, the author makes a pitch for this being the pivotal year of pop stars morphing into “rock stars.” This theory leaves out Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were all established “rock stars” by any standards at the end of 1969.

But it’s easy to understand the author’s point of view and go with it. By 1973 it wasn’t just The Rolling Stones that could fill arenas and stadiums anymore; The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper (the band) had joined the club. These are the BIG three bands (the Stones toured the year before behind “Exile On Main Street”) covered in this book with details about their (arguably) career defining albums and mega-tours within those twelve months.

The LP’s are The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” and Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies.” Again, arguments can be made for “Tommy,” “Led Zeppelin IV” and “Killer,” as career-definers. But that’s just personal taste. As someone who saw all three of these legendary bands live during this peak in their popularity, I enjoyed the author’s research as he describes the recording and touring processes with an insider point of view.

Most of the details about The Who and Led Zeppelin were really nothing new for fans. We’re familiar with the basic characters and stories from previous books and documentaries. It was much more compelling to follow the Alice Cooper band as the once loyal friends dealt with their monster success, over-excesses, musicianship, and watching the band splintering apart as they create “Billion Dollar Babies.” When the other members of the band woke up to the reality around them, it must have been like a scene from “Welcome To My Nightmare” to realize Vincent had legally changed his name to Alice Cooper and could launch a successful solo career while the others fell into obscurity.

Fans of any combination of these bands will enjoy this book. It’s also a good telling of the rock scene in 1973 for pop culture enthusiasts. I will say the cover and title are a bit misleading. It’s not all about sex, drugs, booze and riding around with groupies in a limo, though those aspects of the story are not hidden. This one is mostly about the rock personalities and their music that made 1973 a very cool year to be a rock fan.

November 29, 2013 Posted by | Book What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker | , , , | Leave a comment