Review Notorious for being the book that neither Robert Plant or Jimmy Page have read, let alone endorsed, most of the ‘sordid’ tales don’t seem that shocking, in light of the standard behaviour now required of modern rock stars.
What does come across very strongly, though, is the general madness that the lifestyle created for the band, which then trapped them, and which made some of the excesses inevitable: the impossible stress of touring and the constantly building pressures to deliver better and better material, without the protective corporate shield of modern management, and above all a deep rooting in the kind of hard blues where sex and drugs and alcohol were standard routes to creativity – no wonder they went off the rails by the end.
Yes, they were selfish and indulgent, and no, Jimmy Page probably shouldn’t have dumped little Lori Maddox like that, but they created a timeless and genuinely thrilling sound. And a myth that fans lap up as much as the music. This book walks through the whole lot, with plenty of gossip, much of which is sourced from Richard Cole and probably true-ish, and it does give you the story behind ‘Royal Orleans’ on Presence, which you wouldn’t ever work out from Plant’s garbled lyrics. Most of all, it makes you realise that when all this madness was going on, they were in their early twenties – and also that it was a very, very different world.
Fans who still long for a note-faithful reunion probably won’t after reading this: it couldn’t ever be the same.
Review The image of Led Zeppelin was carefully crafted by their larger than life manager Peter Grant and overseer Jimmy Page. Not everything you hear about them is true so read this and beware. But do read it.
This book gives you insight into their lives and characters and how what began in innocence spiralled into something even they could not control. The band became far bigger than any of them or their scary manager and those people who surrounded them did not always have their best interests at heart. Zeppelin was powerful, magical, mystical and sometimes frightening. The 4 of them were all multi talented in their own way and the combination awe inspiring. I don’t think any other band has reached as many people as they did. But this too has to be taken with caution because although millions did hear, it is not sure whether they actually listened or understood.
This book is far better than the one written by Richard Cole their Road Manager, do not waste your money on that one unless you are a diehard fan and just want to see what he says. What this book does not really do though, is capture any of the magic of their music or their immense stage presence. I feel priviledged to have seen them many times.
It is a great title, perfect really. Throughout their existence and even when Page and Plant re-united you had a feeling that this was Destiny.
Such great days, get the video of The Song Remains the Same and relive them, or better still buy the remixed albums.
Don’t ask too many questions – it is better not to know.
Review This is widely regarded as the best book about Zeppelin though there have been comparatively few others and the band themselves have never gone into print to set the record straight.
When it was published Page and Plant were reportedly annoyed because of some factual inaccuracies and because Davis’s accounts of the band’s wilder exploits were largely based on conversations with Richard Cole, their roughneck tour manager (who went on to write an even more lurid account entitled “Stairway to Heaven”). As a fan of the band I think Davis is quite good on their music and the sheer impact of the band, especially in the US.
The book is well structured too, each chapter devoted to Zep’s albums and successive tours. Leaving aside whether or not Cole embellished some of his stories about Zep’s behaviour on tour (which he seemed to instigate most of the time) it is now a matter of record that Peter Grant, their quasi gangster manager, presided over a fearsome operation that involved every rock in roll cliche: groupie gang bangs, business conducted through intimidation and violence, heavy usage of hard drugs and flirtation with cod philosophies and mysticism (in Page’s case, Satanism).
For Plant and Page to claim in later years that they were all misrepresented a bit (as if they drank lemon tea and went to bed early every night after the show was over) is partly what makes the book such an entertaining and plausible read.
Stephen Davis’ mid-eighties account of the rise, antics and fall of Led Zeppelin is a famously scurrilous affair, cutting a track that a string of copycat efforts concerning the likes of Motley Crue, Black Sabbath and Metallica gleefully followed in much the same way, I suspect, as those bands gleefully followed Led Zeppelin. Looking back at it now, with Led Zeppelin’s status ever-more Zeus-like in the rock pantheon, it is difficult to believe that, at the time of publication (1985), the band’s credibility could hardly have been at a lower ebb. Everything Led Zep stood for was rejected as, in quick succession, disco, then punk, then new wave and lastly new romance (which I decree to be the noun for which “new romantic” is the adjective) followed hard on each others’ heels. To Johnny Rotten (displaying a surprising lack of historical perspective, even for him), Led Zeppelin was the archetypal dinosaur.
In one way it is odd, then, that this unauthorised (and roundly denounced) biography made such a splash. But lusty tales of bondage with sharks, wrecked hotel rooms and satanic backward masking must, for the kids, have been a welcome relief from the glassy neuroticism of A Flock Of Seagulls and their painted, dilettante cohorts – so perhaps no wonder, and it is always darkest before dawn, after all. And day was about to break; in 1985 a young Axl Rose was warming up in the wings. The mighty Zeppelin’s legacy hasn’t looked back since.
It’s quite a legacy, if Stephen Davis is even partly to be believed. (Messrs. Page and Plant would bid you not). Davis writes colourfully, outrageously, bombastically but most of all entertainingly, and in that way as many others does Hammer Of The Gods befit, and reflect the glory of, its subject matter.
For all that it is a little uneven. Davis’ attention to the story does wane somewhat as the seventies wears on – far more space is devoted to Jimmy Page’s brief dalliance with the Yardbirds than to the two years between Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti – to some minds (though not this one) Led Zeppelin’s creative apogee. I suppose there’s only so much gigging, rooting, boozing and fetishising of Aleister Crowley you can write about without boring your audience, but all the same more effort could have been put into charting Led Zeppelin’s hubristic and ultimately tragic decline. The best Davis manages is quashing the transparently silly suggestion that the decline and fall might have been brought by Jimmy’s fixation with matters diabolical – thanks for that insight – and noting the increasing reliance on heroin as the seventies wore on took its toll on the creative spark. You have to think there’s more to it than that.
Davis is obviously a fan of the band, but all the same he’s no stooge: the characters he draws are mainly believable (though I still have trouble crediting a roadworker from Birmingham (“tar in his hair, tar on his hands, and when he opened his mouth it was like an air-raid siren going off”) with the insight and deep celtic fascination to pen tunes and lyrics like Kashmir and, yes, Stairway to Heaven. Page remains, throughout, the impish creative genius of the band, Plant the Daltrey-esque Shepherd’s Bush screamer (though as mentioned, this doesn’t seem to do his intellect justice), Jones the completely unengaged professional, and then there’s Bonzo.
Bone of contention here. In my book Davis is far, far more charitable to John Bonham’s memory than, on the content he sets out in this book, he has any right to be. To claim the same man to be a caring, loyal and loving family man (* while sober) and a “beast” – by Davis’ account, repeatedly guilty of at least aggravated assault and attempted rape – (* while drunk) is frankly an asterisk too far, particularly when Davis’ record also tends to suggest Bonham was in any case perpetually drunk, and angry, throughout the seventies, leaving no time for “nice considerate John” to come out. I think Davis should have said it: Bonham was a pig.
And nor is Bonham’s unfortunate (but hardly tragic) death, nor his (literally) fabled drumming prowess an excuse. I suspect Bonham’s reputation survived largely because his behaviour was of a piece with band manager Richard Cole’s, and Cole was a significant source of material for Davis’ book, and thus commanded a sympathetic account. No matter: perhaps our 21st century moralising has got to me, but to my mind Davis could, and should, have been more eviscerating than he was.
Hammer of the Gods is now updated to somewhere near the present day, and the comparative lack of any interesting output since the band split (the one genuinely interesting project, Page & Plant’s No Quarter, hardly counts as new material) only serves to gives one a sense of what was, and what might have been.