Classic Rock Review

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

The first reviews third paragraph should annoy any Brits reading this…


Review This is the best historical account I have read – and I have read most of the books on Zeppelin that have been published. What makes this book different and in my opinion better, is that it is much less about the partying and much more about the process that they used to create the music. There is great historical info on the Yardbirds and good accounts of concerts.

Most if not all of the photos have been published but that is understandable since there is limited supply of photos. It’s unfortunate that Zeppelin didn’t seem to have a staff photographer along for the ride. Same is true for the limited video shot of the band.

If there is a downside to this book it is the editing. It is written by a British author and it shows. It was not edited/translated for American readers so you will need to read some of the passages twice to get past what seems like bad structure. British readers may not agree but it does have a few rough spots for American readers. This is no reason not to consider this book.

If you are a Zeppelin fan or are just interested in the history of the music scene at that time, then you should add this book to your collection. It is the best Zeppelin book yet. It’s not “Hammer of the Gods” which is a disputed accounting of the band’s history. This book is full of foot notes identifying sources – It is much more honest in describing the bands history.

Review For those looking for the trash, try ‘Hammer Of The Gods’ … for those looking for what the band did that was important, this is the book … Shadwick goes in-depth on the music like no other author I’ve ever read in any other rock and roll book … no nonsense and no silliness … he covers the gear used, the alt tunings, and what was important in their personal lives that affected the music (the late era heroin addiction most prominently) …

But no dumb groupie stories, throwing TV’s out of windows, etc…. is that part of the history? yes it is … and there are plenty of books for that and they all repeat the same stuff over and over and over and over … I suppose if you’re stoned and can’t remember all those same stories, you might need to reread them with every Zep book you buy … however, some of us are not that addle-minded and so prefer one read of ‘hammer’ and then put it under that short table leg …

It is not a dry, academic read as some have stated … it is written well above the fourth-grade level most rock and roll books are known for (with very few exceptions) but without party and satanic contract stories … so perhaps that’s what is meant …

If you want to really explore Zep, this is the best on their entire career and I don’t expect it to be topped any time soon …

For more specific time periods you can’t go wrong with Dave Lewis … founder and editor of the top Zep newsletter, ‘Tight But Loose’, he has close access to the band and is probably the go-to expert on everything Zep … his recent book, ‘feather in the wind’, covering the last tour thru Europe made by Zep is a sorely needed and outstanding overview of that short final curtain call before Bonzo’s death … his books are also printed on the highest quality paper (no cheapo ‘pulp’ but heavy duty glossy for the final tour book) and are just beautifully constructed books simply on that level …

So two of the best points of reference right there …

Review Keith Shadwick without a doubt has compiled the most detailed account of the bands career, interviews, and quotes; yet his “musical snob elitist” attitude gets in the way of enjoying this book to its full extent.

Keith finds a problem with literally every single song the band had ever recorded, even down to the tiniest detail, and constantly quips how great other lesser known, or more under appreciated older musicians are when comparing every song to older ones. It is to no Zeppelin fan’s surprise that the band had borrowed ideas from other artists, from pop to folk music, but at that time in the music industry it was normal to cover other bands music and it was a time when bands wrote singles and did not worry about full albums like zeppelin did. His personal opinions make you wonder at times if he is even a fan of the band or not, by trying to make the best effort to disguise his disliking of the band in favour of more “pure” musicians who put out more “inspired” music, as he puts it over and over.

His information about the tours, attitudes and visions of the band, and facts are wonderful and that is what kept me reading the book, but his obvious musical snobbery (many times simply just his well overthought opinion about things) kept this book from being what it could have been. Rock n’ Roll is not about sheer perfection, or always being musically correct, that’s where the passion and originality comes from, but to Keith it seems as if he finds a flaw in anything and everything that Zeppelin ever recorded from track listing, to favouring obviously lesser quality B-sides (to make him look intelligent for liking “poor tom” more than “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”), to saying how out of pitch Robert is, or Page’s “uninspired guitar solo”, to Jones “overplaying” keyboard and bass lines, to Bonham obviously taking this drum pattern from the following songs. The fact is, the band wrote what they wrote and took in all their influences. You can’t name a rock band that has not taken an idea from another group and gone with it, or showing obvious influence…that is not a fault of musicians by any means.

The book is a fine read for the information, but the author’s personal opinions really ruined a lot of it.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick | , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , | Leave a comment