This story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the classic rock movie Almost Famous, set during the spring and summer of 1973, rock critic Lester Bangs laments “this dangerous moment” in rock history when fame and money threaten to “strangle everything we love about rock.” In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, 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, THR contributing editor Michael Walker uncovers the facts beneath Cameron Crowe’s thinly veiled fiction.
It was the year the concert business went big time with the stadium tour. The crowds were bigger, the travel more decadent, the groupies more eager and the behavior of the stars more outrageous. Into this came three legendary acts touring to promote three career-defining albums: Led Zeppelin with Houses of the Holy, The Who with Quadrophenia and the original Alice Cooper band with Billion Dollar Babies. The Who, the last of the great British Invasion bands, was a critical darling after such albums as 1968’s rock opera Tommy. Quadrophenia, another concept album, was its attempt to grow and connect with a new generation that missed 1965’s “My Generation.”
Led Zeppelin, formed in England in 1968, was a commercial success (the band’s 1971 fourth album sold 32 million copies) but was dismissed by critics. Houses of the Holy, its fifth album in as many years, was its first to feature all original material. Alice Cooper the band was just coming into stardom in 1973. Like Zeppelin, it was reviled by critics — for its outrageous stage-show theatrics, including fake blood and live snakes, that anticipated David Bowie’s outre-glam and Kiss’ demonic makeup. Unlike Zeppelin, Cooper’s first two albums were commercial flops.
The 1971 hit “I’m Eighteen” and 1972 follow-up “School’s Out” changed that trajectory. With its themes of decadence and power, Billion Dollar Babies captured the zeitgeist of a country about to be engulfed in the cynicism of the Watergate scandal and reached No. 1. Shifting to an all-stadium tour, Alice Cooper grossed $4.5 million (when tickets were $6.50), drawing a then-astounding 820,000 fans and paving the way for modern tours like Lady Gaga’s $181 million-grossing Born This Way. In 1973, these three seminal acts would herald the transformation of the rock concert into the rock concert business. — Andy Lewis
Led Zeppelin crashed into the United States in May 1973 fresh off a string of European shows with Houses of the Holy on its way to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. By design, the first two dates of the tour — held in outdoor stadiums to capacity crowds in Atlanta and Tampa — were meant to convey the band’s new world-beating status and generate the respectful press that had gone to The Rolling Stones the previous year. Peter Grant, the notoriously blunt manager for Zeppelin, made as much ominously clear to Danny Goldberg, the band’s new publicist. Goldberg seized upon a brilliant strategy to link Zeppelin to rock’s ultimate touchstones. Tallying the capacity audience at Tampa Stadium, he noted that, at 56,800, it slightly exceeded the attendance for The Beatles’ record-setting 1965 Shea Stadium show. “Of course, the contrast with Shea Stadium was a reflection of the size of the stadiums, not the relative popularity of the groups,” Goldberg later acknowledged, along with the fact that rock festivals like Woodstock had drawn far larger audiences. “But I figured those crowds had been drawn by multi-artist packages rather than single headliners.” Goldberg typed a press release declaring that Zeppelin had broken the attendance record set by The Beatles for a single-artist concert and dropped it off at the local UPI bureau — “where it was a slow news night.” The next day newspapers around the world ran stories with headlines blaring that Led Zeppelin was now “bigger than The Beatles.”
The Who arrived in San Francisco to open its American tour at the 14,000seat Cow Palace on Nov. 20. The band traveled with 20 tons of custom sound and lights and other staging that required three 45-foot trailers and a 12-man crew. Tickets for the show — as with every city on the itinerary — sold out in hours, and anticipation for the band’s first concert in America since 1971’s Who’s Next was acute. But within minutes of the group striking up “Magic Bus,” drummer Keith Moon appeared vacant-eyed, flailing at his cymbals, before passing out face first into the tom-toms. As the band played on, he was hoisted as if from a fishing net and carried offstage, limp and pale as a mackerel. “When Keith collapsed, it was such a shame,” Pete Townshend later recalled. “I had just been getting warmed up at that point … I didn’t want to stop playing.”
Such was Townshend’s mind-set when he turned to the audience and half quipped, “Does anybody play the drums?” A cheer went up. “I mean somebody good.” In the audience near the stage was Scott Halpin, a 19-year-old Iowa transplant who had paid for a scalped ticket and was attending with a friend. When his pal heard Townshend’s request, he got the attention of stage security and, indicating Halpin, shouted “He can play!” The next thing Halpin knew, he was backstage downing a shot of brandy someone handed him and being escorted to the drum set. As he settled in, Townshend reached through the cymbals to shake his hand. “I’m in complete shock,” Halpin recalls.
Given the circumstances, Halpin acquitted himself reasonably well before joining arms with Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle for the curtain call. Backstage, Daltrey gave Halpin a tour jacket and pledged to pay him $1,000. Whereupon Halpin climbed into his VW Beetle and drove himself back into obscurity. Townshend sent him a thank-you note after the tour moved to Los Angeles, but the thousand dollars Daltrey promised never materialized.
BIGGER, BETTER, LOUDER
Before the early ’70s, bands seldom toured with their own PA systems — it was the promoter’s responsibility to provide one. As late as 1970, says Cooper’s road manager David Libert, “even big bands would show up, and there would be a sound system they had never seen before. But [good] sound systems were just coming in — there were companies forming at that time.”
One of them was Heil Sound, founded by a pipe organist and electronics geek with no affinity for rock but a keen appreciation for the dynamics of sound in a live environment. In 1966, Bob Heil opened a music shop in his tiny hometown of Marissa, Ill., where he sold Hammond organs. As it happened, rock bands at the time were repurposing the Hammond B-3, a favorite of jazz and blues musicians, into a screaming lead instrument on par with the electric guitar. When Heil heard the pathetic sound systems bands played through, he scavenged two huge Altec A-7 speakers from St. Louis’ Fox Theatre and paired them with radial horns, ring tweeters and thousands of watts of amplification. In 1970, the Grateful Dead’s sound system was impounded while the band was en route from New Orleans to St. Louis, and Heil took a call from a panicked Jerry Garcia. Heil trucked his creation to the Fox and mixed sound at the concert. The Dead took Heil and his PA to New Jersey and on the rest of their tour. Word of Heil’s “really big PA” spread, and The Who ended up commissioning Heil’s unprecedented quadrophonic sound system, used on the U.K. dates of the 1973 Quadrophenia tour.
As Cooper’s band rehearsed for its tour, a massive set was being constructed on a Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank. Built on multiple levels, the stage comprised two steel cages flanking a Busby Berkeley-inspired staircase that, per Alice’s request, lit up with each step he took. Silvered bodies hung from the superstructure, and a gilded sarcophagus with lasers that shot from its eyes loomed behind center stage. Aside from Alice, the bandmembers were not consulted on the design. On a tour that would increasingly be fraught with unspoken tension over Alice’s emerging superstardom, the stage’s design had the effect, intentional or not, of diminishing the instrumentalists. “I do believe that the stage really made the band look like Alice’s backing band,” says guitarist Mick Mashbir.
THE PARTY NEVER ENDS
When The Beatles toured in 1964, their contract for backstage amenities stipulated: “In all dressing rooms for The Beatles, the purchaser must provide four cots, mirrors, an ice cooler, portable TV set and clean towels.” Minus the ice cooler and TV, that’s more or less what the average jail cell provides today.
The entitlement that would come to define rock stardom in the ’70s — and the ostentatious luxury that embodies it — gained its first foothold in the big tours of 1973. Witness this sample from Alice Cooper’s backstage hospitality rider: “Purchaser shall provide three (3) cases of Budweiser, three (3) cases of Michelob, one (1) gallon of apple juice, one (1) gallon of orange juice, two (2) cases of Coca-Cola, one (1) case of ginger ale and assorted fruit. This is to be placed in a cooler with ice in Alice Cooper’s dressing room. … The Michelob beer must be in bottles and the cases of Budweiser must be in cans. In states where the sale of beer must have an alcoholic content of less than 6 percent (i.e. 3.2 beer), the beer must be imported from another state.”
Bob Gruen photographed and traveled with dozens of acts in the early ’70s — Led Zeppelin, Cooper and The Who among them — and witnessed firsthand the creation of the rock-star mind-set. “It’s contempt for everybody,” Gruen says. “It was just, ‘We’re special, we’re gods, everybody adores us and we deserve whatever we want.’ ”
On the Billion Dollar Babies tour, says Libert, “Everybody was living in this bubble. Think of it: You put your bag outside your hotel room, and then the next thing you know, it’s outside your hotel room in the next city. You go downstairs, you hop into a limo, it takes you to your own airplane, the airplane flies you to the next city, you hop out, you hop into another limousine, it takes you to the next hotel. You don’t really touch reality, and there’s people to keep everybody else away.”
One of Danny Markus’ first tasks when he joined Zeppelin’s ’73 tour was to stock the band’s suites at Chicago’s Ambassador East with stereo equipment. After going to some trouble to assemble audiophile-level gear, Markus stopped by the hotel to check on his charges. “So I’m up in Robert Plant’s room, I think Jimmy Page was there, and I’m looking around, ‘What happened to the stereo? Did it work out?’ And Robert says, ‘Come here.’ And we go down to one of the guest bathrooms in the suite and there it was, in the bathtub, in like a foot of water.”
Gruen was struck by the immensity of Zeppelin’s success and their eagerness to indulge it. “They had the plane, they’re playing a stadium — that was something that I don’t think the bands of the ’60s would have
dreamed of,” he says. “Being in a band in the ’60s was about having fun. Rock and roll was a way to get a free drink and meet a girl. You weren’t expecting to make a lot of money, but you could have fun.” Adds Peter Rudge, The Who’s co-manager, “Woodstock made everybody aware of what the commercial potential was of what up until that time had been, essentially, an alternative culture and in many respects a cottage industry.”
Dave Otto was a Cincinnati entrepreneur whose contribution to rock ‘n’ roll came when he perfected a technique for printing on flexible rayon with an adhesive backing. Thus was born the modern backstage pass. In short order, Otto’s backstage passes became the industry standard and a potent symbol of the stratification of rock culture as the audience-performer dynamic shifted to star-supplicant. “There was a mystique about them,” acknowledges Otto. “A backstage pass was more valuable than a front-row seat ticket.” Before long they became pseudo-currency, and groupies deduced that the fastest route to the backstage sanctum was through a pass proffered by a roadie rounding up talent for the post-show party. And sometimes that pass would require … extra services, earning them the crude sobriquet “knee pads.”
As for groupies, “Some people took it more seriously than others,” Libert says. “One of the things these guys would do to entice a girl would be to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to such-and-such a town the next day, stick with me and I’ll take you with me on the plane.’ So I had to institute the following rules: If you take a girl on the plane, if there’s room, she had to be 18 and prove it. Rule number two: You owed her a plane ticket back to where you got her from. And if you refused to pay, you got fired. We had to protect Alice. It could jeopardize the whole tour. It wasn’t that I was so gallant.”
CHARIOTS OF THE GODS
Although the 1973 rock ‘n’ roll tour was nominally subject to the laws and customs of whatever municipality or sovereign state through which it passed, it created its own law inside the traveling party. Behavior unacceptable to civilians was tolerated or actively encouraged within the entourage if it boosted camaraderie — a private plane is a powerful bonding device for rich young men interested in no one’s agenda but their own. “Sure, it’s expensive,” Cooper manager Shep Gordon said of AC-1, the charter for the Billion Dollar Babies tour, “but having our own plane is good for everybody’s morale. We don’t have to f— around waiting in airports, and we can do what we want once we’re on the plane.”
Zeppelin flew the first leg of the ’73 tour in a Falcon 20, a snug French business jet. After the plane encountered severe turbulence after a gig in Oakland and terrified the entourage, Grant leased the just-commissioned Starship, a former United Airlines Boeing 720-B owned by teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman. Retrofitted at a cost of $200,000 with tacky-chic ’70s delights including a water bed, shag carpeting, brass-trimmed bars and a video library stocked with everything from Deep Throat to Duck Soup, the Starship was a hit with nouveau riche rockers who could afford it — Zeppelin paid $30,000 to lease it during July 1973. “There was nothing like it on the face of the Earth,” says Libert. “It was sort of like Air Force One, but rock ‘n’ roll.”
Compared to the mighty Starship, the Lockheed Electra that transported Cooper and Co. seems barely airworthy: The four-engine turboprop couldn’t climb above 29,000 feet, which led to spectacular turbulence. Nevertheless, it was beloved by the entourage for its crash-pad aesthetics and practicality.
MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS
A new generation of tour managers like Gordon entered the business, and they questioned the wisdom of delegating blind trust to local promoters. By carrying their own sound and lights instead of relying on sketchy rentals, they enhanced the quality of their productions while taking a profit center away from the promoters and turning it into a recoupable expense. “We would bring our own sound and lights and charge the promoters, and the promoters would go crazy,” says Libert. ” ‘I can get that for half the price!’ Well, take it or leave it.”
As arena rock took off, the managers pushed back. Flat fees gave way to guarantees and percentages. Zeppelin’s opening show at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium with 49,236 in attendance, half of them sprawled on the baseball diamond’s grassy infield, grossed $246,000 (the same show would earn more than $1.2 million at 2012 ticket prices).
Selling out 17,000-seat arenas gave the new managers the leverage to demand transparency from notoriously opaque box-office accounting. Earlier in his career, Tom Ross booked Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming into municipal arenas and got to know the building managers. When rock moved into those same arenas in the early ’70s, he was uniquely qualified to call bullshit on promoters who were padding their expenses. “A lot of the costs that promoters would charge us — for catering, for limousines – were actually companies they started and owned,” Ross said. “So they were making a profit from little ancillary businesses that they used to farm out.”
Chip Rachlin worked for ICM as a booking agent in the ’70s, where his clients included The Eagles and Billy Joel. “I was leaving the agency business and my last show date was in D.C.,” Rachlin says. The promoter was Jack Boyle, whom Rachlin knew well. “Charming rogue, great guy, used to hang out with the Kennedys. He said, ‘I’m going to let you ask me any question you want tonight. Just one. I said, ‘Show me where you cheated.’ ” Boyle led Rachlin to the dressing room, where the post-show catering was laid out. “At the center of the dessert section was this five-gallon tub of ice cream. You wouldn’t think anything about it. He said, ‘Take a spoon. Put it into the ice cream.’ So you get it down about half an inch and you scoop that into the bowl. He says, ‘Try and get ice cream below the half inch.’ You couldn’t — it was plaster of Paris. He said, ‘That put three kids through college.’ ” Rachlin observes, “The ice cream would show up as a $74 charge. If you do 200 shows a year … who knew how many other cement ice creams he had around the building? I guarantee you, no tour accountant, nobody would catch that.”
The ’73 tours had consequences that changed the lives and careers of all three acts. The rest of the ’70s were an unfolding nightmare for Zeppelin. In 1975, Plant and his family were severely injured in a car accident in Greece, forcing the cancellation of an American tour and delaying their seventh album. Before a New Orleans show in 1977, Plant received the news that his son, Karac, had died suddenly of a viral infection. The band never again played in the U.S. In the summer of 1980, Zeppelin planned a monthlong return to America in October to promote In Through the Out Door, but during rehearsals, drummer John Bonham was discovered in bed at Page’s home, having choked to death on his vomit after consuming, it was later determined, more than a liter of vodka. He was 32.
Cooper’s band had scarcely unpacked from the Billion Dollar Babies tour before they were back at work recording a follow-up. Alice’s isolation was now exacerbated by an aggressive bodyguard who shadowed him everywhere. The band decided to take a one-year hiatus, and Alice recorded 1975’s solo effort Welcome to My Nightmare. After that, there was no more talk of the original band regrouping. “Now what do you got?” says band publicist Bob Brown. “You got a person named Alice Cooper and a band named Alice Cooper.”
The Who played out the ’70s after Quadrophenia amid personal upheaval and public and private tragedy. Townshend wrestled with drink and drugs. The Who by Numbers was released in 1975 to indifferent reviews and sales. After a three-year hiatus, the band recorded Who Are You, but within a month of the album’s release, Moon died suddenly after an overdose of the drug meant to wean him from alcohol.
Excerpted from What You Want Is in the Limo by Michael Walker. Copyright (c) 2013 by Michael Walker. All rights reserved.
By Christine Rendon
July 26, 2013, 10:12 a.m.
The year 1973 was a wild ride — three wild rides, actually, according to “What You Want Is in the Limo.” The book by Michael Walker details the tours of three enormous rock bands — Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who. Groupies, jets, managers, buses, crystal balls of cocaine: Walker’s got a backstage pass to them all.
Walker, the author of “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,” will be reading from “What You Want Is in the Limo” at Book Soup on Saturday at 4 p.m. He spoke to us via phone about his new book.
One of the bands you focus on is Alice Cooper. You wrote that he had a great rapport with the press. How did that come about?
The band had a meeting early on with a publicist named Pat Kingsley. And Pat Kingsley went on to become the most powerful Hollywood publicist in history, but back in 1970 or whatever it was, when Shep [Gordon], Alice Cooper’s manager approached her, she was just a publicist starting out. She met with the band, and said, “Shep, tell the guys to step outside for a few minutes.” And she said to Shep, “Look, five guys named Alice Cooper, I don’t know what to do with that. You give me one guy named Alice Cooper, that I can sell.” So Shep went out into the hallway and said, “One of you guys has to be Alice Cooper.” And the guy that got the nut was Vincent Furnier — he was already the lead singer, but everything they did going forward would concentrate on him and the Alice Cooper character because it’s an easier story to sell to the press. There’s a band that was working the press from day one. In the ’73 tour Shep had the road manager tell the rest of the band they weren’t welcome at press conferences anymore because they didn’t know how to get good press, they didn’t know what to say. So Alice became the personal superstar and they kind of got left behind.
Why do you think Led Zeppelin had a bad relationship with the press? You say their music didn’t resonate with Rolling Stone?
The big rock critics at Rolling Stone venerated the ’60s bands a lot: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane — all the great ‘60s bands were what they knew, what they approved of. They did not approve of Led Zeppelin at all.
The fan age of Led Zeppelin was far younger than they were accustomed to and Led Zeppelin was commercially successful independent of them. Here comes Led Zeppelin who, in their opinion, is doing pretty crass music — crass, commercial, just unredeeming. They thought the music was bombastic, simplistic, it was way too derivative of stuff that had already been done and better by bands they liked.
Simultaneous with Led Zeppelin’s arrival around 1969 and 1970 was the rise of the FM radio. FM radio hadn’t really existed before, at least for promoting rock ‘n’ roll, and it came on in a big way. Led Zeppelin very insidiously courted FM radio; they didn’t court the rock press, they just went completely around them. They got their album on the radio without the help of the press.
The third thing that hurt Led Zeppelin was they signed with Atlantic Records for what was at the time a very large amount of money, a $200,000 advance I think, and therefore they were a hype band. Back in those days that mattered –the fact that they extracted such a large amount of money out of Atlantic Records, they were automatically suspect.
Robert Plant cultivated his stardom very, very carefully and really, really wanted it. Robert Plant was way too earnest, and that’s kind of what also killed it. Because reporters want to be in on the joke, and Alice Cooper let them in, he basically said, “This is all ridiculous, we couldn’t get arrested three years ago, now we have the No. 1 album in the country. You do the math.” He was a really charming guy, I interviewed him for the book, he’s hilarious, he knows exactly what to say.
You write that in the 1960s, the music industry was free and open, while in the 1970s the industry refocused to being more about money and consumption. What do you think caused this shift?
That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about the year 1973 — I think it is a dividing line between the values and culture of the 1960s and the 1970s. What interested me about that year is that the ’60s aren’t quite over yet.… At the same time the decade the ‘70s would become wasn’t quite invented yet; it was starting to get there, you’re seeing signs of it. So you have this year that’s got one foot in the ‘60s and one foot in the ‘70s; I thought it would be interesting to take three bands that were formed in the 1960s and were helping define what the 1970s would be.
In the late ‘60s, Woodstock happened, and no one had really known how big the audience was for rock music until that show — 300,000 people show up on a side of a hill in New York: it opened everybody’s eyes. What had been a cottage industry, the record business back then, it didn’t sell that many albums… in the early ‘70s record companies began to consciously go after money in ways they had not before.
There was another thing…the second half of the baby boom generation was coming of age in the early 1970s — 18 million people had been born in 1957, which made them 16 in 1973; all of the sudden teenagers have allowances and part-time jobs and they’re buying albums as never before. There’s also a change in attitude, when the big money started coming in, people at the record companies began to realize how big this business could be and it changed things.
Also, the drug menu was changing. In the ‘60s it had been marijuana and acid, drugs of inclusiveness and sharing; cocaine was coming in in 1973, and that was the opposite.
In the book you mentioned that one of the music PR firms displayed a crystal ball of cocaine.
Yeah, that was Gibson & Stromberg in L.A., it was a cut crystal ball — the only rule was you couldn’t take it with you. You couldn’t scoop it up and use it later that night.
Can you explain how women were involved? This time in history they seem caught between the sexual revolution and this male-dominated industry.
I very much wanted to include what women were doing on these tours and how women were being treated in the industry at that time — and it turned out there was more involvement than I thought. There were women publicists who weren’t fantasizing about sleeping with Robert Plant, they were there to work for him. There was Mary Beth Medley, the right-hand to road manager Peter Rudge, and she ran the tours as much as he did. Women were not just being groupies, they were working it. There’s a part of that in the book.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times
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)
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.