Even if you know nothing about Led Zeppelin, and I did hear a rumour that there are a couple of aging spinsters on the Isle of Bute who remain largely unaware of the band, even before opening the book, the very title gives you some indication of the nature of the band. The Hammer of The Gods, Thor’s weapon of choice, thunder and lightening, mythological battles and a band making music to evoke those images. But if their music was the sweeping, majestic stuff of legend, the mythology of the band was something just as impressive, excessive, destructive and otherworldly and in this the best known, unauthorised biography, music journalist Stephen Davis unravels fact from fiction to get to the heart of the band.
And like any band story it starts with a bunch of young musicians. Jimmy Page had already achieved a level of fame as the last of an impressive series of guitarists with The Yardbirds (the previous ones being Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck) was a sought after session player and had somehow managed to crawl from the wreckage of the band with ownership of the name. He also found himself allied to their manager Peter Grant, who ran his bands like a mafia boss and together they set about putting a new line up together. After gathering accomplished music arranger, John Paul Jones on bass and a couple of young friends from the Midlands, John Bonham and Robert Plant on drums and vocals respectively, they set out to make a name for themselves. And what a name they made.
Davis charts their rise from ’68 to their fade and final demise in 1980 in all its horrific glory. If you are looking for the cliché 70’s band when it came to excessive life style, then this is the band who sums it up. Groupies, violence, genius, money, greed, burnout and reflection, it’s all there as they strode across the world, like the gods and heroes they filled their songs with.
As ide from the four band members band manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole play a starring role, though they do not come off well and much of the reputation that the press tarred and feathered the band with was often due to their antics.
So the story is everything you come to expect, love and loathe regarding a young rock with the world (but not the press) at their feet, but the delivery of that story is slightly lacking. It has all of the facts but it seems to overstate the less glamorous activities in favour or real insight in to the writing processes or the inter band relationships. After all in the grand scheme of things do we really need to hear about every one night stand and every brawl, better to reflect on the songs, the context of the musical landscape that they were navigating and the band members take on their careers, the humanity of the story.
When the book first appeared in 1985 (it has subsequently been updated as the surviving members have re-immerged from time to time) it was the first of the “tell all” musical biographies, one that would certainly been deemed libellous if the band were still a going concern, but Davis seems happier dealing with the story like a travelogue rather than anything more revealing.
That said, if you come to the band not knowing much about them, this is a good entry-level book, but if you are looking for something that digs a little deeper into the subject then there are better books to read on the subject.