From the author of the definitive New York Times bestselling history of the Beatles comes the authoritative account of the group many call the greatest rock band of all time, arguably the most successful, and certainly one of the most notorious
Rock star. Whatever that term means to you, chances are it owes a debt to Led Zeppelin. No one before or since has lived the dream quite like Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. In Led Zeppelin, Bob Spitz takes their full measure, separating the myth from the reality with his trademark connoisseurship and storytelling flair.
From the opening notes of their first album, the band announced itself as something different, a collision of grand artistic ambition and brute primal force, of English folk music and African American blues. That record sold over 10 million copies, and it was just the beginning; Led Zeppelin's albums have sold over 300 million certified copies worldwide, and the dust has never settled.
The band is notoriously guarded, and previous books provided more heat than light. But Spitz's authority is undeniable and irresistible. His feel for the atmosphere, the context--the music, the business, the recording studios, the touring life, the whole ecosystem of popular music--is unparalleled. His account of the melding of Page and Jones, the virtuosic London sophisticates, with Plant and Bonham, the wild men from the Midlands, in a scene dominated by the Beatles and the Stones but changing fast, is in itself a revelation. Spitz takes the music seriously and brings the band's artistic journey to full and vivid life.
The music, however, is only part of the legend: Led Zeppelin is also the story of how the sixties became the seventies, of how playing clubs became playing stadiums, of how innocence became decadence. Led Zeppelin wasn't the first rock band to let loose on the road, but as with everything else, they took it to an entirely new level. Not all the legends are true, but in Spitz's careful accounting, what is true is astonishing and sometimes disturbing.
Led Zeppelin gave no quarter, and neither has Bob Spitz. Led Zeppelin is the full and honest reckoning the band has long awaited, and richly deserves.
Bob Spitz is the award-winning author of The Beatles, a New York Times best seller, as well as seven other nonfiction books and a screenplay. He has represented Bruce Springsteen and Elton John in several capacities. His articles appear regularly in magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times Magazine; The Washington Post; Rolling Stone; and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.
Is that nobody wants to hear a middle aged man wax on about how much he loves Led Zeppelin.
So I will exercise restraint.
But I can’t write an honest review of this book without at least mentioning how important their music is to me.
Led Zeppelin, probably more than any other rock band, have been the soundtrack of my life.
Somehow, I never got tired of them.
I have very eclectic taste musically.
I’m always experimenting and searching for new sounds.
But I still listen to Zeppelin all the time.
They just fucking rock.
After all this time.
And after literally tens-of-thousands of listens.
They still just fucking rock.
I honestly don’t know how their music is so durable for me.
But it is.
FM radio in the 70’s and 80’s was like Zeppelin every other song.
Yet somehow, Zeppelin still sound alive.
They stayed relevant during my hardcore, thrash metal and hip hop phases, through my (extremely pretentious) jazz and folk college days, all the way through the 90’s, to the present.
I should be so over it.
Zeppelin have been so ubiquitous, for so long, we should all be so over it.
Yet, somehow, it’s still so fresh and vital.
It’s literally black magic.
They hit a vein.
Now that I’m in my 50’s, learning about how the music got made is almost as interesting as the actual music.
This book seriously scratched that itch.
Few other bands have been more shrouded in mystery, folklore, and urban legend than Led Zeppelin.
The book brought a lot of that down to earth.
The honest coverage of the INSANE drug use, the fucking AWFUL sexual abuse, the money, the CRAZY as fuck life style, the all around VILE misbehavior, the burnout, and the tragedy of Bonham’s untimely death, all of it was eye opening to say the least.
The book also humanized these mythic figures for me.
Which is a good thing.
After all, they’re just people like you and me right?
Part of me still regarded Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones as god like. Or at least super human. Particularly Bonham for some reason. His playing was so unique, and still unsurpassed, at least to my untrained ears.
Reading about how frankly awful their behavior was, particularly Bonham, even for the time, was quite grounding, for better or for worse.
Learning about the rivalry within the Beatles kind of ruined their music for me.
But I just can’t get over how much they hated each other, and how much they hated some of their own music.
Peter Jackson’s revelatory Get Back has helped me get over that a little. But the tarnish remains.
I’m not sure if this book will ultimately have a chilling effect for me with Led Zeppelin.
So far, not so much.
Quite the opposite actually.
But it has given me a lot to think about.
And I enjoyed it immensely.
Learning the back story of each song and album, and dropping the book to listen to the music, going back and forth like that, it was really fun.
I caught COVID-19 right after I started this thing, and the experience of mixing this book and music with that awful experience was a (very grown up) psychedelic fever dream.
That being said.
I honestly can’t think of a better way to recover.
I was never a rabid fan of Led Zeppelin but the band did provide a sound track for some very good times (none of which will be revealed here). I saw the band live with (I’m assuming) a boyfriend who made such an impression that I don’t recall who it was. I do recall being bored by an overly long drum solo but drum solos always bored me regardless of the band. This in-depth biography charts the development of Jimmy Page as a guitar virtuoso and seasoned session musician leading to the inception of the band, its stunning success, management, tours, personal tragedies, and bad behavior. And, these boys were the epitome of bad. Not being a musician, some of the tinkering around to achieve various sounds was lost on me but intriguing nonetheless. This is a solid biography of an elusive band and will be enjoyed by fans, musicians, and the curious.
The inside cover flap boasts: Led Zeppelin gave no quarter, and neither has Bob Spitz. "Led Zeppelin" is the full and honest reckoning the band has long awaited, and richly deserves.
Despite those lofty fighting words on the flap, “Led Zeppelin The Biography” is hardly a reckoning. It is nothing more than a mean-spirited book report.
Spitz’s “reckoning,” apparent in his bibliography and chapter notes, is mainly sourced from the works of others. Almost every Zeppelin-related book, periodical, radio interview, and fan forum (huh?) out there is sourced. Harvested quotes and information are inserted to fit the narrative Spitz chose to spin, with little heed to whether the sources are inaccurate or innuendo, or whether selected quotes are used in proper context.
As other reviewers have noted, there isn't anything new in this book. The personal interviews that Spitz conducted are with mostly peripheral figures, most of whom fell out of favor with the band, rendering their statements less than objective. A few interviewees are identified mysteriously as “confidential” sources. None of the interviews produced anything beyond similar recollections made in other books. Credibility is questionable when certain figures alter their stories over the years.
Spitz editorialized throughout the text and made deliberate word choices to mock the group and manager Peter Grant. Some barbs weren’t subtle. Calling John Bonham, who died from alcohol abuse, “sh*tfaced as usual" was in poor taste. Spitz also overused creative license in what is supposedly a factual biography. Exactly how is it that Spitz can declare without quoting a source that Jimmy Page had a “cell-like bedroom” as a child, or that his parents had a radio on which “Jimmy worked its Bakelite dials with a safecracker’s expertise?” Spitz also took the liberty of inventing dialogue in numerous passages with no identified sources.
Amidst other factual errors that appear from cover to cover, Spitz made the bizarre error of stating that Sandy Denny sang on “Gallows Pole.”
Spitz included the requisite wokery which seems to be a requirement for an author to get published at this moment in time. However it is unrealistic to view events that occurred 50 years ago through the moral lens of today. In what world other than Spitz’s “reckoning” can Robert Plant’s blues singing be considered “cultural appropriation”?? As enlightened to new social mores as Spitz attempted to be in some areas, he fat-shamed Peter Grant repeatedly and ridiculed John Bonham for substance abuse disorder. Bullying isn’t very enlightened. Spitz also mocked journalist Chris Welch numerous times throughout the text, but sourced no less than three of Welch's published books on Zeppelin and Peter Grant.
The photos are stock images widely available on the internet. The dates for three photos relating to the notorious Oakland shows which took place in 1977 are erroneously captioned as 1979. A photo identified as a rehearsal for Knebworth is from a completely different time period.
Led Zeppelin has maintained a deliberate air of mystery for more than 50 years, and the members have not deigned to participate in an authorized biography beyond releasing the Led Zeppelin photo book a few years ago.
That has not stopped many an author from writing biographies of the band or of the individual members. Each new release, and they seem to come every few years, purport to be THE definitive biography. These authors aren't stupid, they know the name Led Zeppelin will sell a book.
"Led Zeppelin: The Biography" by Bob Spitz, packaged as some sort of highbrow tome, contains nothing new. There are a lot of inaccuracies, and the same old tired sources make their regularly-scheduled appearances in the latest Zeppelin book. Bob Spitz seems to have intentionally written an unflattering portrait of the group. In seeking to capitalize on the "me too" era, Spitz is only dredging up material from previously published books, so nothing here is a revelation. But the marketing of the book and the timing of the release was shrewd; the author and publisher were sure to draw in some curious new readers who may never have picked up a Zeppelin book before.
Each individual reader must decide if he or she is going to believe what is printed in a book. The barrage of Zeppelin books began with "Hammer of the Gods" by Stephen Davis, which has been highly discredited, yet stories in that book from the band's disgraced and fired road manager are now repeated as gospel truth. It should be realized that many sources who participate in these kinds of books - whether "Hammer" or this most recent book by Spitz - have their own agendas. Foremost, many sources won't spill without being paid for it, and they aren't going to get paid for a boring story, so perhaps some embellishment occurs. Perhaps a source is happy to participate and tell an unflattering story due to a perceived sleight by the band or its associates back in the day. Perhaps someone sees an opportunity for self-recognition, with participation in a book a springboard to repeating the tale again, and another payday, maybe from a British tabloid. Why not, eh?
Here is what Spitz said about the members of Led Zeppelin in an interview with Spin Magazine: "No, I don’t know them. They were prepared to speak with me when #MeToo landed, and suddenly they weren’t talking to anyone anymore. But I’ve always felt that the musicians, who live in a bubble, are the most unreliable narrators. I left it to everyone else, those who were with them every step of the way, to fill in the details. Of course, I was despondent over losing the band members, but was reading a copy of David McCullough’s John Adams bio when I realized he never spoke to Adams!"
In the same breath, Spitz states that the band members were going to speak with him (highly doubtful) but then calls musicians "unreliable narrators." And to compare his inability to speak to the band members to that of a biographer who was unable to speak to a president who died in 1826 is comparing apples and oranges.
This first appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.
With Led Zeppelin, a revelatory new book by Bob Spitz, the legend becomes fact. I almost wish he’d printed the legend.
History has anointed Led Zeppelin as the greatest hard-rock band of the 1970s. The quartet emerged from a crowded field with the era’s biggest sales, several of its finest LPs, and arguably its signature song, “Stairway to Heaven.”
At its best, early on, Led Zeppelin gave mesmerizing concerts. But the band’s records are its legacy. It’s not for everyone: To modern ears, singer Robert Plant’s lyrics sound frequently vulgar and occasionally misogynistic. He and chord-smith Jimmy Page nicked entire songs from great Black blues artists. Fifty years on, the entire Zeppelin oeuvre resonates with the distant echo of smoky adolescent bedrooms.
Within this exhaustively researched account, Spitz unearths a trove of caustic reviews and bitter reflections to remind us how very often the world’s greatest live-rock band played dreadful gigs, and how thoroughly Led Zeppelin was reviled — by critics, adult music fans, and even fellow pop stars — for the better part of its life.
When George Harrison first heard a test pressing of Led Zeppelin I, released in 1969, “It wasn’t just that he didn’t get it,” a friend recalled. “He thought it was awful.” Rolling Stone, the bible of American rock ‘n’ roll, declared the album an “avalanche of drums and shouting.” The Los Angeles Times greeted an early show as “an exhibition of incredible self-indulgence.” The band grew to loathe the press.
Here, I think, lay the problem: From the beginning, Led Zeppelin appealed primarily to teenage boys. Juvenile delinquents, essentially, drove its album and concert sales. And nothing repulsed slightly older fans and critics like a band that courted adolescents. Rolling Stone heaped similar scorn on contemporary acts as far-flung as Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath for their pimply minions. Yet, writes Spitz:
“The music took audiences to a place they’d never been before, a place similar to the hysteria-induced level where, years earlier, the Beatles had transported hordes of thirteen-year-old girls. Led Zeppelin’s audiences were different, older…somewhat. Mostly boys between the ages of fifteen and twenty thronged the area in front of the stage, where Jimmy and Robert, aided by an army of Marshall stacks, whipped them into delirium.”
Led Zeppelin aged along with its fans, and the ice gradually thawed. But then punk hit, and critics pivoted from dismissing the Zep as sophomoric to interring the band as prog-metal dinosaurs. Led Zeppelin couldn’t catch a break — except with record buyers and concert patrons, who made its members some of the wealthiest pop stars on the planet.
The band disintegrated in 1980 following the untimely death of John Bonham, one of the great rock drummers, whose drinking had eclipsed his playing. In the years that followed, Led Zeppelin’s reputation gradually rose. I recall them, in my own 1980s adolescence, as one of the two great stoner-rock bands of the 1970s, alongside Pink Floyd. Arthouses staged double features of “The Song Remains the Same,” the band’s cheesy cult-classic concert film, and Floyd’s dystopian acid trip, “The Wall.”
Nowadays, Led Zeppelin seems to stand alone, its recordings ensconced as the crown jewels of hard rock. The first two masterful LPs, thoughtfully titled I and II, show Led Zeppelin bursting forth and rocking harder than anyone else, and blessed with a leader, Page, who could write great songs adorned with brilliant guitar figures. The third album revealed the full breadth of Page’s ambition: He sought to bridge heavy metal, progressive rock, and folk.
Those impulses reached full flower on the untitled fourth album, which, across its first side, wrestles with King Crimson-sized time signatures on “Black Dog,” rocks harder than ever on the aptly named “Rock and Roll,” and unfurls a full-sail folk epic on “The Battle of Evermore” before concluding with that multi-sectioned masterpiece, “Stairway to Heaven.” Spitz told me IV might be his favorite Zeppelin album, and I won’t argue.
The author smartly builds his narrative around Page, a wunderkind London session guitarist who reinvented himself as a blues-rock star in the legendary Yardbirds. As that band lost steam, Page seized control, cleaned house, and reinvented the ensemble as an instrumental power trio, with fellow session whiz John Paul Jones on bass and keys and a pair of Midlands unknowns on drums and vocals. Bonham drummed with unmatched fury and intuitive rhythm. Plant sang with a potent, growling tenor that soared above the din.
Across six splendid albums, Page revealed himself as a front-rank songwriter and a canny producer, particularly in the way he captured Bonham’s hammer-of-the-gods percussion with microphones strategically placed in drafty British manors. Yet Page could not improvise like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, his fellow Yardbird alumni; to my ears, many of his solos never really get off the ground. But his distinctive sound, bracing as a cold wind from Valhalla, captivated the rolling-papers crowd. And his scripted notes — the dizzying call-and-response with Plant on “Black Dog,” the chromatic progression on “Kashmir,” the octaval assault of “Immigrant Song” — endure as epic, timeless riffs.
Led Zeppelin is an excellent book. Spitz tells his story masterfully. He seems not to have scored fresh interviews with surviving band members, but he tapped dozens of friends, roadies, fellow musicians, and groupies and amassed a busload of archival clips.
Still, many of his revelations sadden the soul.
By the early 1970s, drugs, drink, and debauchery began to drag the Zeppelin down. The typical concert started late, stalled on endless, indulgent solos, and drew justifiably scathing reviews. Led Zeppelin frequently sucked.
Offstage, Spitz unspools story after blood-curdling story of unimaginable, inexcusable excess. At the height of their fame, these spoiled men-children dismantled hotel rooms and hurled furniture from windows from sheer boredom. Their handlers meted out brutal beatings to anyone who looked at them funny. The band and their entourage exploited an endless procession of underage girls, passing them around like party favors, tying them to drainpipes, humiliating them with human filth. No one seemed to care. Writes Spitz:
“I set out to tell the full story of the band. Their behavior on the road was no secret. I was determined to portray it straightforwardly, without pulling any punches. For me, it was important to let the actions of the musicians and their rationalization speak for themselves. I also let the women who were caught up in the scene speak for themselves. Look, it was often an ugly scene. That’s part of the Led Zeppelin story.”
Led Zeppelin is a compelling work, but one that may dim the Led Zeppelin legend. Gauzy Rolling Stone retrospectives and nostalgia-hued books and films would have us remember the arena-rock era as a pot-scented Eden, an unending singalong on a boozy tour bus. Bob Spitz gives us the facts, and they tell a darker story.
Daniel de Visé is the author, most recently, of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King.
4 Stars for Led Zeppelin: The Biography (audiobook) by Bob Spitz read by Rob Shapiro.
This biography was really informative. I’ve been a fan for decades but I never quite understood why the remaining members couldn’t do a fair well tour. They did a couple of one off performances and got everybody’s hopes up but nothing ever came of it. I think Bob Spitz gets to the bottom of it in this book. It was eye opening to find out in what state the band was in when John Bonham died. And it was interesting to see how they got to that point.
I think this is an incredible book about the halo effect, the way people justify their own actions and those of their comrades, and the post facto narrative sanitization.
Taken as an organization, Led Zeppelin was evil. I think it’s really hard to argue with that. The romanticisation of the “bad boy rock and roll lifestyle” is wrong. They’re actually just bad, despicable, terrible (some examples below).
The depiction of John Bonham is the most fascinating in the book. It’s a great example of where a “Straussian” reading comes in handy (meaning basically, that there is an important message in the text that the author does not state explicitly). What Bob Spitz says, based on his interviews with friends of Bonham, is that John Bonham was a teddy bear when he was sober, and a monster when he was drunk. What he shows is that John Bonham regularly engaged in monstrous, despicable behavior (as one interviewee says, “he was always drunk”).
He physically assaulted people with no provocation. He once or twice dangled someone by their ankles from the 11th story. He rode motorcycles in hotels, actively sexually pursued middle school girls (as did others in the band). There’s an instance of him grabbing the glasses off someone’s face and stomping on them with no provocation. He defecated in the purse of Page’s girlfriend. He tried to rape a flight attendant.
The contrast between how people talk about Bonzo and how he actually behaved is striking, and a great illustration of how people justify inexcusable actions in their friends. Or just lie to protect their band’s image. And it also illustrates the halo effect - how we want to believe that because someone is great in one area (artistic genius) that they also should be good in others (moral behavior).
Because John Bonham is undoubtedly a great artist. He is my favorite drummer, and Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands. Fully realizing how bad they were as people doesn’t really diminish the music for me. And I appreciate how this book taught me to compartmentalize (in a good way) between their behavior as people and their art.
There’s tons of other stuff in this book that’s interesting to me as a fan of the band. I didn’t realize how critically disliked they were at the time. Nor did I appreciate how incredible they were as a live band, which does not come across in YouTube videos. Maybe too much time is spent on the dysfunction of Peter Grant and their label, Swan Song.
I also feel like it helped me understand why Jimmy Page never did much great after LZ - he had a particular sound he wanted to make, and LZ was the perfect vehicle for it. Afterwards it seems like he had sort of achieved what he wanted, in addition to falling about because of drugs and being difficult to work with.
Examples of evil:
The business side of Led Zeppelin, run by manager Peter Grant, was an organized crime organization. Grant or his hired thugs assaulting people all the time - from journalists who wrote bad reviews, to fans making bootleg tapes from concerts, to promoters they weren’t happy with. On one tour a roadie would smash the kneecaps of fans who rushed the stage at concerts. They were paid in cash for concerts so they didn’t pay tax. They had undercover cops confiscate drugs from fans at concerts, which then would be used by the band and crew. They pressured a journalist to fabricate a quote from the mayor of Atlanta saying that a LZ concert was good. And they trafficked in huge amounts of illegal drugs and underage girls.
Statutory rape was extremely common. I think this is commonly known, but sort of glossed over. Spitz mentions members of the band having sex with girls who are 13 or 14. As just one example, Jimmy Page manipulated and had sex with a 14-year-old when he was 29. I would certainly call this rape. (Before she met Page, Peter Grant forced her into a car and told her that if she moved, he’d have her head.)
It seems that many of these encounters were “consensual”, but that seems fairly meaningless to me when the girls are 13. There were certainly cases of unambiguous sexual assault (potentially rape as well though this is not stated explicitly) such as a woman being stripped and beaten with fish, John Bonham attempting unsuccessfully to rape an airline attendant, and a journalist being stripped of her clothes. There was also an instance of a woman being handcuffed in a hotel bathroom - unclear if this was against her will or not.
Studio credits were also designed to get as much money directly the band members as possible without paying credit to others. It’s relatively well-known that LZ routinely recorded what where essentially covers (or original music with nicked lyrics) without giving writing credits to the original songwriters. Production their first album was also credited only to Page even though it was in reality fully co-produced by Glynn Johns.
(In an interview the author says he never spoke to the band members: “They were prepared to speak with me when #MeToo landed, and suddenly they weren’t talking to anyone anymore.”)
I remember in 1970 going into a music store where the owner of the store was playing some of the new releases on eight-track tape. He would pull out a tape, open the wrapper, and pop it into a tape deck. I purchased three of the tapes that he previewed: Chicago II, On Time by Grand Funk Railroad, and Led Zeppelin II. All three of these got a lot of play in my car's eight-track player but the Zeppelin tape was the one that outshined the others. Prior to hearing this, I had not really heard anything by the band but Whole Lotta Love ended up getting a lot of airplay on the local AM radio channels and I became a fan of Zeppelin, buying all of their albums up till Houses of the Holy. After that, I kind of lost interest in them but have always liked their music and the band.
When I heard about this new biography of the group, I immediately put it on the wait list at the library and was able to get one of the first copies ordered by them. And I'm glad to have read this...it really is an in-depth telling of the Led Zeppelin story. The prologue to the book tells of Zeppelin's U.S. debut at The Tea Party in Boston and a young hitchhiker's travel to the show to see them. The hitchhiker was lucky to get into a show and was thrilled at the music he had heard...turns out the young man was Steven Tyler who would later front Aerosmith. The book then goes into the band's founding by Jimmy Page after his stint with the Yardbirds. It tells of Page's interest in the blues and his guitar playing at an early age where he eventually makes it as a session player for many top acts of the 1960s along with John Paul Jones, Zeppelin's bassist and keyboardist. Then there was the search for a vocalist resulting in finding Robert Plant as well as a drummer, John Bonham, who both hailed from the Midlands of England.
The book details the recording of each of Zeppelin's albums and describes the songs as well as how they evolved. I found myself using Spotify to play most of the songs as they were described in the book which I thought really enhanced the experience of reading about them. But the book also goes into great depth about the abuses of the band while touring which were mostly alcohol and drug related. The band's manager, Peter Grant, was a large abusive person with a cocaine habit who would threaten anyone who got in his way. Then there was John Bonham, the drummer, who was also a large man and always itching for a fight. He was known for trashing hotel rooms and throwing TVs, furniture, and anything not tied down out of hotel windows. And Jimmy Page's fall into drug abuse was very hard to read about going from cocaine to heroin. Then there were the young underage groupies who flocked to the band. Page was actually dating a 15-year old during the group's early years. And some of the abuses heaped on these groupies were really unbelievable. The antics of the group were very hard to understand. They were making millions but acted like young hoodlums, tearing up hotel rooms and abusing young girls. This behavior seemed prevalent among the rock personalities of the time including the Rolling Stones and others.
The book moves along at a rather fast pace, even though it is over 600 pages of reading. It details all the missteps of the band and the eventual death of Bonham from drug and alcohol abuse which put a Coda to the band's existence. I really thought this was an excellent biography but it did make me less of a fan of the members of the band, especially Page and Bonham. But overall I would still highly recommend this to any Zeppelin fan. It's really a great bio of the band. I also have a copy of Spitz's Beatles biography that has been sitting on the shelf for several years. This has motivated me to hopefully read it soon.
Spitz delivers a decent deep dive into the history of Led Zeppelin beginning with young Jimmy Page's many studio sessions to his joining the Yardbirds and joining with Peter Grant as a manager and onto the formation of Led Zeppelin who were finishing up tour dates billed as The New Yardbirds. Many years of touring, sex, drugs, and rock and roll take its toll on the band and Spitz does not cut any corners in describing the sordid details. I got laughs out of the stories featuring Grouch Marx ( where else can you hear these stories ? ) specifically signing a picture for Elton John as "Marx, Groucho" after hearing who he was signing the picture for. It is always a treat to read about my second favorite band after The Beatles.
This was similar to Hammer Of The Gods. I say similar because it did reinforce writings from that book. If you want to know what it was like while Zeppelin recorded their albums this is the book to read. I was hoping to find out that RP wasn’t a dog on the road with “girlfriends” on every American tour I was sad to find out that it was true. This author didn’t make the unfaithfulness of the married band members front and center of this book but it was there. I loved the fact that these men put out great albums. I didn’t like the fact that these men let the fame and the can’t do no wrong attitude rule them. RP was supposed to have an epiphany after his accident that almost killed his wife but he still left her in hospital and took up with a woman in CA. And The fact the next tour RP was with a groupie (road wife) while his son was dying seems the epiphany disappeared. To me This was unforgivable. I would like to read a book by this author in the wives of Rockstars words.
I could not put this book down. It will be one of my favorite books of 2021. So much success, brutality, cash, rape, tragedy, debauchery, gangsters, acts of terrorism, heroine, alcohol, under age groupies, absolute cruelty, dead fish, Chicago south and west side blues, cultural appropriation, and did I mention bags of cash, tax exiles, tragic deaths, live aid, and the origin of spinal tap, from such humble beginnings.
The author has an incredible writing style that made this a breeze to finish. Clocked in at 579 pages, I blew through it. Best thing I can say about this book is that I was sad to finish it. I was left wanting more.
I was pretty disturbed by the misogynistic sexual content in the book. Should I have expected that? Yes. But this brought my appreciation of the band to an all time low. In a word. Disgusting. I also struggled with the main focus on the technical not the personal. Details about record contracts and secondary characters were of little interest to me given the depth this author described. Disappointing.
Bob Spitz can keep these coming, because both this biography and his one for The Beatles: The Biography was just outstanding! I got into Led Zeppelin during my freshman year of college when I bought the complete studio recordings on two separate box sets. And like many amateur guitarists, I learned to halfway play a few excerpts such as "Stairway to Heaven", "Baby, I'm Gonna Leave You", "Over the Hills and Far Away" and a few others. I never "loved" them the way I did bands like Aerosmith, Rush, Journey, Yes, and so many others, but I immediately thought they were one of the most important bands in the history of hard rock, and have always thought that Jimmy Page is one of the best guitarists in rock history.
The story of Led Zeppelin begins inspirational and then becomes a cautionary tale of avoiding the traps of self-importance and substance abuse. The early part of the book deals mainly with Jimmy Page, who truly probably logged the famous 10,000 hours in mastering the guitar with 6 hours of daily practice and learned the tools of becoming a top-notch session musician of many different styles (I had no idea that he played in the main theme from Goldfinger with Shirley Bassey!), and was the guitarist for multiple bands - most notably The Yardbirds. He had clear ideas of where he thought rock should head and exactly what kind of sound he wanted for his own band. Led Zeppelin began as The New Yardbirds, and was fairly undramatic in the recruitment of Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and Jon Bonham. They created a rabid fan base from the moment of their first concert even as they failed to please most of the critics.
The creation of their albums is told so well, and I greatly enjoyed re-listening to all their original albums chronologically after they were discussed in the book. Aside from this joy, the book is very dark and unpleasant for most of the second half. Jon Bonham was known as a friendly guy when sober who actually hated being away from home on tour, and took to excessive drugs and alcohol to cope - which turned him into a reckless psychopath. Their manager, Peter Grant, only knew intimidation and physical violence as his means of working with anyone. The whole band was DEEP into groupies and constant drugs. Add to that the fatal flaw that made them short-lived compared to The Rolling Stones. The latter band did not have nearly the level of musicianship, but had a personality that engaged the press and casual fans. Led Zeppelin was hostile towards basically everyone but their inner circle, took criticism too seriously, and took self-importance to a level that crippled their ability to be likable beyond their music.
As a final note on revisiting the music in connection with the book: definitely worthwhile. I heard the tracks in a different way, and was able to finally imagine what it would have been like for first-time audiences. Also, I went into this book regarding Houses of the Holy as my favorite album with the untitled Runes album (IV) as a 2nd. My new ranking is that Led Zeppelin II is the best album, Runes still 2nd, Houses of the Holy is now 3rd, followed by Led Zeppelin I and III in a tie for 4th, then Physical Graffiti. Then there's a noticeable drop-off for the final 3 albums (Presence, In Through the Out Door, and Coda) which is unsurprising given the toll that their very hard touring life was taking on them.
When Skiffle was at its height of popularity in England, there were 30,000 to 50,000 active Skiffle groups. Jimmy Page said he averaged practicing guitar 6-8 hours a day during his school years. He went to art college as did Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, John Lennon, and Ronnie Wood. Art colleges back then had lots of guitar players, said Keith Richards who also went to an art college (Sidcup). Soon Page was getting little sleep performing out at clubs “around the clock”. Jimmy soon got tired of that and became a session musician.
Led Zeppelin’s first record was recorded in thirty-six hours. Led Zep then put out four records in only slightly more than two years. Jimmy wanted Led Zeppelin to change styles from record to record like the Beatles had done. He didn’t want to be defined by only “Whole Lotta Love”. On Zep tours the engineers started putting Robert’s voice through an Eventide digital delay (Bob doesn’t mention which Eventide delay, so it also could be their harmonizer) to duplicate how he sounded on records. Robert (rightly) saw Kashmir as the definitive Led Zeppelin song and thought next it, “Stairway” was “a mere trifle.”
Recording Studios: When Jimmy says of Bron-Yr-Aur, “Oh we are here, we’re in nature, we can hear the birds sing, there’s not a car sound, there’s no airplanes, it was just fantastic”, it seems like Jimmy would like to record at my recording studio Allaire Studios which was chosen by David Bowie and Norah Jones for being far away from cars and planes. Further proving Jimmy would love Allaire, he writes, You really do need the facilities where you can take a break for a cup of tea and a wander around the garden. Instead of walking into the studio, down a flight of steps into fluorescent lights and opening up the big soundproof door and being surrounded by acoustic tiles.” Jimmy feels most studios have a sterile “hospital atmosphere”. Yep, they sure do, Jimmy, and no windows or natural light. For “In Through the Out Door” John Paul Jones was using his super expensive and rare Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer a lot. However, all John could create with it that anyone still listens to, was the cheesy strings, and the trumpet-like synth solo, used on “All of My Love.”
The majority of this book is story after story about Led Zep’s drug excess and the unrestrained violence of these three: Peter Grant (band manager), Richard Cole (road manager), John Bonham (Bonzo - drummer). Bonzo had “drunk throughout the journey from Heathrow to JFK and had pissed himself rather than get up to use the bathroom.” In one concert’s first hour, “Jimmy swigged from a bottle of Jack Daniels between numbers.” During a massive blizzard: “Peter pulled out a mirror, took a gram of cocaine, laid it down in one line and stuck it under the pilot’s nose. The pilot snorted the whole fucking line. ‘Okay, we’re ready to go to Chicago’, he announced.” “During performances, he (Bonzo) positioned a baggie of cocaine between his legs.” “At the Rainbow, he (Bonzo) misinterpreted the smile of a woman he knew who was eating dinner and punched her so hard – in the face - he knocked her off the seat. A few days later he assaulted a clerk at Tower records.” “Bonzo was a huge adult with the emotions of a six-year-old.” Charming.
“Peter grew exasperated with the way the car ahead of his was traveling. ‘Go on’ he instructed his limo driver, ‘drive into him.’ The driver hesitated, ‘Mr. Grant I can’t possibly do that.’ G pushed a wad of bills at his driver. ‘Here’s a thousand dollars. Do what you’re told’.” Not to be left out, Richard Cole was a Quaalude, cocaine, heroin, and violence addict. In San Francisco, Peter Grant was so violent against one of Bill Graham’s employees (who had done nothing wrong) that Bill swore he’d never book Led Zep ever again (and he didn’t). Soon after that, Robert Plant’s kid, Karac, died after clearly being wrongly diagnosed by his doctor back in England. Peter Grant was such a lying colossal asshole that he then called Billy Graham and said, “I hope you’re happy, thanks to you, Robert Plant’s kid died today.” Robert in return ignored every flaw in Grant when he said of Grant after Karac’s death, “he was the only guy that actually hugged me, that helped me at all.” After all, who DOESN”T love getting hugged by a wildly overweight sadistic paranoid drug addict who lives for violent acts? How fucked up did Peter get on drugs? “Peter picked up one of the TV remote controls and bit into it, thinking it was a sandwich – and broke his two front teeth.” This book also discusses Jimmy’s heavy heroin and cocaine problem as well. Oh joy. For those of us who never wished ourselves to become a raging addict, this book will have you saying, “Well, what did you expect with that behavior?” or “How much sick entitlement does it take to throw a working TV or piano out someone’s else’s window eight floors up?”
I’ve always been a huge Led Zep fan, so this book came as a disappointment. My problem with this book was that the author has zero knowledge of music and was much more interested in the many sordid stories about the band than revealing stories about the the creation of the actual music itself. For example, on page 175, Bob finally tries to get technical and discusses Jimmy’s Black Mountain Side guitar tuning as “open-D tuning” – no one plays Black Mountain Side in open D, every guitarist knows on the recording it’s in DADGAD tuning but tuned down one-half step (C# G# C# F# G# C#). Would it hurt readers to know that Kashmir is also in DADGAD, Bob? This book was so non-musical, I spent most of the time thinking I was reading Creem or Rolling Stone Magazine - it had too many out-of-control drug and inexcusable violence stories for People Magazine or Tiger Beat. If you spent ten hours doing harmonic analysis of Zep songs or transcribing them, instead of reading this 575-page tale of Page and Bonham’s prodigious drug and alcohol usage and non-musical concert excess stories, you’ll come out ahead. Heck, if you simply transcribed all the parts of just “The Rain Song” (guitar DGCGCD and learned the Mellotron parts too), I think you’d learn more than this book will teach you.
Was not in the market for reading another Zep book after polishing off a couple last year, but this was slap bang in my eyeline on the newly arrived shelf at the library, all shiny and new. And really if you are going to publish another book about Zep, have something new to recount, better, not heard before anecdotes, new access to key people etc. Otherwise why bother. But no, this did not have this. In fact I'll amend the title to make it more representative of the contents: Peter Grant: biography of the LZ manager and his financial dealings and Swansong label signings. I ended up skim reading pages and pages of stories about deals, backstage heavyhandedness, acts signed to Swansong and how they fared. The actual LZ content, same old quotes and nothing new.
Bob Spitz seems to disdain the subjects of his biographies and make sport of belittling them. The Led Zeppelin book isn't quite as overlong and boring as The Beatles, but it nonetheless contains many falsehoods, fictionalized conversations, and assumptions about the very thoughts in the subjects heads, the same as the Beatles book did. There are many better books about Led Zeppelin out there by more knowledgeable authors.
Its a rare author who can pull off a book about an iconic band or musician. Bob Spitz shines in this one. Yes I’m a big Led Zep fan from my teenage years, but even if I wasn’t I would have still enjoyed the read. I re-listened to many LZ songs with new ears based on the background info included in the book. Lots of details about many tunes and albums.
Now if only I could actually remember the details of the one time I saw them live - June 1977 at Madison Square Garden
A very thorough biography. Plenty of sex, drugs (a lot of drugs), and rock n roll. I enjoyed the rock n roll bits the most—some of the drug related debauchery I would have been happier without knowing. Sad to imagine what the band could have done into the 80s and beyond if not consumed by addiction and hedonism. Also Jimmy Page is a pretty sketchy guy, if incredibly talented. Regardless a super interesting read exploring the dynamics of the best rock band of all time.
Oh my goodness, what a powerful, bittersweet overwhelming book this was to read!
I fell in love with Led Zeppelin's music the first time I heard it, in my teens which happened in the 1970's and I still love their music today. If you force me to choose just one band to name as my favourite, it would have to be Led Zeppelin, so when I read about this book coming out I was looking forward to reading it.
I knew bits and pieces about the highly drama-filled and emotionally overwrought history of the band, but I honestly had no idea just how MUCH drama and issues the band and everyone around them endured during the years they played together so this book was an eye-opener for me.
I should also note that at nearly 600 pages, this book is a serious investment for a reader (I VERY RARELY read books this long - I just don't have the interest for such lengthy commitments usually, but this book was so worth it!) but is a worthwhile investment for anyone who loves rock and roll. Because while this book is a bio of Led Zeppelin, the time the band lived and played in was also a hey-day of rock, and this book has "guest appearances" by LITERALLY every rocker you've ever heard of (and many more you probably haven't) who connected or otherwise interacted with Zeppelin over the years. Seriously, I am not kidding here - name a rock or blues band or performer and they are in this book. It's a very cool trip down memory lane of this time over about 30 years and which covers so many important performers, concerts and events related to rock and roll.
I have to give kudos to this author, who clearly did monumental research for this book and talked to everyone even remotely related to the band. It is an honest and objective telling of what went on within, outside and around Led Zeppelin, and it is a "warts and all" telling. There were some heartbreakingly sad things the band members did and experienced, not least of which involves drugs - so many drugs! - which eventually led to the death of John Bonham and the end of Led Zeppelin as we knew it.
But while the author is unstinting in telling all the things the band did and experienced on the downsides, this book is also a real love letter to the times of Led Zeppelin when it was good - REALLY REALLY GOOD! There is a reason that Zepplin's music is still listened to, purchased and successful all these years after the bank broke up - it was magic and it still holds up today as rock music that grabs hold of a listener hard and doesn't let go - this music burrows into your soul and changes you. The book takes a reader from the very beginning (before even, as we learn about who the members were and what they did before they even meet) all the way to years after Bonham's death and the formal end of Led Zeppelin with one-off appearances together including at Live Aid.
If you are fan of Led Zeppelin or their music then I would say this is a must-read and a definitive bio of the band. But even if you are less a Led Zeppelin fan but a fan of rock in general, this is such a comprehensive, detailed, and entertaingly written book (it never feels boring and the pacing is a perfect mix of detail and history with great stories well told, and cameos and other stories about every rocker across the spectrum over those 40 years) that I had a hard time putting down over the two weeks it took me to read the whole thing. I really enjoyed this and am glad I read it.
This is a proper rock bio. That is, it sorts the minutiae of album recording and tour organizing into proper stories and anecdotes and does better than dry chronologizing of well-known facts. It tells a tale the way a tale should told and doesn't read like 500 pages of CD liner notes (I'm talking to you, recently read Warren Zevon bio!). I drew a lot of insight about the albums and the songs and enjoyed re-listening to each record in turn as I read through the story of its genesis in this book. My idea of fun!
Some here detract from the work because the band members weren't able to be interviewed. That's a blessing as well as a curse. It's nice to get first-hand poop, but well-researched journalism doesn't require it. Likewise, you don't need to worry about Page or Plant re-colorizing the story 40 years later here. Participation from people like that comes with an agenda, often.
What didn't I like?
A word about the history of sexual assault and abuse that the history of Led Zeppelin also represents. This is pretty well-documented here, including details that are highly difficult to stomach in this day and age. I disliked Spitz's allowing a few of the more egregious incidents to hang without comment. I disliked one passage's conclusion with a band-member's self-excusing quotation: "Well, we were young."
No one is buying that excuse now, and I think more should have said here. The incidents have, many of them, been well-known for decades, but this decade is different than the one in which "Hammer of the Gods" was published.
That isn't necessarily the author's fault. He works with what he's got given said lack of band-member participation. But it's also OK to editorialize in the world of journalism. Remaining utterly "objective" is what cursed us with Trump, after all. A few words next time, Bob, please.
I also didn't care for the complete omission of any mention of the song-authorship lawsuits to which Zep were subjected, some rightly, some less so. Spitz goes out of his way to point out the many occasions in which Page/Plant claimed credit for tunes that they may not have fully or partly written--but, then, it goes nowhere.
Nevertheless, I'm sticking with my 5 stars. A great read, all you want to know, whether you like all of it or not.
As has been pointed out, there are a lot of weird errors in this book. Spitz wasn't a Zeppelin fan when he started writing the book, which one can argue makes him the worst/best candidate to write a biography. Two errors I can think of just sitting here without opening the book: At one point he offhandedly mentions Gallows Pole as being on IV, and at another point in the mid-seventies he gets the [current] number of studio albums wrong. One thing the book does very well is set the stage and context for how the band came to be. The opening chapters about the blues/rock scene in England are excellent. The rise and fall of Led Zeppelin is kind of the story of the seventies more broadly. The boomer dream of the sixties crashed and burned into the bloat, paranoia, resentment, decadence, violence, absurdity, discontent, and rot of the following decade. I think the book does a great job of painting that metaphor, especially when discussing the figure of Peter Grant and the entity of Swan Song. But it also applies to the band itself, and based on the book, it's incredible that they made it as long as they did, especially when by about 1975, the wheels were starting to come off for a dozen different reasons, the chief two being too much money and too many drugs. The band really does become Evil Spinal Tap around this time, and some of the details are surreal/horrific/funny/pathetic separately or all at once. Where the book loses me a bit, is when discussing the band as an entity comprising of individual personalities interacting with each other, and while the book makes a strong claim that the band very quickly became this sort of godlike bacchanalian chimera outside of and separate from the four individuals moving from town to town, obscuring their interpersonal dynamics, I still felt a big gap there because after all, this is supposed to be a Led Zeppelin biography. So when all of a sudden 75% into the book, Spitz informs us "The band mates were never really friends." Wait, what? That sounds interesting, please tell me more! Where did that come from? How are we just hearing about this? Don't you want to explore that idea? No, no, not really. That said, I think the book does a great job in showing why Plant wants nothing to do with Zeppelin. He starts having reservations pretty early on, and things just get worse and worse for him the longer he stays in the circus. You finish reading this and you agree with his lifelong choice -- Why would Robert Plant want to come within fifty miles of being in this band? I think that change in perspective, one previous biographies have, to put it mildly, not shared, demonstrates the overall fresh quality of the book. On the whole, this was a real page-turner and very readable account of the band.
Spitz's exhaustive and no holds barred biography on Led Zeppelin is fascinating and infuriating. All that prodigious talent senselessly consumed by ego, vanity, insane excess, wanton and reckless behavior, and massive amounts of drugs. The worst part of it all was there was nobody to say "no." They were surrounded by violent and drug-crazed yes-men who pandered to all of the insanity. The surprise was not that the band imploded. The only surprise was that it took so long. Their lengthy list of demands was paranoid and self-indulgent: "Do not speak to the band before they speak to you" and "Never make eye contact with John Bonham” are two particularly outrageous demands they made. Yet their fans, driven to near-hysteria by their music and their appeal, held on to the very end. Their non-existent relationship with the press and concert managers throughout the world did little to dim their light. Thankfully, their creative output remains for the ages. When they were "on" they were brilliant performers who made an indelible mark on the world of rock. And even the ugly truths presented by Bob Spitz can't erase that.
A fantastic read. Ok, some diehard fans may consider the writer’s perspective a bit skewed toward portraying the band in a bad light, but there are so many accounts here of the appalling behaviour of band members and their management that make the book credible to me. A story well worth telling. Jaw dropping in parts.
The first chapters of the book are a compelling historical account of that great period when rock was built in early 1960s Great Britain. A 16/17 Jagger & Page in the back of van on their way to see Howlin’ Wolf in Manchester! Page, being told by a fellow student at art college - “you should meet my brother, he plays guitar” (paraphrasing) - they subsequently met at Page’s parents’ house and sussed each other out - Jeff Beck meets Jimmy Page.
The accounts of the making of the records covers the music very well for the general music fan.
Highly recommended for fans of rock music. Essential, I’d suggest.