Written by: Dave Thompson
Published by: Backbeat Books
The concept is simple. If you dig Led Zeppelin then here’s a bunch of other stuff; music, movies and books you might enjoy. A simple list would be dry, boring and not long enough for anyone to take seriously, which is probably why Mr. Thompson wrote a book instead of just a list. The lists are there though, they’re just in the appendix. The book takes you through a brief history of the band paying particular attention to influences, contemporaries, and those that were in turn influenced.
The book starts out appropriately summing up the legacy of Led Zeppelin and expanding on the impact the band has had on music and pop culture. Led Zeppelin put there stamp on the world with only eighty five songs over thirteen years. For comparison the Beatles were only together for eight years but released two hundred seventeen songs. Not only were Led Zeppelin critical and commercial powerhouses they achieved their success by breaking all the rules. Yes, even Rock ‘n’ Roll has rules. You have to release and promote singles, you have to do television and you have to beg the music press for coverage. Led Zeppelin for the most part ignored this trinity. To hear them you had to buy their albums. To see them you had to go to their shows, and while the music press was free to write all they wanted to about the band, interviews were few and far between.
While the point of the book is not to tell the story of Led Zeppelin, as Dave Thompson mentioned that’s been done before, better and more in depth, the history of the band serves as a framework to explore the world that led to and was created by Led Zeppelin. Thompson starts the story by painting a picture of the year Led Zeppelin started, 1968 and the hippies, the protests, the riots and the Rock ‘n’ Roll. In the first three pages Dave has tied in the Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Cream, the Rolling Stones, Street Fighting Man, Begger’s Banquet, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower, Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita.
After setting the scene in the first chapter the second chapter steps back and presents a lesson on the British Blues Explosion. When American Rock ‘n’ Roll hit Britain in the mid and late fifties a portion of fans decided just listening wasn’t enough. They started to dig into the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll and found the Blues. Naturally young musicians were absorbing and imitating these unique American sounds and started to make something new. This lead to the British Blues Explosion in the mid sixties. Thompson gives plenty of examples of Blues artists that had a direct effect on Led Zeppelin.
Chapter three explores the history of the Yardbirds. The band that morphed into Led Zeppelin when Jimmy Page, guitarist for the Yardbirds, found himself personally obligated for several shows but no other band members. The Yardbirds had a revolving door of the top musical talent in Britain, most famously including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and of course Jimmy Page. An in depth look at the Yardbirds is definitely worthwhile since they literally became Led Zeppelin. Looking at the Yardbirds provides a perfect segue to the career of Jimmy Page in chapter four and his journey from teenage session sensation to, well, being Jimmy Page, guitarist for Led Zeppelin. Another chapter discusses the folk connection, another covers Swan, the music label Led Zeppelin started. There is a chapter about Led Zeppelin’s covers of classic Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll classics and one about the bands that came afterward that were influenced a little or a lot by Led Zeppelin. Thompson rounds the book out with a chapter going into the reunions of Page, Plant and Jones.
If you just want some lists then you can skip directly to the Appendices. There you will find a list of must hear Led Zeppelin covers, must see TV appearances by the band, a list of further reading and resources, if you wish to take your studies further, and a list of one hundred non Led Zeppelin albums any Led Zeppelin fan should give a spin.
Thompson keeps the narrative and brief and brisk and keeps the emphasis on the other bands, musicians, producers, movies, books that intersected with the Led Zeppelin story. The whole book is under two hundred pages and even if you don’t feel like reading every page the layout is sensible enough you can flip around from chapter to chapter. The bands, albums and such are boldfaced to make them stand out and there is a comprehensive index. Some of the references may get a little obscure but that just gives the hard core fans a bit to chew on. I imagine the real audience for the book are casual fans that have burned through the eighty five Led Zeppelin tracks and want a bit more.