This biography shows the rock band Led Zeppelin’s two faces and does them both justice


Led Zeppelin’s performance in London, 1975. From left to right: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page.Image Redferns

To Led Zeppelin – the biography 673 pages set a reassuring precedent. Bob Spitz’s former music book, dating back to 2005, was nearly 1,000 pages long and is still the most complete and enlightening Beatles biography.

With this new book, the American author and journalist once again delivers an impressive performance. Anyone who wants to write Led Zeppelin’s story faces a difficult task. This was a two-sided band; how do you prevent one from overshadowing the other?

From their inception in late 1968 to the sudden death of drummer John Bonham in September 1980, Led Zeppelin was the largest rock band on the planet with six number one albums in the United States and seven in the United Kingdom, where the group came from. And with a series of mega-tours that broke all audience records.

Excessive behavior

They mainly made the grueling concert series in America, at the time an inexhaustible goldmine for British rock bands. Led Zeppelin and their entourage always recovered in Los Angeles, where they could pamper their preference for young teenage girls without scruples. Guitarist Jimmy Page went the furthest with this, with a girl no older than 14 years old. And in every town that Led Zeppelin visited, drummer John Bonham was ready, often with the help of one or more roadies, to beat anyone he disliked with extreme intoxication. Excessive behavior from big rock bands was common at the time. But what Led Zeppelin allowed himself was beyond anything.

Bob Spitz maps all of this in a sober, discreet way and does not fall for attempts to make excuses afterwards, in the series of ‘back then times were different’ and ‘we were all so young’. (Guitarist Jimmy Page was almost 30 at the time.) He also fails to let it come at the expense of the other Led Zep story: the music.

The four men who first appeared on stage as Led Zeppelin on October 25, 1968, were no novices. Lead guitarist, first songwriter and conductor Jimmy Page (1944) and bass guitarist John Paul Jones (1946) had many years of experience as in-demand session musicians, producers and arranger. Drummer John Bonham and frontman Robert Plant, both from 1948, were much greener but very talented.

From the category outdoors

It is also a common thread in this new biography: When Led Zeppelin was seriously working in the studio or on the concert stage, the four professionals were of the highest class, each with their own musical drive and creativity. But they were also focused on working together, on getting the best out of each other.

Led Zeppelin also did not escape the quarrels and jealousy that are seen in all classic rock bands. But with Zeppelin, these only appeared eventually, when the whole work was already there. The band’s connection leaked out, primarily due to Jimmy’s heroin use, and Roberts changed his outlook on life after his 5-year-old son’s death in 1977.

But in their heyday, until the artistic triumph of their (sixth) LP Physical graffiti, from the spring of 1975, the collective functioned in unassailable perfection. Song by song Bob Spitz makes it clear how it went. How Jimmy came to the studio with some riffs that he had sometimes spent years refining. How John Paul and John effortlessly picked it up and gave it each their special twist. How Robert squeezed the text out of his head in the meantime.

More than one kind of audience

It also becomes understandable how the musical harvest was able to conquer more than one type of audience. There was the tour’s Led Zeppelin: the band that played harder than anyone else, with a reputation as the inventors of heavy metal – despite their own aversion to the term. And there was Led Zeppelin’s studio album, which could never be summed up in one simple genre: a synthesis of not only classical rock (and roll), but also blues, folk, soul, funk and pop, not just electric. also acoustic.

And decades after the sound of their performances has been silenced forever, Led Zeppelin’s studio music lives on, for aficionados with a differently developed taste than the headbanging teenage audience of the time – Bob Spitz himself emphatically included.

Bob Spitz: Led Zeppelin – The Biography. Penguin Press; 673 pages; € 32.99.

null Image Penguin Press

Picture Penguin Press

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