Sunday, October 07, 2012

Music Sunday: The Led Zeppelin Edition, plus a book review

As I mentioned a couple of days ago here, during the past week I read LZ-75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour (2010, Gotham Books; 217 pages), by Stephen Davis. Davis has written about the band before, in his Hammer of the Gods (1985), which was criticized as sensationalized and inaccurate by the members of the band. I haven't read that book, but due to its reputation, I didn't expect much from LZ-75.

As it turns out, LZ-75 isn't really about Led Zeppelin, but more about Davis's experience covering the band's 1975 American tour. He made it sound just a miserable time, and again highlighted the drinking (primarily by John Bonham who, of course, isn't around to defend himself), the groupies, and the difficulties both musical and technical, of the tour. He makes sure to point out that in its early years, Led Zeppelin was routinely discounted and criticized by Rolling Stone Magazine, a publication that Davis worked for during that time. I think it is interesting that Davis couldn't get an assignment from Rolling Stone to cover the 1975 tour after he was told that an assignment with a reputable publication was a requirement for him to have access to the tour, but ended up getting the assignment he needed from The Atlantic Monthly, not a publication known for its rock/pop music coverage. It is even more interesting that the article Davis eventually turned in based on his experiences on the tour was not printed by the magazine. Well, things like that happen in publishing, but one wonders exactly why they declined the article. Davis's excuse is that the "elderly" editor-in-chief of the magazine "hated" his article (p. 194).

LZ-75 was only ever written, according to the author, because he found his long-lost notes from the tour and thought that "there was a story that could be told" (p. 4). But, it seems to me that it is more Davis's story than they story of a band on tour. Which could have been interesting, but ultimately wasn't, especially. The most interesting thing in the book, from my perspective, is Davis's reporting, in a few pages, of a meeting between Jimmy Page and William S. Burroughs, in which the two men discussed, among other things, crowds and the control of them in the context of the live rock and roll show. In these discussions, Page seems most interested in balancing the energies of band and crowd so that things don't get out of hand, while Burroughs seems obsessed with the times when crowds have gotten out of hand, with disastrous results.

Other than that, I can see few reasons to recommend Davis's book. But, it gives me a chance to share some of Led Zeppelin's music. First up is "Kashmir", which is from the album "Physical Graffiti", which was released during the tour chronicled in Davis's book. I find it interesting that, while Davis makes a big deal about the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine was both critical and dismissive of the band in its early years, six of their songs placed on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "Kashmir" came in at number 141 on the list. This live performance comes from May 24, 1975, at Earls Court in London:

Of course, the Led Zeppelin song to place highest on Rolling Stone's list is "Stairway to Heaven", the most requested song of the 1970s. It placed at number 31 on Rolling Stone's list and in 2000 it placed number 3 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs. I believe I shared this song a few weeks ago here, but with it's reputation as one of the greatest song ever, I feel comfortable sharing it again, especially since this is a different live version than I shared before, this one being from another of the 1975 Earls Court shows, on May 25, 1975:

"Whole Lotta Love" came in at number 75 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest songs:

The other three songs that made Rolling Stone's list were "Black Dog", at number 300; "Heartbreaker", at number 238; and "Ramble On", at number 440.

And, because I love drum solos, here is John Bonham's "Moby Dick" drum solo from Led Zeppelin's January 9, 1970 show at Royal Albert Hall in London:

Besides the six songs that Led Zeppelin placed in the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Songs, at least three of the band's albums placed on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the band itself came in at number 14 on the magazine's list of 100 Greatest Artists, Jimmy Page placed at number 9 on Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, and Robert Plant came in at number 15 on the magazine's list of 100 Greatest Singers.

It seems to me that, in the end, Led Zeppelin won the argument with Rolling Stone about its worth as a band.

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