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Wall to Wall Zeppelin
on 28 May 2009
Led Zeppelin's latest author Mick Wall he has previously written books on Black Sabbath and Marillion as well as hastily assembled book on John Peel. I've no interest in Sabbath but have read his Marillion and Peel books and of course know his writing well from many high street rock magazines.
First of, despite some misgivings over Mr. Wall's writing style, I was really looking forward to this book. It isn't an authorised account, but Mick has had plenty of access to the band members in his time covering their solo careers for both Kerrang and Classic Rock. I was tempted to even think this could be the DEFINITIVE account of Led Zep.
It's certainly well researched - I noticed very few errors (although the idea that Genesis recorded at Headley Grange before Zeppelin was one that stood out a mile) and covers their formation in 1968 and those very early tours in excellent detail.
However there are 3 significant areas where the book is very disappointing.
The first is Chapter 9 which is entirely devoted to speculation on Jimmy Page's interest in the Occult. This might have been better included as an appendix rather than given a whole chapter in between the Third and Fourth albums. Aleister Crowley may well be someone that Jimmy Page has taken a lot from - he was an avid collector of his writings, and other memorabilia - he even bought his house on the shores of Loch Ness, but Page has resolutely refused to confirm in any detail precisely what his motives were in this and so far as Mick Wall's insight is concerned, he simply adds to the speculation that has been banded around for years that this interest somehow brought about the many disastrous and tragic events that plagued the group from 1975 onwards.
The second issue is the fairly extensive coverage giving over to the lads' insatiable appetite for sex mainly relayed through the memoirs of Pamela des Barres and a couple of other eye witness accounts to the groupie scene. While this has more relevance to the 'personality' of the band in terms of what they experienced - i.e. it relies far less on speculation for the coverage given to the subject, it's still nothing whatsoever to do with what made Led Zeppelin "Giants that Walked the Earth". They were blokes, a couple of them still in their teens, and given what was on offer, they were doing nothing here that other rock bands had done before. Again I would have thought a few references to other sources of information would give the reader interested in that sort of thing an idea of where to look.
Thirdly though, and this is really where my main disappointment lies, is the regular passages in the book in italicised text. The jacket to the book readily acknowledges that these are "imaginary flashbacks" where the author has taken information from various sources and pieced them all together to summarise in some detail episodes in their formative years, rather than simply report these factually with real quotes. I'm not sure why Wall resorted to this although I suspect he didn't want to over-populate the early chapters with brief snippets of information gleaned from here there and everywhere - in other words he makes these accounts a little more concise, because the source information may not put the various facts into a true historical perspective particularly well. But they pop up in the most obtrusive ways - just when you've got into a period of the band's later career you are suddenly whisked back to the "when Robert met Bonzo" or when "Peter Grant cut his teeth working for Don Arden and Micky Most" - but its not their words we're reading (which would be really worth it I'm sure), they're all Wall's.
So if you are thinking about buying this book - watch out. As Zeppelin biogs go, it's certainly a great read, with particular insight given over to the songs the band stole from in order to make the classic songs that we all know and love. For instance I had no idea that the opening words to Since I've Been Loving You were taken almost without amendment from a Moby Grape song called Never. There are of course plenty of other examples, mainly well documented elsewhere.
But reading this book has still left me wondering when the definitive Zeppelin book will appear? For all its extensive research, I'm not sure this is it.
It has made me dig out all my Zeppelin recordings including a small number of bootlegs (Intimidator from March 1970 is playing while I type) that rarely get played these days as well as their two DVDs and 12 official albums and I must thank Mick Wall for making me take the trouble to listen to these again. When they were at the peak of their prowess, there really was no one else like Zeppelin. Yes, they succumbed to over indulgence and many of their off stage antics leave me shaking my head a lot of the time, but when they gelled and their musical jams came to something special, they were in a class of their own.