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What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star W Hardcover – 24 Oct 2013
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When you've been around a while, have a huge record collection, have seen all of your favourite artists who aren't dead/split up/whatever, you tend to be the kind of punter who knows his/her stuff about your idols.
...and that's when you need books like this one by Michael Walker. It is well-researched, deftly written, revelatory (even to the hardcore fan), objective enough to make its mark as fine journalism and subjective enough to work as good authorship and - most importantly of all - sets out the facts as they are, rather than taking the established viewpoint of the critical consensus of rock journalism, which tends toward the pre-digested, lazy, cliché-ridden and idol-worshipping.
Walker's thesis is that 1973 was the year in which the 1960s died and the 1970s conception of the rock star was born. From a US perspective, he's almost certainly correct. Of course, in Britain, we saw the 1960s destroyed about a year earlier by the explosion of Glam Rock and Glitter Pop - Bowie, Roxy Music, T.Rex, Alice Cooper - all ruled the airwaves of a country that was never really into that singer-songwriter stuff. But America is a big country, so it takes longer to conquer.
Walker focuses on three bands and their predominance of the US rock stage - literally - via their worldbeating albums and record-breaking tours that year. Led Zeppelin, The Who and Alice Cooper are his protagonists. 'Houses of the Holy', 'Quadrophenia' and 'Billion Dollar Babies' are the weapons the bands wielded.
With skill, elan and marvellous insider insights, Walker describes how each band made these records, promoted them across America in 1973, broke all attendance records and almost destroyed themselves in the process. While the horrible brutality of Zeppelin's mafia-like entourage is well-known and intensively documented, the physical and mental conflicts of the Who will be news to many, while the real meat lies in Walker's reminding the world that the top-selling, attendance-record smashing monsters of rock in 1973 were of course those great neglected geniuses of the music, the sublime Alice Cooper group.
Focusing on the increasing dissolution of Glen Buxton (Alice Cooper lead guitarist) due to alienation, drink and drugs while his best friend Vincent Furnier (the man we call Alice Cooper) becomes the superstar without whom Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Rob Zombie and a million punks, metalheads and goths would not exist, Walker shows how a great, great rock and roll band is divided and conquered by the greed and ambition of its management and the voraciousness for sensation of its fanbase. Principal hitmaker Michael Bruce (guitar/keyboards) is given his due at last, and there are many insights directly from Cooper drummer Neal Smith ( the teen idol of Glam fans everywhere) and guest guitarist Mick Mashbir, who had to cover Buxton's ass live and on the last few Cooper albums. Even for hardcore fans of THE original Glam Rock band, Walker gives us more and better than we've ever had before. How about a full biography of the band, Michael?
As you may guess, I'm a big fan of Alice Cooper. Yes, but Walker does is remind the reader of the facts of the huge, if short-lived success of the band that in its time, outstripped everyone else. Interestingly, Alice Cooper were huge Who and Yardbirds fans, so there is a connection between all three bands covered here. I've never been big Who fan (I like the first few singles, enjoy 'Quadrophenia', but have always found the band's guts to be too separated from their brains), but Walker's depiction of Townsends' manic angst, struggle to record a difficult, intelligent work with primitive technology and the intensity of conflict between him, the audience, Moon and Daltrey (and himself!) is simply riveting. After reading his account of the gig where Moonie collapsed due to drug abuse, came back onstage, collapsed again, was berated by Townsend then replaced by a kid from the audience, I couldn't wait to slap 'Quadrophenia' on and give it the most close listen I ever have. Wonderful writing!
The Zep stuff is good too, but we've heard it all before really. I find it impossible to listen to Percy, Jimmy, JPJ and Bonzo without being sickened by the alleged attitudes, activities and aggression of Peter Grant, Richard Cole and Bonham himself. If all the stories are true, they were, quite simply, horrible people with no real moral excuses for their disgusting, bullying, reprehensible behaviour. For me, Zep's music has always been soured by my knowledge of these men's vile doings. Alice Cooper may have represented excess, violence and deviance onstage, but they knew it for what it was and made a morality play and satire of it. Shame that Zep's most beautiful music is sullied by the stories of Bonham's bullying tendencies and Grant/Cole's thuggery.
Forty years have passed since 1973. When I think of the great music that came put in that year, it seems like we'll never experience such amazing rock and roll again. In his book, Walker delivers a litany of the rock that hit American airwaves, turntables and arenas and as a roll call of talent, the list is amazing. When I think of the acts he doesn't mention - those who were big in Britain at the time - Bowie, Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Genesis...and I could go on and on - it makes me wish I were ten years older and been old enough to get to the gigs, rather than be a ten year old who could only see the singles mimed to on Top of the Pops. Kids, it will never be like this again....
For anyone who likes the golden age of rock music, this fine book is a must. For anyone interested in music per se, this is still a must.
More please Mr Walker!
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