Led Zeppelin: The Biography

By Bob Spitz

You might think there is nothing new to be said about the rock powerhouse that was Led Zeppelin, but Bob Spitz, erstwhile biographer of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, has done his homework and his groundwork is impressive.

At their peak, Zeppelin really did seem to rule the rock'n'roll world of the 70s: haughty and imperious, every album a platinum goldmine, smashing box office records in America as they steamrollered in a caravan of luxury, hedonism and primal excess. But running parallel was a darker side which Spitz does not ignore. He is rightly critical of the under-age groupies who the band took advantage of. Spitz does not fight shy of the beast that lurked in John Bonham, whose reckless alcohol and drug binges awoke, he says, "a huge adult with the emotions of a six year-old". He also details, but does not relish, the strong arm tactics of manager Peter Grant and his inner circle, who make the Corleone family look cuddly.

Where Spitz scores is in his appreciation of the sturm und drang Zeppelin brought to the feast; he is particularly good at evoking the power of the band, at their peak, in concert. That's apparent from his atmospheric opening account of a landmark early American gig, including the detail that the local Boston DJ was the son of Don Law, the Brit who had recorded the legendary Robert Johnson, a fact which bonded him with Page and Plant.

If there are criticisms of this weighty biography, it is that Page and Plant's reunion is ignored and that, as an American, Spitz is prone to Americanisms: "it was like having a relief pitcher come in from the bull pen with the league's best hitter at the plate". Otherwise Spitz nails it.