Released: 2011, Backbeat Books
Normally, I might not write about Led Zeppelin on this site but a couple of factors inspired me to write a book review and CD review based on the venerable Rock institution. So this month, you will get a little double shot of Led Zeppelin stuff. In April 2012, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) awarded a Juno Award to a band (Ken Mode) for best Heavy Metal/Heavy Music album of the year. It was a controversial decision (as these things tends to be) and the choice generated some debate on-line and elsewhere about the nature of Heavy Metal. To very briefly summarize, some people thought the band is not Metal and others think they are Metal. I started to examine what constitutes Metal. By coincidence, I had just started reading a book about Led Zeppelin which talked about this very question, namely the history and lineage of the Heavy Metal genre dating back to the early 60’s. I also pulled about an old Led Zeppelin tribute album to enjoy while I read the book. Please feel free to enjoy these two reviews.
LED ZEPPELIN FAQ is one of several books in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) series published by Backbeat Books. My initial reaction to this book was one of curiosity. Why in 2012 are people still writing about Led Zeppelin when there are a couple dozen books about the band already published? That the beauty of the FAQ series. No stone gets left unturned. The sub-title is, ‘All That’s Left To Know About The Greatest Hard Rock Band of All Time’. A bold assertion, but an accurate one.
Author George Case has some good credentials behind his name having already published a book about Jim Page and being a lifelong Zephead. The book is a big bomber, a slightly oversized paperback, running over 350 pages long. There are a few dozen black and white shots of the band and various memorabilia scattered around the book, breaking up the dense text. The layout and design makes the long book, more readable with lots of breaks in the chapters, lots of sidebars and so forth.
Case states very early on that he is not trying to debunk the band nor is he trying to mythologize the band although he does lean in a very favourable assessment of the bands accomplishments. LED ZEPPELIN FAQ covers all the bases. Each chapter covers various aspects. It’s starts with a handy overview and goes from there…chapters about songs, chapters about debauchery, chapters about pre-Zep projects, sections of post-Zep projects, sections on the artwork, sections about their most famous groupies, sections about Zep cover albums, lists of songs of artists who have sampled Zeppelin, financial stuff, legal stuff, media stuff, tour info… all of it with a two-fold goal, to bring obscure facts to light and to shed light on the mysteries, myths and (at times) lies about the band. There is a handy Zep Timeline that spans the entire book putting the band in perspective with major cultural events of the 70’s and early 80’s. There are lots of trivia type lists about Led Zeppelin, their film appearances, solo album stuff, books about the band, Zep tribute bands and on and on. LED ZEPPELIN FAQ is incredibly comprehensive, almost to the point of exhaustion.
Earlier I implied that Case was not trying to mythologize the band but at times he does veer dangerously close to hyperbole. He makes many very flattering statements about the band and at times over-states the impact or influence and conversely down-plays other acts in an attempt to make Led Zeppelin look better. For example, in Chapter 20 (The Art Of Led Zeppelin) he makes a list of album covers and suggests that they, “…constitute some of the most recognizable visual emblems of the 20th century. The covers of all Led Zeppelin’s original album covers belong in the same category.” Considering that the band didn’t exist for the first 70’s years of the 20th century and most people who were born 1990 or later likely couldn’t identify a Led Zeppelin album cover if their life depended on it, I’d suggest he is overstating the cultural value of a handful of album covers from a 70’s rock band. In a section about the band peers and what bands have retired, reunited and so on, Case states that Kiss after their reunion has been back on the casino circuit. This is categorically untrue. There are a number of times where is dismisses the accomplishments of other rock titans, most of which who are actually still recording and performing, unlike Zeppelin.
Referring back to my introductory paragraph, one of my favourite sections in the book is the final chapter, a detailed exploration of Led Zeppelin as an innovator and/or influence on the Heavy Metal genre. The section entitled, ‘But In The Long run’ is an extensive analysis of Zeppelin as Hard Rock vs. Supergroup, vs. Hype band, vs. Metal and/or a combination of all of the above. The authors research and references solidify (in my mind) a concept that I’ve been favourable towards for years is that Led Zeppelin is one of the first Heavy Metal bands. Could ‘Immigrant song’ be the first ‘Viking Metal ‘ song? Very possibly! For those (usually younger) cynics and critics who dismiss Led Zeppelin as dinosaur rock with no direct musical or lyrical lineage to Heavy Metal, need to read this chapter.
I’ve never been a huge Led Zep guy but their influence is undeniable. This book is perfect for a person like me who wants to really explore and understand the band beyond the music, beyond the albums, without having to read one of the many sensational ‘tell-all’, unauthorized, biographies that dwell on the lurid and profane. Although, I have obviously never read the other couple dozen books about Led Zeppelin books, I imagine the LED ZEPPELIN FAQ is truly the best place to start your own exploration of this legendary band. Of course if you already are a huge fan you probably already own this and will probably agree with my assessment of the high quality of the book.