Led Zeppelin

It is a long time since I read a book on Led Zeppelin, Hammer of the Gods which I raced through while imprisoned. This output, part of the Virgin Modern Icon series, is a much shorter one and considerably less detailed. It is also controversy deficient. Apart from revealing that the group had a reputation as hell raisers prone to throwing the odd television set out a hotel window, there were no revelations. Richard Cole, the group’s one time road manager, might have cornered the market there.

By 1970 the Peter Grant managed band had displaced the Beatles as the World’s leading group. There is a rare televised interview with Robert Plant and John Bonham on the day that particular announcement was made, wisely retained for posterity, which is still worth watching. Over the following decade this band would literally ‘strut, swagger and preen’ the world stage, producing the finest rock music of the last century. It ended quicker than it started with the untimely death of drummer John Bonham after a heavy drinking session.

The band was formed in 1968 after Jimmy Page had finished with the Yardbirds. Page knew what he wanted and put together an assembly of musicians that has not yet been rivalled in the world of heavy rock. Two of the foursome were had already established reputations on the rock scene, Page and John Paul Jones. Plant and Bonham were novices. Paul Rodgers of Free was considered for the front man in place of Plant. Rodgers went on to become lead singer with Bad Company but his success never matched that of Plant at Zeppelin. Without Plant Zeppelin would never have been the mega force it proved to be. Despite his brilliance even Bon Scott could not have delivered what Plant did in the particular setting of Led Zeppelin. In Hammer of the Gods, if memory is not mistaken, it was suggested that Page considered replacing Plant after the first album. If so, whatever misgivings Page may have harboured, they could no longer be entertained after the group’s second album where ‘Percy’ immortalised his vocals by planting them firmly in the all time rock anthem, Whole Lotta Love.

The heavy rock tag was not one that Page took to, pointing out that about one third of Zeppelin recordings were acoustic. Even its greatest number, Stairway to Heaven, glides effortlessly across the soft hard continuum.

The groups name came from an anticipation of failure on the part of Keith Moon, the legendary Who drummer. Moon ironically met a fate similar to Bonham who he predeceased by two years when he expired from an overdose  in a flat owned by Harry Nillson. The Who percussionist suggested the group would go down like a lead balloon. Page pounced on it and with a little modification Led Zeppelin arrived.

This book fills only a small gap. It is not something to be taken on a plane journey of any duration. It is packed with quotations and comments from papers but apart from the introduction there is very little commentary from the author.  It conveys something of how the band was perceived at the time.

This is a collector’s item, both for the contemporary insights that it offers and for some of the photos. For those seeking the dirty their quest will lead elsewhere. Led Zeppelin were not found wanting when it came to giving the tabloids scandal to festoon their pages with.

Tony Horkins, Led Zeppelin, 1997. London: Virgin Publishing.


  1. AM-

    Enjoyed reading that [ twice ] whilst i listened to joy division-

    Heavy rock would beat heavy politics on any saturday night-

    I agree with page when you wrote about his misgivings with the heavy rock tag- but once any group has got a music character it is very hard for them to be seen different- no matter about the tune
    unless someone leaves the group and goes single- but the group will always be seen as hard rock-

  2. Anthony...led Zep simply copied the bench mark..


    Waylon Jennings, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl perkins..They smashed up hotels long before anyone.

  3. Frankie,

    don't forget about Page stealing from Bert Jansch (who sadly passed away recently):

    Here is what we can read in Wikipedia about it:
    In his early career, Jansch was sometimes characterized as a British Bob Dylan.[18] Jansch followed his first album with two more, produced in quick succession: It Don't Bother Me and Jack Orion[19]—which contained his first recording of "Blackwaterside", later to be taken up by Jimmy Page and recorded by Led Zeppelin as "Black Mountain Side".[20] Jansch says: The accompaniment was nicked by a well-known member of one of the most famous rock bands, who used it, unchanged, on one of their records.[21] Transatlantic took legal advice about the alleged copyright infringement and were advised that there was "a distinct possibility that Bert might win an action against Page".[22] Ultimately, Transatlantic were dubious about the costs involved in taking on Led Zeppelin in the courts, and half the costs would have had to be paid by Jansch personally, which he simply could not afford, so the case was never pursued.[23]

  4. André,

    Zep were finished by the time that came out. Coda. It was after the death of Bonham. Don't know why they even needed the piece on the album. It was hardly making their career.


    for all of that I think they were without equal.


    do you listen to Zeppelin?

  5. Anthony,

    Black Mountain side is on the first Led Zep album. So It was right from the start. Here is Bert Jansch playing Black water side:


  6. Andre,

    you are right. My mistake.

  7. Andre,

    just found this, reading up on the matter.

    "Beyond blues and rock, Page was fascinated with folk styles, and one of his biggest influences was the British folk guitarist Bert Jansch. Page loved to combine Celtic and Indian influences, so he took the main theme of Bert Jansch's "Blackwaterside", performed as an instrumental adding a tabla and retitling it "Black Mountain Side". Where Jansch's recording of "Blackwaterside" is credited as "Traditional, arranged Jansch", Jimmy Page gave songwriting credits for "Black Mountain Side" to himself. In 1977 interview in Guitar Player, Page admitted, "I wasn't totally original on that. It had been done in the folk clubs a lot; Annie Briggs was the first one that I heard do that riff. I was playing it as well, and then there was Bert Jansch's version. He's the one who crystallized all the acoustic playing, as far as I'm concerned." Bert Jansch is aware of the influence he exerted over Jimmy Page. In a 2007 interview in Classic Rock, Jansch observes, "the thing I've noticed about Jimmy [Page] whenever we meet is that he can't look me in the eye." When asked to explain, Jansch continues, "Well, he ripped me off , didn't he? Or let's just say he learned from me. I wouldn't want to sound impolite."

    Bert only died last week I discovered while looking this up. Page should at least have the decency to acknowledge the guy.

  8. AM-

    I dont think i could read The Quill
    without hearing the led-

  9. Anthony,
    Thanks for the article. After saying all that, I still enjoy listening to Led Zep.

    On Bert Jansch, for those who don't know, he founded with an other guitar victuoso, John Renbourn, the folk rock band Pentangle. It's worth listening.

  10. André,

    just read today about Pentamgle. They seemed a good goup.

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