Led Zeppelin: The Story of a Band and Their Music, 1968-1980

Given that Led Zeppelin may be second only to the Beatles as the most influential rock group of all time, discussing its history is bound to be a Herculean undertaking. Keith Shadwick is generally up to the task, and his 320-page tome chronicles everything from Jimmy Page’s days as London’s first-call session guitarist to the band’s dissolution following the death of drummer John Bonham.

To his credit, Shadwick avoids rehashing Zeppelin’s riotous offstage antics, focusing instead on a serious evaluation of the band’s music—although purists will bristle at the carelessness of some of his analysis. Among myriad missteps, he states that the “Tea For One” solo uses “altered scales and jazz-like pauses” without clarifying these vague descriptions, and erroneously refers to “Page’s 6/8 riff against Bonham’s rock steady 4/4” on the bridge of “For Your Life.” (The guitar line is actually sixteenth-notes accented in groups of three.) He also concludes that Bonham’s entrance at 4:20 into “Stairway to Heaven” signals a change to a “rich major progression.” This is simply not true, as the progression is still in the key of A minor.

In all fairness, this book is a comprehensive collection of quotes, facts, and pictures, unified by a compelling narrative. And while it may seem picayune to point out that “The Ocean” doesn’t “begin with a riff in 7/8” (it’s a bar of 4/4 followed by a bar of 7/8), these missed details prevent this biography from being a truly definitive one.