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Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis
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Hammer of the Gods (1985)

by Stephen Davis

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This is, by far, the greatest book written about Led Zeppelin. Davis dives into the history of the group, their trials and tribulations, their triumphs, and their eventual tragic downfall. It is very well researched and interestingly presented. This is a must read for any Rock and Roll fan, especially those into Zeppelin. ( )
  rsplenda477 | Apr 17, 2013 |
I like Zeppelin, but I don't love them. It was hard to get through this book. ( )
  LaurinLooLoo | Apr 1, 2013 |
What was, and what might have been

Stephen Davis' mid-eighties account of the rise, antics and fall of Led Zeppelin is a famously scurrilous affair, cutting a track that a string of copycat efforts concerning the likes of Motley Crue, Black Sabbath and Metallica have wilfully followed in much the same way, I suspect, as those bands wilfully followed in Led Zeppelin. Looking back at it now, whence Led Zeppelin's commanding status in the rock pantheon seems ever-more Zeus-like it is difficult to believe that, at the time of publication (1985), Led Zeppelin's credibility could hardly have been at a lower ebb. Everything the band stood for had been rejected as, in quick succession, disco, then punk, then new wave and lastly new romance (which I decree to be the noun for which "new romantic" is the adjective) followed hard on each others' heels. To Johnny Rotten (displaying a surprising lack of historical perspective, even for him), Led Zeppelin was the archetypal dinosaur.

In one way it is odd, then, that this unauthorised (and roundly denounced) biography made such a splash. But lusty tales of bondage with sharks, wrecked hotel rooms and satanic backward masking must have been a welcome relief from the glassy neuroticism of A Flock Of Seagulls - so perhaps no wonder, and it is always darkest before dawn. In any case, in 1985 a young Axl Rose, was warming up in the wings, and the mighty Led Zeppelin's legacy hasn't looked back since.

It's quite a legacy at that, if Stephen Davis is even partly to be believed. (Messrs. Page and Plant would bid you not). Davis writes colourfully, outrageously, bombastically but most of all entertainingly, and in that way as many others does Hammer Of The Gods befit, and reflect the glory of, its subject matter.

For all that it is a little uneven. Davis' attention to the story does wane somewhat as the seventies wears on - far more space is devoted to Jimmy Page's brief dalliance with the Yardbirds than to the two years between Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti - to some minds (though not this one) Led Zeppelin's creative apogee. I suppose there's only so much gigging, rooting, boozing and fetishising of Aleister Crowley you can write about without boring your audience, but all the same more effort could have been put into charting Led Zeppelin's hubristic and ultimately tragic decline. The best Davis manages is quashing the transparently silly suggestion that the decline and fall might have been brought by Jimmy's fixation with matters diabolical - thanks for that insight - and noting the increasing reliance on heroin as the seventies wore on took its toll on the creative spark. You have to think there's more to it than that.

Davis is obviously a fan of the band, but all the same he's no stooge: the characters he draws are mainly believable (though I still have trouble crediting a roadworker from Birmingham ("tar in his hair, tar on his hands, and when he opened his mouth it was like an air-raid siren going off") with the insight and deep celtic fascination to pen tunes and lyrics like Kashmir and, yes, Stairway to Heaven. Page remains, throughout, the impish creative genius of the band, Plant the Daltrey-esque Shepherd's Bush screamer (though as mentioned, this doesn't seem to do his intellect justice), Jones the completely unengaged professional, and then there's Bonzo.

Bone of contention here. In my book Davis is far, far more charitable to John Bonham's memory than, on the content he sets out in this book, he has any right to be. To claim the same man to be a caring, loyal and loving family man (* while sober) and a "beast" - by Davis' account, repeatedly guilty of at least aggravated assault and attempted rape - (* while drunk) is frankly an asterisk too far, particularly when Davis' record also tends to suggest Bonham was in any case perpetually drunk, and angry, throughout the seventies, leaving no time for "nice considerate John" to come out. I think Davis should have said it: Bonham was a pig.

And nor is Bonham's unfortunate (but hardly tragic) death, nor his (literally) fabled drumming prowess an excuse. I suspect Bonham's reputation survived largely because his behaviour was of a piece with band manager Richard Cole's, and Cole was a significant source of material for Davis' book, and thus commanded a sympathetic account. No matter: perhaps our 21st century moralising has got to me, but to my mind Davis could, and should, have been more eviscerating than he was.

Hammer of the Gods is now updated to somewhere near the present day, and the comparative lack of any interesting output since the band split (the one genuinely interesting project, Page & Plant's No Quarter, hardly counts as new material) only serves to gives one a sense of what was, and what might have been. ( )
1 vote ElectricRay | Jul 26, 2010 |
Surprising to learn how much LZ was hated in the press. Besides that there weren't that many juicy details revealed in the book if any. ( )
  MurphyJesus | Mar 7, 2009 |
Too much about the debauchery, too little analysis of the men and their music.
  GrumpyBobsReading | Feb 18, 2009 |
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a wonderful bit of semi-fiction...i say that because the members of Zeppelin (natch) have basically hated the book since its publication...woe be unto the poor soul looking to get a copy of it autographed.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061473081, Paperback)

The members of Led Zeppelin are major deities in the pantheon of rock gods. The first and heaviest of the heavy metal monsters, they violently shook the foundations of rock music and took no prisoners on the road. Their tours were legendary, their lives were exalted—and in an era well known for sex and drugs, the mighty Zeppelin set an unattainable standard of excess and mythos for any band that tried to follow them. They were power, they were fantasy, they were black magic. No band ever flew as high as Led Zeppelin or suffered so disastrous a fall. And only some of them lived to tell the tale.

Hammer of the Gods is the New York Times bestselling epic saga of the hard reign of Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham—a spellbinding, electrifying, no-holds-barred classic of rock 'n' roll history that has now been updated to include the continuing adventures of the band.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:20 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

If ever there were Satanic Majesties of rock their name was Led Zeppelin. The band that out-sold the Rolling Stones and made Robert Johnson's deals with the devil look like a playground game of conkers were as high, inflated and glorified as their namesake. In Stephen Davis's scorching account of their phenomenally successful career, no aspect - however disquieting - is ignored. The infamous encounters with willing groupies in hotel bedrooms, the narcotic, alcoholic and psychotic wreckage they wreaked, the disturbing influence of the notorious mage Aleister Crowley on lead guitarist Jimmy Page and the death of John Bonham are all recorded. Above all, the exultant, blazing charge of their music and its effects on Led Zeppelin and their fans is scrutinized. This is the last word in rock 'n' roll savagery.… (more)

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