Is there anything left to learn about Led Zeppelin?
Is there anything left to learn about Led Zeppelin? Tales of its debauchery are well-known, its best-known songs saturate classic rock radio and even the deepish cut, “Everybody Makes It Through (In the Light),” an In Through the Out Door outtake, appeared on the season-ending episode of Mindhunter. But in an exhaustive new book, Martin Popoff offers a fresh perspective on a band that seems to have already been viewed from all possible angles.
It helps that it’s in such an appealing format, a coffee table book, with a smaller, more approachable trim and layouts varied enough to keep one flipping. This never feels, as so many coffee table rock books do, like you’re looking at different versions of the same page over and over. Photos are drawn from a wide range of sources and cover most aspects of the band, from the heavy to the psychedelic to the mystic to the cheeky and strangely innocent.
The book proceeds song by song through the band’s oeuvre, making a compelling case for a group that is so commonly considered overrated that nobody bothers to give serious thought to its music. Throughout, Popoff’s ease as a writer makes it fun to read descriptions of the songs without actually feeling the need to listen to them. For any given song, we are given a complete and remarkably succinct portrait of who played on what, what the parts sound like, what influences are being synthesized, what context of the band’s development the song belongs to and what role the song plays in the group’s catalogue. What’s more, he does not privilege famous songs over less famous ones—all receive more or less the same air time, so that we can appreciate the minor numbers as much as we do the radio staples.
Overall, Popoff is at his best when he lets us in on recording tricks, especially when it comes to Bonham—how they achieved the drum sound on “The Lemon Song,” what kind of percussion is used on “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” or what the mic arrangement around the kit was on “D’Yer Mak’er.” But there’s plenty of detail about the other members as well, especially the central creative musical force of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. Reading about all of the group’s songs one at a time drives home how restlessly inventive and genre-bending they were.
Ultimately it is Popoff’s unabashed fandom that will make readers want to pick up the book. It’s a joy to rediscover such a familiar group through someone else’s (lively) ears, and the author is a charming guide with a real knack for description. To pick just two examples, Popoff describes “In My Time of Dying” as the group’s “snakiest and most thirst-parched sonic journey,” and of “Down By the Seaside” he writes that Robert Plant, “applies a measured cloak of poetic obliqueness” over the song’s deceptively simple themes.
All the Albums, All the Songs makes the familiar strange again, and Popoff’s infectious enthusiasm may even convert hardened Zep deniers. As for fans of the band new and old, it successfully argues that for many of its songs, the reasons for liking them are not as obvious as they may seem.