On Track…Led Zeppelin
Every Album Every Song
By Steve Pilkington
(Sonic Bond Publishing)
4 out of 5 stars
The obvious question is “does the world really need, or even want, yet another book on Led Zeppelin?” The answer to the “need” part is “probably not”; as for “want,” that remains to be seen.
Thankfully the concept of this one is more specific than most. The title effectively tells the story, and though this is far from the first tome to address the Zeppelin catalog in that manner, author Steve Pilkington, who has written other “every album, every song” entries on Iron Maiden and Uriah Heep, does a commendable, often exemplary job.
Over the course of 155 pages, he dissects each of the band’s releases, from 1968’s self-titled debut through Coda (1982), deep-diving into not just every song, but the cover art, album/track credits, and occasionally the gear used.
There is a LOT here, including how the personal lives of the members influenced the sound and material throughout Zeppelin’s 15-year run as one of rock’s most popular and creative acts. The book’s page count is conservative, yet there is enough detailed discussion and data about the music and band to make it feel longer. Think you know everything about “Stairway to Heaven”? Check out the four pages dedicated to that one song and you’re guaranteed to find something new either in the dense lyrical explanation or which guitar Jimmy Page used for each part of the epic piece.
Also included are sections on Zeppelin’s official DVDs, various live albums through the John Bonham-less reunion Celebration Day in 2012, and songs recorded, or attempted, but never formally released. Pilkington’s tone is light and breezy as opposed to being overly erudite, which makes this a fun, often easy read even with all the facts and stats. Along the way, he offers subjective opinions on, well… everything. While those are informed, they aren’t necessarily needed. Thankfully he doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects of Zeppelin’s story such as Jimmy Page’s heroin use and Bonham’s severe alcohol issues.
Plenty of these details aren’t new. There have been a handful of other books—specifically Martin Popoff’s 2017 lavish, hardbound, and similarly titled Led Zeppelin: All the Albums All the Songs—which tilled the same ground. That was intended to be an extravagant, if still informative, coffee-table-style set with an excess of slick color pictures printed on heavyweight glossy paper. In comparison, the On Track series is far less elegant, perhaps aiming for an audience more serious about the subject. Still, 16 shiny pages of color photos and illustrations are plopped into the middle of the text, some offering fascinating insights such as showing a Salvador Dali drawing, which was apparently the inspiration for the black obelisk on the 1976 Presence album.
How much is helpful to the most dedicated Zeppelin fan is hard to predict, but even they might find tidbits previously unfamiliar to them. The less hardcore, ie: those looking for a fuller understanding of the quartet’s musical output, will find this edition of the On Track books, like others in the line, well worth delving into. It’s an illuminating look into Led Zeppelin’s influential history, as intriguing and motivating as the band’s enduring music.
Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns