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Book review: Led Zeppelin Vinyl by Ross Halfin

by Dave Thompson

Led Zeppelin Vinyl: The Essential Collection

By Ross Halfin

(Reel Art Press)

We will overlook the hyperbole of the title - if this is the “essential” collection, then there’s nobody on earth who will ever complete it. (And how vast would the inessential one be?) From discs that only Jimmy Page owns, to ones that even he is still seeking, this is a book for the true Zeppelin completist… because really, who else could care this much?

Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, some statistics. An LP sized hardback, 216 pages, full colour throughout, Led Zeppelin Vinyl is exactly what it says: page after page after page of Zeppelin LPs, singles and EPs, sleeves and labels both, drawn from all around the world. Here, an Iranian splatter vinyl 45, there a Vietnamese knock-off LP. Here, a wall of all-different first album covers; there, a bootleg that looks like Yellow Submarine. Plus, with author Halfin (who owns the majority of the records depicted within) better known as a photographer than a writer, you can bet the pictures are perfect. Heavy stock paper, firm boards, this is a “proper” art book in every respect.

The book is divided into four sections. The first will be the most familiar, touring the planet for variations on the core catalog of official albums. The third is more exotic, seeking out singles from as far afield as possible, and showcasing some glorious picture sleeves.

Part four is discographies, 50 pages of the things, alphabetically from Argentina to Yugoslavia, and is the only part of the volume that might elicit a yawn. But part two… now, part two is the reason this book is worth owning, whether you’re a Zeppelin freak or not.

LZ were not the first rockers to be bootlegged, but they were certainly among the pioneers, and - like their predecessors on the underground bins, Dylan and the Stones - they quickly became one of the most prolific victims of the genre. Their regular albums receive 24 pages of coverage in this book; their singles get 34. The bootlegs get 100, and those pages are a joy to peruse. We can argue all day over whether bootlegs saved the world or helped destroy it, but in terms of invention… artwork, titles, inserts, the lot… Zeppelin themselves could not have conjured more intriguing concepts than those that adorned the best of the bootlegs. We’ve already mentioned Yellow Zeppelin. But what about Dancing Avocado? The Alternate Led Zeppelin II? Berkeley Daze? Spare Parts? Back to the Garden? Bonzo’s Birthday Party? Forget the music, collect the sleeves!

Indeed, in many ways, the music is irrelevant to this book. This is about the artifacts. Thus, if “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” as Henrik Ibsen almost said, and “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” as Brian Eno is said to have responded, then Led Zeppelin Vinyl is ideal for anyone who has ever purchased albums on the strength of their sleeve design, and never even cared if the record itself was rubbish.

Which, if we’re honest about it, is how a lot of bootlegs sounded… a mono tape from row ZZ in a crowd of drunken revelers is nobody’s idea of an audio experience. But when it’s wrapped up in jackets like some of these, you can forgive a lot of sins.

Buy this book, and save yourself a lot of aural torment.