LED ZEPPELIN: Physical Sour Grapes

WARNING: The post that follows smacks of sour grapes. That is the intention.
It has been brought to my notice that the booklet within the packaging of the recently released de lux upgraded edition of Led Zeppelin’s double album Physical Graffiti contains not one but two facsimiles of articles I wrote about the group for Melody Maker around the time of its release in 1975. The first is the story about hanging out with them in Chicago, a revised and far more detailed version of which appears elsewhere on Just Backdated, and the second an interview with Robert Plant, undertaken a month later in New York, which is not posted here. The first of the two articles to appear in MM was trailered with a front page story, also used in the booklet, and both are reproduced below. No other music writer has two articles in the booklet.

Strictly speaking, because I was a salaried member of the staff, the copyright on the work I produced for Melody Maker during the seventies belongs to IPC Media, which is now owned by Time Inc. (In the seventies MM was published by IPC Business Press Ltd.) This means that neither Led Zeppelin nor their record label were under any legal obligation to ask my permission to use my work, let alone pay me, but it would have been nice to have been told that it was being used, courteous let’s say, especially as they used two articles. No one even told me, not formally anyway. I found out from someone who showed me the artwork.  
         When I did find out I contacted the company responsible for Led Zeppelin’s PR, inquiring whether or not this entitled me to a complimentary copy of the reissued Physical Graffiti album. They never even replied to my e-mail.
         All this is a bit déjà vu really. Back in the nineties IPC published a series of special edition magazines devoted to an individual artist, NME Specials they were called, which included pieces by me (from MM!) on Lennon, The Who, Bowie, Zep, all the biggest names. I found out when I saw them on a rack in WH Smiths.
         It’s probably not really the fault of the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin though, as I have mentioned elsewhere, they were never as media friendly as, say, The Who or Slade, two other acts about whom I wrote a great deal during my MM years. Both those acts have retained my services on and off as an archivist and sleeve-note writer and both, especially The Who, have paid me generously for my work. Even David Bowie, whose aloofness during the Ziggy era was a PR stunt designed to create the impression he was a big star before he really was one, was savvy enough to realise that a cordial attitude towards the media paid off in spades in the long term.
         Not so Led Zeppelin who held the press in contempt unless they were 100% supportive, though Robert personally was always convivial towards me as has been John Paul when I’ve bumped into him a few times more recently. In their pomp Led Zeppelin were takers not givers, their reputation for voracity and stinginess a byword within the industry. Perhaps Jimmy Page – nowadays the torch bearer for the group – was unamused by the slightly sardonic tone of the piece I wrote about the public interview he gave last October (‘JP – All Rise Please’), or the more robust, fly-on-the-wall tone of my re-written Chicago piece – though to tell you the truth I’d be amazed if he’d even read them. Perhaps he takes a dim view of those who fail to genuflect before him, as younger rock writers who never saw Led Zeppelin in their day, let alone spent time on the road with them, are inclined to do these days. He certainly doesn’t like being reminded of the intemperate self-indulgence, the often gleeful decadence, that surrounded the group, as is evident when interviewers mention it these days, and so likes to keep at arms’ length those journalists like myself who were privy to such goings on but who – as was our custom – ignored it in the stories we wrote back then.
         Also, perhaps that’s why, when I was in negotiation with parties representing Page for Omnibus Press to publish a trade edition of his photo book Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page, I was confronted with a contract with more confidentiality clauses in it than I had ever seen before, the sort of thing you’d expect to have to sign if you became employed by people like David & Victoria Beckham, Madonna or maybe even the Windsors of Buck House. After reading these clauses it occurred to me that I’d be breaking the contract if I happened to mention to someone that JP played the guitar. I didn’t sign it so I can tell you that he does indeed play the guitar, very well too as it happens, though this would have been confidential information had I signed that contract.
         I guess I can live without a free copy of the new look Physical Graffiti – my second favourite Zep album by the way and one which, if I remember rightly, I received two review copies of (one from Atlantic, one from Swansong) in 1975. Nevertheless, using my work without so much as a by-your-leave does leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Plus ca change.

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