1973: The Year the Modern Rock Star Was Born

The Golden Gods arrive in America: Led Zeppelin in San Diego, 1973
The Golden Gods arrive in America: Led Zeppelin in San Diego, 1973
Photo by Bob Gruen/Courtesy of Spiegel & Grau

What You Want is in the Limo By Michael Walker Spiegel and Grau, 256 pp., $26

While many rock histories posit the theory that the '60s "died" with the tragedy of the Altamont Festival in 1969, this gloriousy sleazy but ultimately enlightening tome suggests that the '70s didn't really begin until 1973.

Because that's when Walker, also author of Laurel Canyon, says the Modern Rock Star (and album...and tour...) were invented. This is due mainly to a convergence of three huge but disparate bands -- The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper -- who released the albums Quadrophenia, Houses of the Holy and Billion Dollar Babies (respectively), and whose subsequent tours created the blueprint for what was to follow.

That means Rock Stars, in all their hotel-room-trashing, teenage-groupie-fucking, airplane-owning, massive-light-show-blazin', Bud-swillin', coke-snortin', parent-and-media-baiting, and turn-up-the-stereo-all-the-mother-fucking-way-blasting glory.

Walker also notes that, related to the invention of the Modern Rock Star, was the coming of Big Daddy Manager, Rock Journalist, and Professional Groupie.

Of the first category, they could be rude (Who's Peter Rudge), crude (Zep's fearsome Peter Grant), and shrewd (Coop's Shep Gordon). And for what they lacked in grace, they made up for in moxie and dedication to their acts. Not to mention PR genius.

In a year that also saw activity from a pantheon of classic-rock heroes, Gordon did everything he could to generate headlines for the Cooper band's never-before-seen brand of shock-rock.

And whether it succeeded (as when he packaged the 45 for "School's Out" in paper women's panties -- some flammable -- then called customs on himself) or not (making the band play in clear plastic suits to show their naked bodies...and call the cops on himself, only to have their body heat utterly cloud the suits blocking all the members' nasty bits), this is stuff you can't make up.

In fact, the best stories come from the Babies tour. Like when bandmembers would attempt to assign percentages of a groupie's airplane ticket home based on who "had" her the most, or when one of Alice's boa constrictors nearly squeezed him to death and had to be hacked off with a knife. Sadly, the drug-induced deterioration of Alice Cooper's (at that time the moniker for the entire five man band) guitarist Glen Buxton is also chronicled.

Review continues on the next page.


It was also a time when the concert industry changed forever, with acts demanding higher percentages of the door vs. guarantees rather than flat fees, and cutting out middlemen promoters and equipment providers by handling those duties themselves.

Featuring both original and archival interviews -- and a lot of great road and studio stories -- What You Want Is In the Limo is a quick read and a great book about a year and three acts that changed rock forever.

And, given that those 12 months also saw activity on record and the road from bands including Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Grand Funk, Bob Seger, Mountain, Traffic, Yes, Humble Pie, Styx, Jethro Tull, Chicago, Santana, Black Sabbath, and the James Gang... it may have been the greatest year for classic rock ever.


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