During the past few years, there has been a vogue for pop-culture books focusing on the events of a certain year: Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution (the 1967 Oscar race), David Browne’s Fire and Rain (the 1970 singer-songwriter scene), Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire (about five mid-’70s years in the New York music scene, but broken down by year).
With What You Want Is In the Limo, Michael Walker — who did his own look at the late ’60s/early ’70s L.A. singer-songwriter scene with Laurel Canyon — tackles 1973. It’s a rollicking read that, like the bands Walker writes about, entertains you and then gets out of town quickly, zipping through 209 pages so quickly that you feel like holding up a Bic lighter and clapping for an encore.
Subtitled On the Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born, the book doesn’t entirely make its case — the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated Altamont concert, Grand Funk Railroad, David Bowie and others could also get credit for killing the ’60s or inventing modern rock stardom — but Walker’s arguments are pretty strong, and fun to read.
Walker follows the three groups in the subtitle as they tour behind pivotal albums (Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies and the Who’s Quadrophenia) with a hedonism and extravagance beyond many ’60s acts. No year is born in a vacuum, of course, and Walker provides a lot of context for how the bands got to where they were in 1973.
At times, he provides perhaps a little too much context, as he spends so much time on the history of each group, as well as on the recording of the three albums, and on the groups’ often eccentric managers, that it takes Walker about half the book to actually get on the road with the bands.
But whether he’s in the studio or in the arena, Walker digs up juicy anecdotes about the thuggish techniques of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, the dysfunction at the heart of the Who and the lukewarm reception for Quadrophenia (now considered one of the Who’s classic albums), and the loony camaraderie of Alice Cooper the group breaking apart as Alice Cooper the man became the big star and guitarist Glen Buxton descended into alcoholism and drugs. (A This Is Spinal Tap-level story about the pre-fame Alice Cooper, featuring a publicity stunt involving see-through plastic clothing, is practically worth the $26 cover price all by itself.)
It’s not often that you wish a book were longer, and even as Walker crams What You Want Is In the Limo with interviews with band members, managers, roadies, techies, groupies and others, the book still has an ephemeral quality to it. Strict grammarians might be bothered by Walker’s tendency to switch tenses, writing about 1973 in the present tense but having people recall it in past tense, sometimes within the space of the same sentence.
But all these quirks give the book a rock ’n’ roll looseness that fits well with the subject matter. What You Want Is In the Limo is loud and boisterous, and like a good vinyl-era single, it’s over before it wears out its welcome. You may even want to flip it over and start again when you’re finished.