Contrary to what you may have heard the 60’s didn’t die at Altamont. In his book, What You Want Is In The Limo, Author Michael Walker makes a very strong argument that the 60’s died in 1973, when the music industry changed, concerts became events, money became gross profit, technology made the impossible possible, groupies were organized, and rock and roll excesses became even more excessive. ’73 was also the year three bands—Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and The Who embarked on three American tours that came to symbolize all the above mentioned and more. It was a turning point, a milestone in music that defined the next generation of music consumers. The hippie counter-culture revolution was over; the new generation would be exposed to what many consider to be the golden age of rock.
With interviews (many culled from previous sources sewn together to make this book) with all the key players involved, Walker’s definitive account of the rock ‘n roll scene in 1973 comes down to The Who, Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin releasing their greatest work – Quadrophenia, Billion Dollar Babies and Houses Of The Holy, respectively. Touring on the strength of these three album, Walker recounts all the partying, sex, drugs, alcohol, arrests, but it also comes down to the artists having the power to call the shots and literally changing the music industry the likes of which are still in effect today. No longer would concert promoters dictate to the bands—in 1973 the band’s management, most notably Led Zeppelin’s imposing manager Peter Grant, would dictate the demands of their clients causing a shift in concert revenue that would no longer benefit the promoter or the venues but the bands themselves.
Walker discusses how bands could now earn in the low millions, a staggering, unprecedented amount in those early days, and even dictate ticket prices. These practices led to unbelievable wealth for the three bands. Zeppelin would take advantage of their newfound wealth by leasing a Boeing 720 jet they nicknamed The Starship which they used throughout their 1973 and 1975 US tour; Alice Cooper rented a Connecticut mansion for nearly a year during the recording of Billion Dollar Babies and during their tour—which earned them a million dollars a month—they held such an elaborate stage show that resulted in three 18 wheeler trucks being necessary just to haul all the stage props from one city to the next. Everything from steel frames, guillotines and baby doll heads were transported in those trucks.
Probably the one manager that really influenced the way bands toured more than anyone else was Peter Rudge, The Who’s Cambridge educated co-manager who by the time he joined The Who was already a battle weary veteran of the road. Billboard Magazine declared his genius and finesse in dealing with every possible entanglement on the road as “The stuff of rock and roll legend.” Having already set the template the year before with the 1972 Rolling Stones tour across America, Rudge himself noted that the Stone’s tour “defined . . . what the future of rock and roll tours could be.” With The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper following that template for their own mammoth 1973 tours, Rudge says, “That Stones tour went some way to showing the way forward for how to run those tours.” Never were his abilities for diplomacy and tact ever more urgently in need than during one night in Montreal in 1973 when Pete Townsend and Keith Moon were arrested for trashing a hotel suite landing their entourage in jail. Walker recounts the incident in an amusing, we can laugh about it now kind of way with all the major players involved retelling the story.
Even the breakdown of the rock and roll boys club would be shattered as many top female music executives today got their start in the early 70’s. Mary Beth Medley, an assistant to Peter Rudge, recalls that being a woman in the music business at that time didn’t feel like she was breaking down a barrier; it was more of an opportunity and a love for music that drew her and many other women to it and felt like an equal among the men. Even she concurs that the 60’s optimism feeling died around the mid-70’s. “The hippie era died,” says Medley, “so the feeling that came along with that—that late sixties freedom—was gone.”
What You Want Is In the Limo is a richly detailed, amusing, engaging book about a period when it was a great time to be alive.