Whenever you think a rock band is — and always has been — universally adored, go back and check out reviews of their records when they first came out. Start with the ones that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.
If you did that with the first Led Zeppelin album, you’d find a curious assessment of a landmark record. Writing his first review for the fledgling publication in March 1969, a 21-year-old UCLA student named John Mendelsohn described Robert Plant as “nowhere near as exciting” as Rod Stewart.
But Mendelsohn didn’t stop there. While calling the music on Led Zeppelin “weak” and “unimaginative,” the wise young man said British blues acts like the Zep merely followed the “formula” that involved getting a singer “who can do a good spade imitation.”
Rolling Stone readers would see plenty more where that came from in the following decade. By 1979, when Dave Marsh sized up Jazz, the new album by Queen, he took things to another level by calling Freddie Mercury and his bandmates fascists.
Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh went off on Queen in his review of ‘Jazz’
Marsh didn’t waste any time getting to the point in his February ’79 review of Jazz. “There’s no Jazz on Queen’s new record, in case fans of either were worried about the defilement of an icon,” Marsh wrote. “Queen hasn’t the imagination to play jazz — Queen hasn’t the imagination, for that matter, to play rock & roll.”
If Queen fans hadn’t taken offense by then, the following lines took care of that problem. After referring to the band’s music as “a dull pastiche,” Marsh called the band members “arrogant brats” whose level of self-regard is so disconcerting because it’s “so unfounded.”
While you mightn’t think it possible, the review actually goes downhill from there. A few paragraphs later, Marsh says Mercury “too much of a boor to feel stupid about” his “shamelessness.” (That comes as a reference to “Let Me Entertain You.”)
But the kicker is really something. After declaring “We Will Rock You” the group’s “marching order,” Marsh writes that “Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band.” Then he signs off calling Mercury and company “creeps” with “polluting ideas.”
Another RS reviewer slipped ‘Nazi’ into the next Queen album review
With that Jazz review on the books, Rolling Stone handed off the next Queen album (1980’s The Game) to Steve Pond. This time around, the review featured a more positive tone, if only by comparison. “The Game is less obnoxious than Queen’s last few outings,” Pond wrote.
But he couldn’t finish writing that sentence without another reference to reactionary politics. “It’s harder to get annoyed with a group that’s plugging away at bad rockabilly than with one blasting out crypto-Nazi marching tunes,” Pond wrote.
Meanwhile, if you’re wondering what happened when Led Zeppelin II hit record stores later in ’69, we’ll offer up a clip from Mendelsohn’s review of that masterwork. “Who can deny that Jimmy Page is the absolute number-one heaviest white blues guitarist between 5’4″ and 5’8″ in the world?”
Indeed, if Mendelsohn’s collegiate sarcasm didn’t knock you out, his estimation of the height of Jimmy Page (who stands somewhere around 5’11”) must have.
And if you think the story ends there, we’ll point your attention to a great site that’s taken to compiling the worst Rolling Stone reviews in history. So far, the count has topped 500. They don’t seem finished.