Saturday, 4 August 2018

Led Zeppelin






"As soon as I heard John Bonham play, I knew this was going to be great ... We locked together as a team immediately" - John Paul Jones

Led Zeppelin (1969)


Good Times Bad Times/Babe I'm Gonna Leave You/You Shook Me/Dazed And Confused/Your Time Is Gonna Come/Black Mountain Side/Communication Breakdown/I Can't Quit You Baby/How Many More Times              

"It would probably go over like a lead balloon" - Keith Moon

This review is for the double CD remastered version, containing the "Live From Paris" material on Disc two. Five stars for the actual album. Four stars for the live extras.

Released in very early 1969, the first album was incredibly ground-breaking. A mix of rock and blues with clear folk influences and a bit of late 60s psychedelia thrown in. 

Only Hendrix and Free played blues rock with anything approaching the soul, feel and raw electric full-on power as this. It is still my favourite Led Zeppelin album. 

The two shorter more "commercial" tracks, the proto-punk Communication Breakdown and Good Times Bad Times are the ones that initially stuck in the mind, but the extended blues of I Can't Quit You BabyDazed And ConfusionHow Many More Times and the pounding, slow bassy blues of You Shook Me, with its mesmeric intro, are where to find the real soul of this album. Black Mountain Side, however, is a small hint towards the folk influence that would pervade a lot more as the band moved into and through the seventies.


The sound on this album is fantastic. From the opening blast of Good Times Bad Times and the crystal clear acoustic guitar on Babe I'm Gonna Leave You it is a sonic revelation. Play it loud. Remember this was recorded in 1969 too. They were way ahead of the game.

Now, on to the live cuts. Many people have been disappointed with them, feeling that they resemble bootleg quality. I must say I have to disagree. Sure, there is a "rough and ready" feel to them, but considering the year they were recorded (1969) they are not so bad and they certainly capture the rawness of this mighty group as they first started to flex their muscles. At times you feel as you are there. Feedback and the odd strange noises and all. The opener, a mix of Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown is, at times, a bit messy, but for me, therein lies its appeal. I Can't Quit You Baby sees a bit of improvement, and Heartbreaker is excellent. Dazed And Confused has quite a bit of buzzy feedback, to be honest, and I realise this is what has probably put a lot of people off. The "rock" bit at eight minutes is great, however. Some excellent guitar in You Shook Me too.

Much as I find some drum solos indulgent, I never tire of John Bonham on Moby Dick. Raw power.

Overall, I just see it as a welcome document of Led Zeppelin live from this era, of which there is not much. The BBC live sessions are better, however.



Led Zeppelin II (1969)


Whole Lotta Love/What Is And What Never Should Be/The Lemon Song/Thank You/Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)/Ramble On/Moby Dick/Bring It On Home            

"The famous Whole Lotta Love mix, where everything is going bananas, is a combination of Jimmy and myself just flying around on a small console twiddling every knob known to man" - Eddie Kramer

Following on quickly from their stunning blues rock debut, Led Zeppelin were back with more of the same. Some of the rough edges ironed out from the first album (although it still retains a rough and ready appeal), this album has been regularly quoted by critics as being one of the most influential albums of all time.
         
It is a album of blues-influenced heavy rock. Tracks are mostly extended and almost have a “played live” appeal, particularly the well known opener, the electrifying Whole Lotta Love and The Lemon Song, with its impressive, bass-driven ad hoc Robert Plant vocal part half way through about “the juice running down my leg”. Then at the end, the rousing lead guitar joins in. Heady stuff. There are not quite as many drawn-out slow blues rock numbers, though, the run of tracks from Heartbreaker to the catchy Living Loving Maid to Ramble On - why they are almost commercial.

  

What Is And What Never Should Be is also an exhilarating extended slow blues rock number, with alternating quiet and loud passages, as indeed does Thank You, although the latter has organ-based echoes of 60s trippy pop of The Small FacesTraffic or Cream. It has one hell of a powerful drum sound though, and the acoustic guitar in the middle is razor sharp. Heartbreaker is one of the best riffy full on rockers on the album. Living Loving Maid is as close as they get to upbeat, stirring, almost radio-friendly rock. If Led Zeppelin released singles, which they barely bothered about, this should have been the one. Deep Purple sounded a lot like this on Black Night a year or two later. The Alice Cooper Band used riffs such as are found on here too. Argent used organ breaks such as those found on Thank You. The influences here are very apparent.

Led Zeppelin’s fascination with Tolkeinesque imagery and mythology first made itself known on Ramble On. There hadn’t been any of that stuff on the first album. Here we saw the acoustic and the electric merged together perfectly with the mellifluous bass too and the ethereal passages in between the heavy rock that so typified Led Zeppelin’s early- mid 70s output. It started here, with this track. It deserves to be in any Led Zep Top Ten.

Then there is Moby Dick with the dreaded drum solo. It is a John Bonham drum solo though. Great heavy guitar in it too. As on the fist album, many tracks go straight into the next one, and we are into the slow bass beginning of Bring It On Home, with its blues harmonica/blues vocal part before it explodes into a blast of pure Led Zeppelin power. It is at points like this that one realises, as good as the first album was, this was where this album saw improvements.

Most of the songs are defined by their guitar riff as opposed to the chorus or verses. Yes, we can all sing “I wanna whole lotta love” but we sing “da-da-da-da-dahhh” a lot more. Heartbreaker is similar in that respect - crammed full of riffs. As is the whole album.



Led Zeppelin III (1970)


Immigrant Song/Friends/Celebration Day/Since I've Been Loving You/Out On The Tiles/Gallows Pole/Tangerine/That's The Way/Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp/Hats Off To (Roy) Harper        
"Thank you for making us the world's number one band" - Led Zeppelin

Rather than release more of the same, Led Zeppelin turned things very much on their head with this, their “acoustic, folky” album. Yes, there is still the classic full on rock of Immigrant Song and the typical Led Zep blues rock of Since I've Been Loving You, but other tracks on this innovative album are somewhat different from what people had come to expect.

This album saw a clear change in focus for the band from late 1960s hard rock to a more folk influenced and acoustic sound. These styles had been present to a lesser degree in the band's first two releases, (Black Mountain Side from I and Ramble On from II) but here they received the main emphasis, and would remain prominent to various degrees in the group's later albums. This development is said to have endeared the band to many folky, bearded, cheesecloth-wearing prog-rock fans who would never previously have listened to Led Zeppelin's established blues and rock repertoire. With this album the group's songwriting dynamic also changed, from Jimmy Page's domination of the first two albums towards a more democratic situation in which all four group members contributed their own compositions and ideas - patterns that would continue in future sessions and no doubt led to the four symbols (one for each band member) being included on the cover of the next album.



That said, tracks such as Friends and Celebration Day, while having their acoustic moments, still are rock songs and contain some truly great lead guitar. Out On The Tiles is a powerful rocker that would not have been out of place on either I or II. Indeed, the old “side one” is pretty rocky, to be honest. So, the whole “the folk album” is a bit misleading. just as Beatles For Sale was not a “country album”. There are some tracks that certainly fit the bill, but not all of them. 

It is “side two” which saw the real change that people are referring to and the use of the material recored in the Welsh CottageBron-Yr-AurGallows Pole leads it off with an acoustic folk lament about being kept from the gallows pole and attempts to bribe a corrupt hangman. As well as the acoustic guitar and mandolin, there is still a potent rock drum sound from John Bonham and John Paul Jones underpins it with a rumbling electric bass. Robert Plant’s voice, of course, is no folky whisper, either. Electric guitar kicks in at the end. Again, begging the question just how folky is it, really? Sounds like Led Zeppelin to me.

Using acoustic guitars was nothing new, The Beatles had used them a lot, also contemporary artists like Marc Bolan and David Bowie were merging rock and folk sounds.

Tangerine is a perfect blending of the acoustic and electric. Once more, the track has a great bass line and a truly huge drum sound. That's The Way has a much more laid-back feel to it. Plant’s voice is gentler and another lovely bass makes the fade out so appealing. Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp is folky, for sure, but it is, as its name suggests, a stomper, and Plant’s voice is at its blueiest here, funnily enough. Even more so on Hats Off which I would say is bluesily experimental as opposed to folky.

Quite why this album garnered such bad reviews at the time is incomprehensible. Time has seen opinions change. however.

Robert Plant went full on Charles 1 for a while too, see below.



Led Zeppelin IV (1971)


Black Dog/Rock 'n' Roll/The Battle Of Evermore/Stairway To Heaven/Misty Mountain Hop/Four Sticks/Going To California/When The Levee Breaks         

"We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing" - Jimmy Page

After the blues rock of the first album, the concentration on rock of the second and the supposed folky feel of the third, what were Led Zeppelin going to come up with for their fourth album in just over two years? A bit of everything, that’s what. It was a massive monolith of an album, huge in stature and retrospective critical acclaim but also one that had heavy rock, rock'n'roll, folk and blues all vying for attention. Even the cover emphasises these dichotomies - the rustic rurality of the old man with his pile of twigs on the front, the fantasy mythology-inspired fold out middle artwork, the bleak British council estate on the back and the use of the much-analysed runes-inspired symbols.

Anyway, on to the music as that is the most important thing. These were the days of compact, shorter albums with comparatively few tracks on them and we were left here with only eight to savour, but therein lies the joy - we gave those eight offerings far more attention, and what an eight they were too. The mightily powerful and multi-faceted heavy rock of Black Dog and the mighty, riffy Rock 'n' Roll, with John Bonham’s iconic cymbal intro and subsequent powerhouse attack, are classic upbeat Led Zeppelin rock, the latter showing that the heavy rockers could do rock and roll. However, in comparison, the finger-picking acoustic strains of The Battle Of Evermore are as mysterious and folky as anything on III, as indeed is the excellent, upbeat folk vibe of Going To California.  

Then, of course, lest we forget, there is the hedgerow bustle that is Stairway To Heaven, where all styles meet in possibly the band’s most well-known song. As everyone knows by now, the early folky acoustic verses take a while to reach the climax (over five minutes or so), but when Jimmy Page’s guitar kicks in for real it is still one of rock music's unforgettable moments. One of the best endings to a song ever.



Misty Mountain Hop isn’t the folky tune its title may suggest, but a pounding drum and keyboards insistent rock shuffle. The monumental closer, When The Levee Breaks, is one of those classic, extended, thrilling blues numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on I or IIFour Sticks has an almost funky drum intro with equally funky riffs and provides a first flavour of the sort of material that would later appear on Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti.


Overall, there is as much “folky” material on here as there is on III, (something that is often overlooked) and in some cases they are more obviously so. Popular opinion would have it that the blend is fully realised here, however, (“every song has its correct place within the album” and so on). Personally, I prefer III, strangely. Maybe is because it still remains beguiling as opposed to the more familiar sounds of this one. It is very difficult to review albums you know so well. 

Regarding the sound - even though the latest batch of remasters of Zeppelin's work are considered the best ones, they still sound a bit muffled and tinny to me, as do all the masters/remasters over the years. Maybe it just always sounded like that - that stark, industrial drum-led attack with less audible bass guitar is the sound of Zeppelin. Purists will argue that Zeppelin's sound was produced in such a way as to lessen the impact of the said bass (particularly in comparison to many contemporary recordings) and that, in the seventies, bass was not as important, vinyl often not being able to handle too much of it (supposedly, although reggae never had a problem). Whatever, it still sounds to me, at times, as if John Paul Jones' bass just isn't there. 

The Mothership remasters are the best for me, (controversially, I know for many people) but even they still sound somewhat cold, bassless and bleak. Led Zeppelin didn't do sonic warmth. Maybe the runes had decreed it thus.



How The West Was Won (1972)


Recorded June 1972 in the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena

I much prefer this Led Zeppelin mammoth live opus to the following year's The Song Remains The Same. The sound has always been better on this one, whatever the remaster. Anyway, on to this one - this 2018 remaster, I have to say, is truly excellent. I haven't previously had a problem with the 2003 one, but this one tops it. It just seems "cleaned up", with more defined sounds, more "room to breathe" as those accursed "audiophiles" say! They are right, though. It really does seem to be the case. The 2003 one now sounds more muffled, to me, anyway. On this one, check out the bit near the end of Heartbreaker when the full band kicks back in. Incredibly clear and powerful. As it should be. The sound is still thankfully loud, but with more subtleties, if that doesn't seem like a contradiction. Enough blathering about the sound, though - on to the album itself....

Despite the fact that the songs are taken from two separate performances, it plays like one concert, which is always a good thing, for me, on live albums. Recorded in 1972, it was about time Zeppelin showcased their live power, after all, The Rolling Stones and The Who had been leading the way with live albums for a few years now.
                          
The set opens with a barnstorming Immigrant Song, with Robert Plant warning of "the hammer of the Gods", wailing away to great effect. Thereafter follows a good run of rocking, bluesy tracks - HeartbreakerBlack Dog and Since I've Been Loving You, interrupted briefly by the folky Over The Hills And Far Away. The iconic Stairway To Heaven appears early in the set. However many times I hear it, though, that rock bit at the end still sounds magnificent.

Then we enter a folky Led Zeppelin III run - Going To California (from IV, I know, but you get the ambience), That's The Way and Bron-Yr -Aur Stomp, before it is time for some blues rock again - a bloated twenty-five minute - yes, twenty-five minute Dazed And Confused follows. That is far too long, in my opinion, but there are some great bits in it if you take out that irritating "e bow guitar" or whatever it is and Robert Plant's strange noises. What Is And What Should Never Be follows and is truly excellent, as, funnily enough, is the throwaway Dancing Days, which has a sumptuous bass line.

John Bonham does his seventies standard drum solo bit in Moby Dick and, guess what - it lasts nineteen minutes! Good Lord. Yes, the guy could drum, but give me three or four minutes at the most, I'm afraid. Toilet break or more drinks anyone? Unfortunately, I'm just back from the toilet and we get a twenty-two minute Whole Lotta Love. These, unfortunately, are the worst excesses of seventies "heavy" rock, despite the undeniably brilliant passages within the musical behemoth (such as the bass/drum/guitar interplay at around seven minutes). Admittedly the break off into some lively rock'n'roll covers is entertaining and eight more minutes are taken up with a convincing blues cover in Going Down Slow. The point where Whole Lotta Love kicks back in is, also, one of the most spine-tingling, powerful moments on the album. Actually, I'll let them off with this one, but not Dazed And Confused and certainly not Moby Dick. Sorry lads.

Thankfully, the short, sharp vitality of Rock'n'Roll puts things right. Just hearing that groovy cymbal intro, then the sheer power of it blows you away. The Ocean has been condemned by many over the years as somewhat tedious. I have always quite liked it. Here it is big, bassy and rumbling. I love it. An acceptably extended blues in Bring It On Home ends this monster of an album on a thumping high note as John Bonham crashes things to a close. Great stuff.



The Song Remains The Same (1973)


Live recording from 1973

I have always preferred How The West Was Won of the two great seventies Led Zeppelin live albums, feeling that this one was a bit sloppy in places (the opener Rock 'n' Roll, for example), however, it is the new 2018 remastering that is being considered here. I have to say that, although I have no problem with the 2007 remaster, but, as the audiophiles will not doubt say about this one, it certainly breathes. It is not quite as muddy as the previous remaster and has more sharpness, clarity and, dare I say, subtlety. The previous one is more bombastic and, although this one is still thankfully loud, there are definite plus points in terms of definition and more discernible nuances. I am sure people will come up with "waveforms" or whatever they are to show that there is a discernible difference. I just tend to rely on my ears and how it sounds, first off.

                              
I have been living with the pre-release downloads of Rock 'n' RollBlack DogMisty Mountain Hop and The Ocean for a while now and the above applies to them, for sure. I am glad to find that the rest of the material has followed suit (not that there was any reason not to). Celebration Day is a delight, particularly the guitar solo bit. The bass is subtly thumping too, if that is not an oxymoronic thing to say. The bit where the full band kicks in during Misty Mountain Hop is pretty much perfect too and the guitar solo after it. Beautiful. Powerful. Yet textural. Jimmy Page seems to have got everything right with this one.

So, does this release's sound quality justify buying the album again? In my view, it does.



Houses Of The Holy (1973)


The Song Remains The Same/The Rain Song/Over The Hills And Far AwayThe Crunge/Dancing Days/D'yer Mak'er/No Quarter/The Ocean            

"We've done four already but now we're steady and then they went, 1, 2, 3, 4" - John Bonham

This album was quite a departure from what had been before. The blues were left a long way behind now. It lacks the sheer raw blues power of both “I” and “II”, or the rock/folk diversity of some of III and IV, or indeed, the classic status bestowed upon the latter. Led Zeppelin were now rock gods and they saw fit to release a “big”, potent album full of long, intense tracks reflecting the majesty they now held, plus a few throwaway ones too, that showed that they could now mess around and record whatever they liked. The Beatles got like that on The White Album. Never a good sign. I much prefer the previous four albums to this. The sound is also very tinny and over produced on the treble side of things. Too many layered guitars. John Bonham’s drum sound is very harsh and stark. Yes, he was always loud, but on here he is too loud, lacking in any real subtlety
                           
The rocking The Song Remains The Same provides a rousing opener, great intro and pounding drum sound and some high pitched vocals about California sunlight. The highly orchestrated, strings of The Rain Song provides a change in direction. It meanders on a bit too long, to be honest. 

  

There are still some classic Zeppelin moments, though, such as the moment that Over The Hills And Far Away kicks in with John Bonham’s always massive drum sound. The Crunge finds Zeppelin trying to be funky, with varying results. Plant sings “ain’t gonna call me Mr. Pitiful…”, however, he is a rock singer, and certainly no Otis Redding. Soul and funk he can’t really do. It’s ok though, but it does have the feel of something they laid down for fun in the studio as opposed to a “serious” composition. Dancing Days is another odd song, really. They seem to be trying to create a tuneful pop song. I would rather they just sang the blues. Both these are better than their embarrassing effort at playing reggae on D'Yer Mak'er, however. Like Plant could not sing soul. Bonham could not play reggae.

I guess after four virtually faultless albums they had earned the right to try their hand at other things. Fair play, but there is a bit of a hint of self-satisfied laziness about it all. Easy to say in retrospect, I guess. Who knows what they were thinking at the time. Maybe they just wanted to put out a lighter, less intense album.

Journalist Gavin Edwards said of the album:-

“The epic scale suited Zeppelin: They had the largest crowds, the loudest rock songs, the most groupies, the fullest manes of hair. Eventually excess would turn into bombast, but on Houses, it still provided inspiration”.

Not so sure about that, but I get his point. Certainly, reputations were restored with a familiar return to big-bodied, booming rock on No Quarter. Similarly with the insistent rock shuffle of The Ocean.

Overall, however, a patchy album.



Physical Graffiti (1975)


Custard Pie/The Rover/In My Time Of Dying/Houses Of The Holy/Trampled Under Foot/Kashmir/In The Light/Bron-Yr-Aur/Down By The Seaside/Ten Years Gone/Night Flight/The Wanton Song/Boogie With Stu/Black Country Woman/Sick Again                 

"That's got to be the one, hasn't it?" - John Bonham

After a two year hiatus following the slightly underwhelming Houses Of The HolyLed Zeppelin were back with what would prove to be, probably, their last truly great album. It was hailed as a "return to form" and it is, in many ways, although it shows them as being keen to vary and experiment considerably with Eastern influences and funk rock grooves. Many of the tracks on the album, though, had been floating around the vaults for years, however, and were resurrected, enhanced and re-recorded for this album.
                   
Custard Pie is one of those Led Zeppelin songs with a pretty irrelevant title. No matter, it is a solid, riff, drums and slightly funky keyboards bluesy rocker to open with. More industrial strength riffage and power drums introduces The Rover, which has a big rumbling bass too. It is a bit of an undervalued Zeppelin rocker. It is the band at their muscular, rocking best, chugging and yet grandiose. In My Time Of Dying is, of course the bluesy behemoth of the album, over eleven minutes of piledriving blues rock. The guitar/drum/vocal interplay around the four minute mark is a joy to behold. It does suffer a bit from current trends for sprawling things out, though. True Zeppelin fans would no doubt consider that to be heresy, part-time ones such as myself are allowed to say it though :). I have always been irritated by the "oh my jeeder..." vocal from Robert Plant too. Also the way it grinds to a halt with the "cough" bit, making it sound like a demo. Sorry.

 

Houses Of The Holy gets things back on a firm track with one of my favourites from the album - punchy and yet containing a few funky bits, a great vocal and some excellent guitar. Nice one. The quality continues on the excellent funk rock of Trampled Underfoot, a track the like of which Zeppelin had not done before. Then we get a copper-bottomed Zeppelin classic in the Eastern-inspired insistent rock of Kashmir. Lots of superlatives have been written about it over the years, so I won't attempt to add to them.

The proggy In The Light takes nearly three minutes to arrive, so to speak. When it kicks in its has a big, deep bassy drum sound and a sensual vocal from Plant. Again, like Kashmir it utilises new and adventurous string enhancements. I love the second half of the track where it goes into that anthemic  keyboard-driven bit. When the drums and guitars come along - wow. One of the best Zeppelin passages of music for me. This also marks the point where the atmosphere of the album changes. The best archetypal Zeppelin stuff is now gone. What comes next are some interesting diversions and innovations and changes in ambience. However, there is a case, for me, that ending a single album after In The Light would still have been a great one.

Just when Led Zeppelin III seemed a long time away, we get the acoustic strumming of Bron-Yr-Aur and the country-folk strains of Down By The Seaside. The latter ends with some solid rock parts, however. Ten Years Gone is an affecting, beguiling slow guitar and vocal-driven almost soft rock ballad.



Night Flight finds the band even going slightly poppy, with a catchy, lively number. It still has some top notch riffs on it, though, although some of them are almost glammy. The Wanton Song is a return to typical Zeppelin riffy rock in some style. It would not have been out of place at the beginning of the album.

Boogie With Stu was the result of a 1971 jam with the then Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart. It is a loose slice of boogie-woogie piano-led rock 'n' roll, with Plant sounding not unlike Slade's Noddy Holder. Or maybe 1972-era Holder had heard this and sounded like Plant. The track is fun and shows the band's lighter side, something that was not always apparent. The carefree feel continues on the acoustic blues of Black Country Woman. It also has a Led Zeppelin III feel to it, particularly the thumping drum sound together with the acoustic guitar. Sick Again is a powerful slice of rock to end this mighty collection of songs. There are "proper" Led Zeppelin fans who no doubt can review this a lot better, but as one who has all their albums but is not an absolute die-hard, I always find this an intriguing and very enjoyable album.

Presence (1976)


Achilles' Last Stand/For Your Life/Royal Orleans/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Candy Store Rock/Hots On For Nowhere/Tea For One               

After the previous year's double album behemoth in Physical GraffitiLed Zeppelin returned relatively soon after the difficult period following Robert Plant's serious car accident (he sung his vocals in a wheelchair). For many, the seven track album that ensued, minus keyboards and most acoustic guitars, was underwhelming, particularly in the contemporary music media. By now they were all jumping on the punk bandwagon. Time, however, has proved to be a healer, and it now gets a far more favourable retrospective re-assessment. Yes, it was frantically arranged, conceived and recorded, but sometimes that leads to an ad hoc, edgy, raw and almost live feeling. That, to a certain extent was the case here.

The cover and accompanying inner sleeve pictures, were odd, though, I have to say. Quite what they were supposed to symbolise with regard to the music is unclear.

                            
The ten minute opener, Achilles' Last Stand quickly kicks into a rumbling drum and guitar-driven pot boiler of a chugging rocker. With punk's short sharp reaction to bands like Led Zeppelin just starting to make itself heard, this sort of thing would not have gone down well with the ground-breakers at the time. There were many rock fans, though, who still stuck with their favourites and still loved it. You have to say that it is a robust, substantial, confident monster of a track. This was a band who had nothing to prove. Incidentally, this track, along with Nobody's Fault But Mine were the only two numbers to be performed live by the band at the time. For Your Life was, of course, given a surprising outing on 2007's reunion live album, Celebration Day.

John Bonham keeps up the rolling pace throughout Achilles, so much so, that, although the rhythm doesn't change much, you never tire of it. Great stuff from one of rock's most powerful drummers. Another huge drum sound can be found on the thumping For Your Life. This was a slower pace industrial strength rocker with an impressive vocal and great big chunky lead guitar riffs. This stripped down, "back to basics" rock sound certainly does the business here. Personally, I much prefer this album to Houses Of The Holy, for example.

After two such gigantic tracks, the sub-three minutes of the vaguely funky rock of Royal Orleans comes as something of a surprise. It is a good track, though, with some killer guitar on it and it is good to hear them doing something shorter and punchier. Back to some classic bluesy Zeppelin next with the buzzy, slide guitar, muscular riffing and simply monumental drums of Nobody's Fault But Mine. Now, I was a huge fan of punk and threw myself right into it all at the time, but I cannot deny the sheer, pulsating, piledriving rock power of this. Nor would I ever want to. Great rock is great rock. Check out the bit where the Plant's harmonica solo comes in. Led Zeppelin at their absolute best. This was possibly their last truly great song, although others ran it close.

Candy Store Rock was another short-ish number in that chunky semi-funk style they used on Trampled Underfoot. It is a bit Bo Diddley/early rock 'n' roll-esque and it is most enjoyable. Hots On For Nowhere also has a quirky, staccato rhythm to it and some searing Jimmy Page guitar. Just when I am thinking that there there hasn't been too much Zeppelin blues on the album, along comes the nine-minute plus closer in Tea For One. It is a slow burning but potent blues with some powerful guitar and another surprisingly effortless vocal, considering Plants restrictions.

I really ought to have paid the album more attention over the years, because it is a really good one, and unfairly maligned.



In Through The Out Door (1979)


In The Evening/South Bound Suarez/Fool In The Rain/Hot Dog/Carouselambra/All My Love/I'm Gonna Crawl           

"I was working closely with Robert, which was something that had not happened before" - John Paul Jones

This album was recorded by an emotionally drained Led Zeppelin, following Robert Plant's car accident and loss to illness of his young son. Drummer John Bonham was an alcoholic by then and Jimmy Page was in the throes of heroin addiction. John Paul Jones and plant were "clean", apparently, although Plant obviously carried a huge amount of personal trauma around with him at the time. Plant and Jones managed to lay down most of the seven tracks before Bonham and Page could eventually be found to come in and do their bits. Amazingly, though, it all sounds pretty cohesive. It would, as everyone knows, prove to be their last album.
                                    
In The Evening starts in low-key fashion with some Eastern-sounding mysterious and moody ambience before John Bonham and Jimmy Page come crashing in. It is a lengthy Zeppelin classic, showing early on that they hadn't lost it. Lyrically, it has Plant bemoaning his luck. I should say so.

  

South Bound Saurez (surely initially mis-spelled as "Saurez") is a lively and pleasantly catchy rocker, with John Paul Jones on piano. It has one of those vaguely rhythmic, funky beats Zeppelin enjoyed doing. There are hints of Little Feat in there too.

Fool In the Rain has some syncopated Latin-ish rhythms and guitar. Bonham copes with the subtlety required, surprisingly. It is a most un-Zeppelin song. Again, Jones supplies some excellent piano. Plant's increasing interest in world music inspired this song's creation and inclusion. A the end it goes full on "arrrriba"-style Latin, which is very strange to hear Zeppelin doing. Plant had insisted that diversification was the way ahead. I like the track quite a lot. It has a refreshing vitality and light-hearted enthusiasm to it.

Hot Dog was a throwaway, three minute piece of fun, showing Plant's love for early Elvis-style rock 'n' roll. It is enjoyable and lively, but sounds very much like a piece of studio fun at the end of a session, once the serious stuff was over. It also features a folky guitar solo in the middle.

All this stuff begged the question of was this Zeppelin's attempt to sound different, in the midst of punk and new wave. Well, the ten proggy minutes of Carouselambra, with its Emerson, Lake & Palmer prog rock keyboards from Jones sounded as if it had been recorded in 1973. Bonham's drum pound along reliably, though, giving it a bit of solid rock feel under its symphonic pretensions. This was no threat to any new wave. Plant's voice is, by his own admission, far too low down in the mix. He stated that it summed up everything that was wrong about the later period of Zeppelin's career. "you can't hear the words", he said. He was right too. That said, it is still a good track, actually, featuring several distinct passages. The bass/drum/guitar interplay at about six minutes is my favourite bit (no synthesisers!). The quirky synth bit after that is enjoyable, though, and the way different instruments keep arriving for little solo parts is very Tubular Bells.



All My Love was one of the album's best tracks, an evocative love song composed by Plant and Jones with a laid-back "soft rock" feel, backed by some Genesis/ELO-style classically-influenced synthesisers. Page has since stated that he and Bonham had no time for the track's softer feel and yearning, romantic lyrics. They had wanted a harder rocking album overall. You could see where Plant and Jones were heading with this one, though, trying to catch the neo-classical ELO vibe that was popular around that time. Again, it is certainly nothing like any earlier Zeppelin material, but it is an appealing song. You could hear Plant's voice better on this one too.

I'm Gonna Crawl also had synthesisers on it, but it also develops into the bluesiest thing on the album and features an excellent bit of mid-song guitar too, and another convincing vocal.

I have read reviews that opine that this was a dark, sombre album. I have to say that I disagree with that. Personally I actually find it their lightest, most "fun" album (strangely, despite everything that had gone on). It was also musically their most diverse thus far. It was not received well by the UK music media, however, with their punk/new wave-centred take on things. The "boring old farts/dinosaurs/time to retire" lines were duly trotted out. The Americans, though, lapped it up. What it was, at the time, was not very relevant to the zeitgeist. Listening to it now, it is fine, but in 1979, it seemed dated.

Coda (1982)


We're Gonna Groove (from 1969/live in January 1970 with guitar overdubs)/Poor Tom (Led Zeppelin III outtake 1970)/I Can't Quit You Baby (live "rehearsal" January 1970)/Walter's Walk (Houses Of The Holy outtake 1972 with possible later overdubs)/Ozone Baby (In Through The Out Door outtake 1978)/Darlene (In Through The Out Door outtake 1978)/Bonzo's Montreux (from 1976)/Wearing And Tearing (In Through The Out Door outtake 1978)

BONUS TRACKS (not on original album)

Baby Come On Home (Led Zeppelin outtake 1968)/Travelling Riverside Blues (live in June 1969)/White Summer/Black Mountain Side (live in June 1969)/Hey Hey, What Can I Do ('b' side of Immigrant Song single, 1970)/Sugar Mama (recorded in October 1968)/St. Tristan's Sword (Led Zeppelin III outtake)  

There are also "alternative mixes" of If It Keeps On Raining (When The Levee Breaks); Four Hands (Four Sticks); Desire (The Wanton Song) and Everybody Makes It Through (In The Light). 

"'Coda' was released, basically, because there was so much bootleg stuff out. We thought, "Well, if there's that much interest, then we may as well put the rest of our studio stuff out" - Jimmy Page

Coda was a retrospective compilation of rarities released two years after Led Zeppelin's split in 1980 after drummer John Bonham's death. The best version of it is the latest one, which features several more bonus tracks than the original album did.

 

We're Gonna Groove is an upbeat, vaguely funky piece of late sixties blues rock. It is full of great guitar, drums and vocals. It would have been a fine addition to either of their first two albums. There is confusion over the origin of the song. Many believe it is a stdio recorded outtake from 1969, others believe it is a live recording from January 1970. It sounds like a studio recording to me, although it apparently had some studio guitar overdubs added by Jimmy Page at some point when compiling this album.

Poor Tom is a marvellous bit of lively blues rock, powered along by John Bonham's sledgehammer drumming. It has similarities to The Rolling Stones' Prodigal Son from Beggars' Banquet, which was in turn based on Reverend Robert Wilkins' 1929 song, That's No Way To Get Along. It sounds great, though, and would have sat well on side one of Led Zeppelin III from whose sessions it was taken.

A storming live version of I Can't Quit You Baby from Led Zeppelin I would appear to be from an actual concert at The Royal Albert Hall in 1970, although it was credited as being a pre-gig rehearsal. There is no crowd noise either way.

Walter's Walk is a solid, muscular rocker from the Houses Of The Holy sessions. it is arguably superior to some of the tracks that ended up on that somewhat patchy album. Once more, Bonham's drums are outstanding.

The old "side two" contained three outtakes from In Through The Out DoorOzone Baby is an infectious little rocker, all guitar, drums and bass and, notably, none of the synthesisers or piano that dominated the album that it failed to make the cut for. It is one of my favourites on here, with a catchy "ooh-ooh it's my love" chorus.

Darlene fitted in with some of the rock 'n' roll-influenced material that did appear on the eventual album in 1979. John Paul Jones' boogie piano is integral and there is a bit of a Rolling Stones circa 1972 about it. There are also hints of Queen in places near the end, vaguely like Crazy Little Thing Called Love in its vibe and vocal.

Bonzo's Montreux was a sledgehammer drum solo from Bonham, dating from 1976, when he lived in Montreux, Switzerland, as a tax exile. It is the album's tribute to him.

Wearing And Tearing was, apparently, Zeppelin's answer to punk, in its breakneck, riffy style. It doesn't sound remotely punky to me, it just sounds like Zeppelin rocking in their own inimitable fashion. I loved punk, but I loved Zeppelin too. The two were different beasts, they didn't need to meet.

From the bonus tracks, Baby Come On Home is a slow, slightly rock 'n' roll ballad meets rock number, with a loose, soulful bluesiness to it. It features some Atlantic Records-style gospelly organ too.

Travelling Roadside Blues is an impressive piece of slide guitar-driven blues rock, taken from a 1969 BBC live in the studio session. It includes the "Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs right down  my leg" lyric used also on Led Zeppelin II's The Lemon Song. It is also included on the live album Led Zeppelin At The BBC. In my opinion, it is remastered better here on Coda - fuller and bassier. The version of the instrumental White Summer/Black Mountain Side was recorded in London in June 1969. This also appears on the BBC album.

 Hey Hey What Can I Do is an appealing piece of folky rock, typical of Zeppelin's 1970 output. Sugar Mama is a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson song dating from sessions in 1968. It is riffy and lively, with a high-pitched Robert plant vocal. Bonham's drums are engagingly rhythmic on this, despite their ubiquitous thumping power.

St. Tristan's Sword was a Led Zeppelin III outtake. It is a rocking instrumental that would again have suited side one of that album. Also interesting is the Bombay Mix of Four Sticks called Four Hands, which has an instrumental version of the track played by Indian musicians, Zeppelin going full-on George Harrison. They do the same to Friends. This one includes a Plant vocal. If It Keeps On Raining (When The Levee Breaks) is bassily addictive too, although this one is a Zeppelin mix, involving no Indian musicians.

Overall, there is some very good stuff on here, not as much as many never-satisfied fans wanted, perhaps, but it is fine by me.



Celebration Day (2007)


Apart from a couple of patchy one-off performances at US Live Aid and Atlantic Records' 50th Anniversary event, this is and was and ever will be, Led Zeppelin's only reunion, with the three remaining original members and John Bonham's son, Jason, on drums.

It is a powerful, memorable affair (probably best experienced watching the DVD ,linked to your sound system if possible). It is still an exciting, invigorating listen on CD too, with a huge, thumping resonant sound. If anything, though, I will say that the sheer power from the axis of Bonham, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones' throbbing, deep bass does actually render Robert Plant's deeper, croakier, ageing voice a bit muffled and indistinct at times, in a way it certainly did not in the seventies, notably in the "Mordor" lyric on Ramble On. This is a minor observation, however, ageing happens to us all and it is still great to hear this seminal band back together for this one last time. The idea that it was a one-off reunion, and not the first of fifty world tour dates, repeated every few years or so was a unique and praiseworthy one. They did it just the once, and they did it superbly.


The set was immaculately rehearsed and expertly delivered and the set is just the right mix of the expected songs, a live rarity like For Your Life and a nice amount of muscular, early blues-based material. Due respect is paid to the essential early part of the band's career, more so than the later, which is how it should be. The old seventies twenty-five minute drawn out versions are a thing of the past and there is, understandably so, no drum solo. However, as enjoyable as this is to dig out every now and again, if I want Led Zeppelin live I still turn to How The West Was Won or The Song Remains The Same, particularly now in their excellent new remastered formats.



Mothership

This is, without doubt, an excellent Led Zeppelin compilation for anyone who wants to get a bite-sized flavour of what this titanic rock band were all about. It takes a handful of tracks from each of their albums (mostly around two or three) and scratches the surface, in the best possible way, their remarkable career from the late sixties to the very early eighties.

Many people have expressed over various media their disappointment with the sound. I have never understood that. I think the sound is truly superb - big, full, punchy, defined and bassy, just as I like it.  Just as Led Zeppelin should be. The album has been remastered twice, though, and was reissued in 2014 using the remasters from that campaign. The edition I am speaking of is the original 2007 one. However, I have to admit that the 2014 one is even better.

Regarding the tracks chosen, they are mostly as you would expect, although I feel the omission of anything from the Led Zeppelin III acoustic, pastoral phase of their career is a mistake (the only ones from that album included are the tougher ones of Immigrant Song and Since I've been Loving You). The folky side of the band was an important one, and part of their development and changes too, just as much as the blues-influenced material. Listening to this compilation, you get the impression it was "hammer of the Gods" bombast all the way, which it certainly was not. Apart from that, though, this is a mighty collection. Highly recommended to casual fans in particular who wish to feel the power of the Zeppelin on occasions.



                                JOHN BONHAM

                                       1948-1980

2 comments:

  1. well, seems that my favorite is your least favorite. Houses of the Holy. But the others are so close that it's pretty irrelevant. It's just a matter of degree.

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  2. There's some good stuff on Houses Of The Holy, for sure, but I feel it has a few "treading water" points, like the clumsy D'Yer Mak'er, but then, bad Zeppelin is other bands' great.

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