Deluxe '70s Sets Make Early Gift for Rock Fans

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Led Zeppelin has recently re-released two more titles from their catalog, again remastered by Jimmy Page: the 1971 album commonly referred to as Led Zeppelin IV (or "Zoso") and 1973's followup Houses of the Holy, both now upgraded with better sound and a bonus disc of material. Each extra disc mirrors the original album's track list, but with different versions of each track that range from alternate takes to instrumental versions. It goes without saying that the albums definitely sound better, but the bonus discs are what most fans have been anticipating.

Unlike the reissues of Zeppelin's first three albums, the bonus material here does not differ noticeably from the album versions. The majority of songs are slightly different mixes that the listener can pick up if he or she has heard the albums numerous times (who hasn't?), and the remainder are instrumental mixes. Page had already worked different mixes of some of the songs at the time of recording before choosing which ones made the album, and here he shares those ideas with us.

The best of these alternate mixes is "Four Sticks," which doesn't sound as muted as it did on the album, and begins with a count-in that was omitted from the original. My preference would be to swap the original mix for this one when listening to IV.

Highlights of the mixes without vocals are "Battle of Evermore," "Going to California" and "No Quarter"; there's something magical in hearing these without vocals, from the acoustic guitars and mandolins of the first two to the creepy organ and thundering drums of the last.

Also back in stores from the '70s is Paul McCartney & Wings' Venus & Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound, originally released in 1975 and '76, the peak of the band's career. Both reissues contain a companion disc of outtakes and demo versions as well.

While other albums like 1973's Band On the Run were credited to Wings, that was primarily just Paul and Linda McCartney plus Denny Laine, former guitarist for the Moody Blues. The lineup on these two albums, though, is the closest thing McCartney had come to being in a real band since the Beatles. The lineup that lasted from '75-'79 of Paul, Linda, Laine, Jimmy McCullough and Joe English was a truly different era, because the band members alternate lead vocals, the same as on Eagles or KISS albums of the period.

Both newly-reissued titles sound far superior to their previous versions, with Venus & Mars (my favorite Wings album) taking full advantage of the results. "Rock Show" and "Letting Go" rock harder, and the intricacies of "You Gave Me the Answer" shine through. The bonus disc features some previously released B-sides and a couple of outtakes ("Let's Love." "4th of July") but the highlight is a version of "Soily" from the documentary One Hand Clapping.

This song was played live at many shows, but a studio version was never released, and this new track is the closest to a studio version that has been released. Also from the same documentary is the band's rollicking version of "Baby Face," a standard from the early half of the 20th century.

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Wings at the Speed of Sound featured two Top 10 hits, "Silly Love Songs" and "Let 'Em In." The best of its deep cuts is "Beware My Love," a lengthy rocker showcasing the band's full talents. The bonus disc contains an alternate version of this track titled "John Bonham Version," perhaps a reference to the heavier drums as I can't find any reference of why he would be mentioned with this track.

Even with the heavier drums, however, this version has a more pop sound than on the album. The only other bonus track of interest is "Must Do Something About It" with Paul on lead vocals, a track originally sung by drummer Joe English.

If you are going to purchase either of these two titles, I recommend doing so from one of the major big-box electronic stores. I was rather surprised to find a link and password to receive a free (sans shipping) 7" single from each title as a result of my "finest purchase" available exclusively from their location.

I will admit that this is what made me go back and buy the copy of Wings at the Speed of Sound, which I passed over while purchasing the must-have copy of Venus & Mars. Considering I've spent more than the cost of all of these titles on one 7" record on multiple occasions, the temptation of another limited release of a single I enjoy was too much to pass up.


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