In case you have been living with your headphones plugged into your turntable for some time and are unaware of recent developments in the classic-rock landscape, this month Led Zeppelin have reissued their first three titles with new remasters done by none other than Jimmy Page himself.
I used to be a sucker for remastered reissues, but after having bought the entire Queen catalog on disc three times, I decided I wasn't going to buy the fourth set that came out just a couple of years ago, even with several unreleased bonus tracks on each. The packaging was nothing special and I wasn't convinced they sounded any better than the Crown Jewels box set.
Lucky for me, iTunes sold these bonus tracks individually, so I didn't have to purchase the entire albums just to get the ones I wanted. Lucky for us all, the same is being done with the Zeppelin reissues.
So I ventured to the closest big box store and was correct in assuming they would be stocking these reissues. I figured this would be the best way to see any packaging enhancements and what bonus material was included; I own many Zeppelin outtakes, bootlegs and studio sessions, and assumed the bonus material would be culled from these items.
The reissues were prominently displayed among the new releases (a luxury most classic re-issues don't receive) and I was delighted to see that based on the shelf space for each that they were outselling some of the contemporary new releases. I was impressed by the amount of bonus material presented with each title, as most reissues generally have four or five bonus tracks.
Here, there were at least eight from each, allowing enough material for a full bonus disc. After snickering while noticing the movable wheel on the cover of the CD packaging of Led Zeppelin III, I decided there was enough here to validate spending the equivalent of a tank of gas to obtain all three titles.
As any fan would do, I went to the bonus tracks first. It's these songs on which I will provide following commentary, not the remastered albums. Yes, those do sound a little better to those who will notice, but what do you expect? They were done by the man himself on current technology from his own master tapes.
For those such as myself, remastering alone does not entice purchases, especially on a catalog that's been remastered a number of times already. But I think this prompted Jimmy Page to truly dig for some gems, the likes of which diehard Zeppelin fans have never heard, or heard in such clear quality, before.
I've rated each bonus track a number of stars, according to the significance of what each track brings to the package, ranging from one star (Glad this wasn't the only bonus track!) to five stars (Holy crap, this is a fantastic inclusion!).
LED ZEPPELIN BONUS TRACKS
An October 10, 1969 concert from Paris, and an excellent contribution to the Zeppelin catalog. While there are many bootlegs of various 1969 shows, I would favor this show over those and the earlier live material officially released on the BBC Sessions released in 1997. The crowd noise is so quiet it's as if you are listening to the soundboard feed of the show with Page working the controls. (All tracks: four stars.)
LED ZEPPELIN II BONUS TRACKS
**** "Whole Lotta Love (Rough Mix With Vocal)": This version has no chorus vocals and while the middle section sound effects are there the guitar solos in both sections is not. The vocal track is very primitive with only the outro vocals from this mix making it to the final version.
** "What Is And What Should Never Be (Rough Mix With Vocal)": Nothing intriguing here, just an unpolished mix with an alternate vocal.
***** "Thank You (Backing Track)": This version is the album track without vocals, and shows the reason why not only is this one of Zeppelin's most underrated tracks, but also one of their most beautiful.
*** "Heartbreaker (Rough Mix With Vocal)": This is a rough mix of the track that made it to the album, but with an alternate version of the guitar breakdown. The solo after the breakdown is the same one as the album.
* "Living Loving Maid (Backing Track)": This is the album track without vocals with an extended ending.
*** "Ramble On (Rough Mix With Vocal)": This is the album track without guitar solos and without double-tracked vocals at the end. It does include an ending alternate to the fadeout on the album.
**** "Moby Dick (Backing Track)": This is the album track without the drum solo in the middle. Even though it clocks in at under two minutes, it's fantastic to hear the band performances from "Moby Dick" as their own song. It also has a proper ending with a stinger that was omitted from the album, presumably so it would run into "Bring It On Home" without interruption.
***** "La La (Intro/Outro Mix)": This is an unreleased instrumental. If Zeppelin were to write anything close to a traditional late-'60s pop single, there are remnants in this track. The intro is light and catchy yet still has the Zeppelin guitar sound; The outro is blues-rock akin to early Zeppelin but with a space-travel feel to it.
Story continues on the next page.
LED ZEPPELIN III BONUS TRACKS
*** "The Immigrant Song (Alternate Mix)": This is the same version as the album but without reverb effect on vocals or guitar and the bass is not as prominent as it was in the album mix.
* "Friends (Track - No Vocal)": This is the album track without vocals.
** "Celebration Day (Alternate Mix)": This one is very similar to the album version, with very slight differences in vocals and guitar mixing.
**** "Since I've Been Loving You (Rough Mix)": The opening guitar solo is different, as is the guitar track throughout. The vocal track is in the raw-power blues style from the first album ("You Shook Me," "I Can't Quit You Babe"), which totally contrasts from the heartfelt, emotional vocal style from the album which I love so dearly.
** "Bathroom Sound (Track - No Vocal)": This is "Out On the Tiles" without vocals. It was probably recorded in the bathroom, hence the different working name.
***** "Gallows Pole (Rough Mix)": This is the album track without the mandolin, banjo and overdubbed vocals. It also has a proper ending as opposed to the fade-out from the album. It's very insightful, as it's just four musicians with four parts.
*** "That's The Way (Rough Mix)": This is the album track featuring different mandolin breaks. The vocals are the same but lack the effects included on the album track.
***** "Jennings Farm Blues (Rough Mix)": This is a playfully rocking version of "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" without vocals. This would've made an excellent live version for the song that was performed acoustically during concerts.
**** "Key to the Highway/Trouble In My Mind (Rough Mix)": This is a blues cover done in the same guitar and vocal style as "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper," which they used on the album instead (a Zeppelin original, designated by a Page pseudonym). "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" always seemed a little odd to me, making it my least favorite Zeppelin song and I always assumed it was the song's style. I prefer this cover, as it shows the style works given the right material.
As a whole, this is a fantastic gathering of material and due to the volume, it's nice having these one- and two-star items. I have to admit, I'm looking forward to the next set of three reissues based on the bonus material alone -- not for the unnamed fourth album, as most people would be, but for the bonus material for their best album ever, Physical Graffiti. I'm expecting Page to find stuff not contained in the couple of hours of unreleased material I already possess from that one.
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