Oh, the humanity! The first three Led Zeppelin albums have just been reissued and the results will leave you amazingly dazed but certainly not confused.
First of all, the reissues sound better than ever. All three discs were remastered under the supervision of guitarist Jimmy Page using the latest digital technology. The last remasters were done for the box set a very technologically distant 20-plus years ago.
They are available on CD, vinyl, and download, and contain some of the most “dirigibly delicious” rock, folk and roll ever committed to tape. They are a Led Zeppelin fanatic’s greatest dream as the trio of albums, all recorded in a span of just fewer than two years, also contain bonus tracks in the form of rough mixes, outtakes, backing tracks (without vocals), and live performances.
THE DEBUT DEPT.: Led Zeppelin rose out of the ashes of Page’s former band The Yardbirds, who had already inserted Dazed and Confused in their sets in late 1967. Several of the riffs used by Page on the first two Zeppelin albums were recycled ones that he played on some of the Yardbirds’ final recordings.
Starting with Good Times Bad Times and ending with How Many More Times, the first disc – Led Zeppelin – is as close to a perfect rock album as possible. The lovely Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (previously recorded by Joan Baez) shows a softer side of the band while the two Willie Dixon numbers You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby are sensuous rocking delights.
The bonus disc is an outstanding previously unissued 1969 concert from Paris that features most of the songs on the band’s debut. Conspicuously missing from this reissue is the bluesy studio outtake Baby Come On Home that was a bonus track 24 years ago on their 1990 box set.
TEA FOR ONE? NO, MAKE THAT TWO DEPT.: Led Zeppelin ll was released a scant 10 months later. Recorded mostly on the road in studios all over the world, it features Robert Plant’s Tolkien-inspired lyrics along with some very inspired blueswailing guitar by Page.
Two more Willie Dixon numbers were “borrowed” for the disc: Bring It On Home and the band’s first true hit single Whole Lotta Love. Howlin’ Wolf’s Lemon Song is nastier than a fastball from Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel but isn’t that what rock and roll is all about?
The band’s rhythm section is often overlooked by some casual fans, but without John Paul Jones’ solid bass and keyboards and the manic percussion talents of John Bonham Led Zeppelin might have never reached superstar status as a group.
The bonus disc for Led Zeppelin ll has some rough mixes of songs as well as a few instrumental backing tracks. There’s even an outtake called La La, but it’s just an adventurous Motown-fueled jam at best.
MR. CROWLEY, I PRESUME? DEPT.: One year later, Led Zeppelin lll hit the stores. Most of my musician friends at the time did not like the album at first as it didn’t rock as intensely as its predecessors. But for me, I enjoyed hearing the band evolve acoustically with tracks such as Gallows Pole and Hats Off to Roy Harper.
Immigrant Song was the sole single from the disc and was a monster hit, but for years the album was the poorest-selling album in the band’s catalog, selling “only” 6 million copies in the States compared with the 12 million sold for Led Zeppelin ll.
It was written by the band after two years of almost nonstop touring at a remote, 18th-century cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur and recorded mostly at Headley Grange, an old mansion that several other groups had also utilized for recording.
Sure, it still boasted some bodacious blues in Since I’ve Been Loving You but it’s the acoustic numbers, most of which feature unconventional guitar tunings by Page, that seem to have stood the test of time the best.
The bonus tracks in the reissue are, as with the ones on the second album, not ones that will require repeated listenings. There are a few more alternate takes and more instrumentals as well as an extended jam on Big Bill Broonzy’s Key to the Highway. Why the band left the superb Hey Hey What Can I Do (the flip side of the Immigrant Song single) off of this set is beyond me.
I would suggest to fans that, yes, these reissues all sound much hotter with all of Page’s tweaking, especially on vinyl. Instruments and Plant’s vocals are sharper, cleaner and crisper, and the stereo separation is just mind bending on good headphones. However, as we used to say in radio “to get the Led out” it’s always best to just turn it up!