Well it took fourteen months, but here we are with the final three Zep lps remastered: Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda. The project that began in June 2014-an overhauling of the whole Led Zeppelin catalog for CD and vinyl with extensive bonus tracks-has reached the end. The sound, according to Jimmy Page, is immaculate. Just how do these things hold up, and is it really worth it to grab the expensive double and triple lp versions?
The short answer is ‘no’. Sure, if you are loaded with extra dosh, grab everything. But for the discerning consumer, there are some that can have a miss. First up, how do these things actually sound on vinyl? The answer is: pretty damn good. The vinyl pressing in the first two batches was fairly uneven: skips and clicks were numerous, with Led Zeppelin IV showing to be the worst of the bunch. (I and many others had to return ours for a prodigious amount of skipping events.) Physical Graffiti needed a heavy cleaning before it would play without skipping. Brand new expensive vinyl should not require this much attention to get it to play correctly when you have just popped the seal on it. (the final batch of three from Presence on is noticeably better) On a quality control scale, the Beatles Mono lps these certainly ain’t. But one thing they are is a very accurate repressing of some of the most full on classic albums of rock n roll. (For many fans, this is….lets count–
1.original lp circa. 72-87
2.1987 original cd
3.1990 cd remaster
4. 2015 remaster– a minimum of four times they have purchased the same album). With the remix mania fueled by Steve Wilson’s wholesale pillaging of Jethro Tull, Yes, King Crimson and ELP in computer aided remixes, some were wary that Page would tweak some of the albums in an ill advised remix session. Fans can rest easy, for Page wisely said when asked about this: “I’m not into re-writing history, I’m just re-presenting,” So worry not, these are the original mixes, presented in the best possible form that any true audiophile would want-vinyl. Below follows a guide to the bonus tracks for each release, and whether you need them or not.(Side note-the ratings comments were written consecutively when these came out in June 2014, February 2015 and July 2015)
The debut album itself rings with the youthful energy that created it in the 1968 to 1969 recording sessions. The bonus tracks for this album are unique to the whole set of reissues, a full on double lp live album. Recorded in Paris in October 1969, this large wallop of Zeppelin pushing the boundaries of volume in a Hendrix and Who era of LOUD is a very stripped down peek at Zep. A soundboard that is bit muddy for many folks, this recording has been circulating as a bootleg forever. Sound quality is not the greatest but the performance dictates this one is a must. C’mon, a double live album as the bonus track? Rating: Must have
Led Zeppelin 2
The album that really put them on the map. The hallucinogenic Whole Lotta Love sent many a fragile novice into the lands of madness single handed. The bonus tracks are early mixes of seven of the nine songs (The Lemon Song and Bring it On Home aren’t represented) Some are rough mixes, some are backing tracks lacking vocals. Some sound identical to the originals barring a rougher vocal. The one treasure is La La, a previously unheard track. For this alone, a true Zeppelin fan should pony up for this one. Rating: Grab it just for La La
Led Zeppelin III
Zep goes acoustic, sort of. Some love this album, some think it was a bit limp on the heavy. On remaster, these songs are crystalline in their delicate beauty, as Zep shows off their musical diversity. The bonus tracks are similar to the predecessor- a mash up of early mixes, backing tracks lacking vocals and takes that sound pretty much like the album cut. Seven songs have an antecedent on the bonus tracks, with Tangerine, That’s the Way and Hat’s Off to Roy Harper the three songs that are not represented. That’s The Way is noticeably different with a dulcimer and quirkly effects. Key to the Highway/Trouble in Mind is an unheard track that is a blues rundown. Jennings Farm Blues is a proto version of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp guitar overdubs. Neither is quite as essential as La La. This is the first album where I wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off with just a single lp version. Two unreleased songs make this annoyingly enticing. Still-these bonus tracks are starting to feel like album versions minus vocals. Rating: Maybe to Sort of
Led Zeppelin IV
The doozy. Stairway to Heaven? For many, this is the ONLY song Zep recorded. The bonus tracks however? Uh oh. Eight duplicates of the eight album tracks. The biggy here is the legendary Sunset Sound mix of Stairway to Heaven. Much ink has been spilled discussing this mix. I had never heard it, and dropped the needle in anticipation of a revelatory event. And then…damn! Disappointment strikes. This thing is nearly identical to the original. A bit muddier, a bit more guitar heavy. The key word here is ‘mix’. All of the vocals, all of the instruments are identical to the more famous final version, just a wee bit higher or lower in the mix. An instrumental Battle of Evermore is nice, especially if you have a karaoke machine and a Sandy Denny soundalike kicking around. For many, this bonus disc will be a disappointment. Rating: Not sure this one is worth it
Houses of the Holy
Zep’s fifth album is many people’s favorite. It certainly has some good reasons to say that-Dancing Days, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same? The bulk of this 1973 album was recorded in ’72, and Zep was on a run. The album is a snapshot of a band completely in control of everything in their universe . The bonus tracks? Notsomuch. This one is nearly identical to the album tracks. Eight album tracks are duplicated with eight bonus tracks. Piano missing on one song. No vocals on another. A vaguely enticing instrumental No Quarter that illustrates how integral the vocals are to this trance inducing song. The pattern of rough mixes of tracks things they end up recording identically is now becoming troublesome. Nothing extra or unheard here. This is not what I would call bonus tracks. Rating: Leaning towards No
Zeppelin’s 1975 double lp showed the band not missing a beat. Eight new songs were padded out with leftovers from Zep III and Zep IV and Houses, and some pretty impressive stuff these leftovers were-Boogie With Stu, jamming with Ian Stewart on barrelhouse piano, the never credited sixth Rolling Stone member; Houses of the Holy-the title track they left off the album…It’s one of my personal favorites in the Zep canon. The bonus tracks here are well chosen. Brandy and Coke, an early Trampled Underfoot, A Sunset Sound mix here and there. But the treasure is an early version of In The Light known as Everybody Makes It Through. This song is completely different in approach, lyric and arrangement to the point of it actually being a different song. Brilliant insight of the process on this album. Rating: A solid yes
1976’s Presence found a humbled Zeppelin-car crash, death of Plant’s child, mayhem on the previous tour. Yet though Robert Plant was in a wheelchair recording this, some of their more obscure classics reside here, Nobody’s Fault But Mine and Achille’s Last Stand being the standouts. The bonus disc contains one side of nearly exact duplicates of the album track with very minimal differences. Some large exceptions are on side two: the oddly Monty Python-esque titled 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod), an unheard piano piece that evolves into a nice full band blueprint for something they never finished. Almost Fleetwood Mac in inception, and that makes it easy to see why it was abandoned. Royal Orleans features a rough guide vocal-by John Bonham? Yep. For these reasons, this one is probably necessary. Rating: A qualified yes
In Through The Out Door
Zeppelin on the ropes. Mostly written by John Paul Jones, this album found the band bereft of ideas. Carouselembra is fairly epic, but some find it too synth heavy. More noted for its cutting edge innersleeve, one that changed color of the components of the artwork if exposed to water. I discovered this right when it came out when someone spilled water over the sleeve. Suddenly-peanuts were yellow, glasses blue, lighter red, ash tray green: micro capsules of water soluble ink were stored invisibly in the white cardboard. Genius! Unfortunately, the brilliance of the sleeve outshines the music as this one has some clunkers. So the bonus tracks? Identical to the album. In fact some are literally identical-but mono mixes.I actually got up to check to see if the real album had been switched with the bonus disc in the sleeves, it was that convincingly identical. I am now insulted by the bonus material and wonder what the fuck Jimmy was thinking on this one. Rating: No. Avoid at all costs
The swan song so to speak for Zeppelin. 1982’s Coda was a huge disappointment when it was released. Fans knew there was a ton of unreleased material in the vaults, and expected it. At 33:04, it was perilously close to Van Halen standards of ‘hey let’s put out a 30 minute lp’. “Coda been a good album” one of my friends said after finishing the first play. I had to agree, not much here was good. Bonzo’s Montreux? A drum solo? That brings it down to a friggin’ 27 minute lp. Ugh. But Jimmy Page had one more trick up his sleeve, and had saved all the goodies for last. Now a full 3 lp set, Coda is insanely good. Too many treasures to list here. St. Tristan’s Sword sports a riff that Page broke out at the 1988 Atlantic Records 40th anniversary party. They started Whole Lotta Love, but Page oddly could not stop this riff from taking the song over. John Paul Jones shrugged after watching Page play this inexplicable snippet and played along underneath as Whole Lotta Love turned into Whole Lotta confusion. Not until this month with the release of Tristan was this curious event to make sense. Fifteen songs, four unreleased ones. A gospel song that presages the Honeydrippers? The Bombay Orchestra recordings in India? Hey Hey What Can I Do? finally on lp. A 1968 recording of Sugar Mama that sounds closer to the Yardbirds than Zeppeliin? This is the holy grail of unreleased Zep, and shows a breadth of diversity this band was capable of. . Curiously, White Summer/Black Mountain Slide from the 1990 reissue is missing. If you only buy one deluxe edition, let it be this one. Rating: Holy Crap! Yes!
So, if you got the money, hell go get ’em all. But if you are on a budget, you can limit this to a few. Even if you are a completist, avoid the In Through the Out Door deluxe version, for even the most initiated afficiando will be hard pressed to point out any differences at all in the bonus tracks without a crib sheet. Sometimes the song does remain the same.