Led Zeppelin Remastered

Dood!! Stairway To Heaven!!!

Your first sip of beer beer. Your first drag on a cigarette. Maybe even that first kiss. Led Zeppelin was the soundtrack for the Seventies and now, you may want to file those cherished but worn LP copies and replace them with the much ballyhooed reissues from Rhino.

Recently, I received a promo set of the deluxe edition vinyl LPs for the first three Zep records, and I must say, they are fairly special. The rest of the catalog will follow. And yes, you guessed it, Zoso, or Led Zeppelin IV if you prefer, will be out just in time for Christmas. Yes, buying more plastic from the record labels gets galling. They prey upon our weakness and weak spiders that we are, we willingly roll into the web. We have paid for this intellectual property over and over again, so no worries—the artists are getting paid. But the reissue juggernaut, no matter what the format, can be very problematic, and very expensive, particularly for collectors.

Having said all that, Page, Plant and Jones have not been overly greedy. There has only ever been one remastering of these records in 1994 and the band has been smart about not flooding the market with inferior “collectors” repackagings. Or dodgy, sonically compromised live sets. And to be honest at $115.00-$118.00 depending on the outlet, the super deluxe editions which are the most expensive of all these formats, do not feel like gouging.

Happily, these new remasters, supervised by Page of course, come in seven different formats (super deluxe edition box, deluxe edition 2 CD, deluxe edition vinyl, single CD, original album vinyl, digital download, HD Tracks 96/24 download) has reignited the Zep wars. In the past couple days, I’ve fielded a number of calls and emails from friends and Stereophile readers who I didn’t know, tussling yet again with the question of which Zep album is the best. The newly released July issue of Mojo has poured oil on the fire by listing the top 50 Led Zeppelin songs. Stereophile Contributing Editor and world class record collector David Sokol went through the Mojo piece and did some figuring. Surprisingly, the two albums with the most songs on list are Physical Graffiti and Zep II (i.e. the Brown Bomber) with nine songs each. Zep I has seven on the list while Zep I has eight. Most controversially, “Kashmir” (from Physical Graffiti) gets the nod as the best song. And the always underrated Presence, my personal favorite, only places two tunes on the list.

The results of these remastering jobs, including that of the much–praised Beatles set, have become a bit predictable—a brighter, fresher sound that’s slightly more expansive and has slightly improved dynamics. These Zep LP pressings from Pallas in Germany are beautiful, heavy and very, very quiet.

Recorded in less than two days, for less than two thousand pounds, Zep I, with the Hindenburg gloriously aflame on the cover ranks as one of the best debut albums ever and one of the first records in a genre soon to be known as metal. It’s arrival signaled that strummy folk rock was being replaced by something harder-edged. Even the blues cover, “You Shook Me” featured a tortured vocal from Plant and a blinding solo from Jimmy Page. The unforgettable riff rock of “Communication Breakdown” set many a teenage boys heart aflutter. The album’s heart, “Dazed and Confused,” may begin as a psychedelic anthem but it soon takes flight and becomes a basher with Bonham’s thunderous drumming and crashing cymbals leading the way. Upon release, the album was viciously slagged by critics, especially in the States. My favorite bit is the album’s notorious Rolling Stone review which inveighed that Robert Plant was “foppish as Rod Stewart, but nowhere near as exciting.”

In the case of all three records, the biggest draw for fans who know the original records by heart are the “companion” discs of rough mixes and alternate takes. In the case of Zep I, this means two discs of live material from a concert in October 1969 at the Olympia in Paris, which was recorded by French radio, and has here been remastered and spread across two LPs. Sonically better than most Zep bootlegs of this era, it shows how fully formed the band was from the very start. An overlong “You Shook Me” meanders endlessly while a version of “Heartbreaker,” which was on the then just released Led Zeppelin II, rocks the house.

Written on the road and recorded piecemeal in Los Angeles, London, New York, Memphis and a primitive studio in Vancouver that the band called “the hut,” Zep II, which was released nine months after the debut, has always sounded remarkably good, thanks no doubt to the good ears of Page and engineer Eddie Kramer who performed miracles with its many sources. With a cover that used a photo from WWI of the Red Baron’s crew (with the band’s faces superimposed) and Page’s first crack at the Theremin (on “Whole Lotta Love”), this may be the Zep masterpiece. Remastered once in 1994 for the CD boxed set, II’s 2014 Page remix is its best sound yet. The extra LP of 8 tracks contains a more relaxed rough mix of “What Is And What Should Never Be,” a stripped down “Ramble On” with a killer vocal performance by Plant, and a previously unknown/unreleased instrumental track “La La” that shows how much creativity was coursing through this band at this time when even their rave ups were better than most band’s best stuff. Finally, the backing track on the companion disc for “Moby Dick” is comically short considering that when the band played it live, Bonzo’s drum solo could run half an hour by itself!

Finally there’s Led Zeppelin III which unlike it’s predecessor was written in mid–1970 at a remote cottage in Wales, the legendary Bron-Yr-Aur. Back then, very much like Led Zeppelin I, this album was also disliked by critics and was not initially a huge seller. Written in a cottage with no electricity, not to mention the fact that Plant and Page seem to have reacted against the Marshall stacks of Zep II, Zep III is a much more acoustic and introverted recording. My record guru, the aforementioned David Sokol calls this a “more mature record,” which I have to say rings right. Recorded at Headley Grange, a rundown mansion, as well as Olympic and Basing Street studios in London, it was mixed at Ardent Studios in Memphis. As for the companion tracks, III actually has three worthy, if less than earth–shattering extras; the first being “Bathroom Sound,” which is a very bass heavy, odd sounding rough mix of eventual III track “Out on the Tiles.” “Jennings Farm Blues” is the instrumental version of “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.” The last, which Page has mentioned over and over again in interviews about these remasters, is “Key To The Highway,” a blues standard previously recorded first by Charlie Segar and then every other blues musician on the planet, most memorably by Big Bill Broonzy, Little Walter and Eric Clapton. Here it’s Page on slide and acoustic guitar and Plant on blues harp and vocals, the latter of which are run through a vibrato amp and so quaver with a tremolo effect. Best of all, the LP cover reproduces the spinning wheel or more properly, the volvelle, which was included with in the original. Designed by artist Zacron, this was considered “multi–media" in 1970! Speaking only for the LPs, this is Zep done right both in terms of improved sound and high quality pressings.

Bring it on man. What’s next? Oh yeah I know!

“Hey, Hey mama said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove!

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COMMENTS
nunhgrader's picture

I love the history of these great albums! In New Orleans, we had a serious love affair with Zeppelin - almost a revival that still lingers today (especially with classic rock fans). Seeing Robert Plant live at Jazz Fest was / is one of my most treasured live music moments!

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Above article says, "Page, Plant and Jones have not been overly greedy."

Oh, really? Zep stole outright from Chicago bluesmen Howlin' Wolf (How Many More Years, Killing Floor), Otis Rush (I Can't Quit You Baby) and Sonny Boy Williamson (Bring It On Home) without paying royalties. Some royalties were paid only after lawsuits.

See also "Seven Songs That Led Zeppelin Ripped Off" on musictimes.com.

Patrick Butler's picture

Led Zeppelin had four band members. While the lyrics of some early songs were clearly homages, or heavily influenced by earlier bluesmen, the other three band members created their own sound.

starfirebird's picture

http://www.willardswormholes.com/?p=24449

Hilarious and clickable faux R. Crumb themed (ripped off?) trading cards artwork w/annotation commemorating all (well, most of) the artists and tunes that Zep ripped off, check it out!

carlosgallardo's picture

I know you are not Stephen Mejias, but I think it's not so difficult to ad a link. Please put a link to a sample, It's nice to ear something we are talking about whit just a click while we are reading.

Audio_File's picture

Robert wrote: Recently, I received a promo set of the deluxe edition vinyl LPs for the first three Zep records..... Having said all that, Page, Plant and Jones have not been overly greedy.

Robert, when you didn't have to dish out any money, I can't see how you can claim the above.

Sorry, LZ is not audiophile material, way too overpriced. Probably just digitally enhanced the songs, like they did with The Beatles "Remasters". Not sure why material on YouTube (YT) wasn't included on the "Bonus" tracks, like Whole Lotta Love, weird ending as found on YT. Page or whoever, as with Beatles Remasters, flooded radio stations to promote these overprices albums, even Page went to Japan to promote to gain revenue.
Actually, their (RIP) drummer is the one who received the most attention/applause on places like YT.

Al from Hudson Avenue's picture

Pardon my French, but Rhino f-----d up the sound on Doo Wop Box 2 so badly that I would tend to avoid anything that they do.

And as far as Led Zep stealing their songs, have you noticed the explosion of articles about Led Zep stealing peoples songs lately? Like it was part of the set's promotion?

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

has been a known fact for a long, long time.

Contrast this to the Stones, who insisted that Howlin' Wolf appear with them on the '60's TV show Shindig, to give him more exposure (which he sorely needed). The Stones also recorded at Chess studios, Chicago, further adding to their credence as a blues band. Zep, by contrast, has none.

I've no complaints about Rhino CD compilations. The sound quality, for instance, of their "5" Royales, Neville Bros., Clifton Chenier, Buck Owens & Freddy King collections is very good, in fact truer to the original than a lot of so-called "audiophile" reissues.

dobyblue's picture

It's a shame that Page didn't do these all analogue, like the Abbey Road team are doing with the upcoming Beatles Mono vinyl set, however the Classic Records pressings sealed will go for no less than $150/pop and you have to hunt judiciously to get them even at that price, for $20/pop for the standard LP remasters they can be highly recommended. If you have the money and Zep are one of your faves seek out the Classic pressings, they are unrivalled in my opinion, but they did a very good job with these remasters.

Hopefully in another few years Page will let someone else (Steven Wilson? Elliot Scheiner?) at the original analogue multitracks and we'll get 5.1 24/96 mixes of all Zeppelin's studio output, that would get my knickers in a twist.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Why would anyone go thru the trouble of downloading supposed HD files, when CDs are so much cheaper and so much better? Don't believe me? Why do all these HD download sites compare their sound to CD, not analog vinyl, and falsely claim to be better? This is a ripoff.

High-end is dead. All the high-end parameters people (like me) used to pay tens of thousands of dollars for, like ambient information, soundstage, 3D imaging, harmonics, "inner detail", "air" and such, were forever wiped out by digital in the 1980's. High-end media like this magazine even said so. There is no such thing as "high-end" anymore. Magazines like this are parasites, promoting a product which hasn't existed for over 20 years. As I said before, "STOP PISSING IN OUR CUPS AND TELLING US ITS CHAMPAGNE."

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