Led Zeppelin - The Remasters Companion

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Introduction

From 3 June 2014 through to 31 July 2015 Led Zeppelin's guitarist and founder Jimmy Page reissued the band's studio catalogue - newly remastered and with additional bonus material. Reissued by Atlantic Records, the collection contained all 9 of the band’s original studio albums (including the odds & ends compilation Coda) sourced from the original analogue tapes. Companion discs were also released with each album consisting of previously unreleased tracks and alternate mixes of previously released material. Many of these were work-in-progress versions and mixes made during the original production, rather than new remixes made for the reissues.

As a long-time fan of the band I thought I would take a closer look at the reissues. At the time I didn’t know (or expect) the reissues campaign would continue beyond the original studio work, but as it turned out Jimmy had a few more surprises in mind. There was of course the reissue of the Mothership compilation in November 2015 upgraded with the newest remasters - but more importantly, in July 2016 it was announced a deluxe reissue of 1997’s BBC Sessions album was on its way. The remastered album (now named The Complete BBC Sessions) included a bonus disc of unreleased material, including the legendary lost track ‘Sunshine Woman’, and was released in September 2016.

Further reissues followed with How The West Was Won released in March 2018, and the remixed version of The Song Remains The Same reissued in September of the same year. Each of these were billed as part of the band's 50th anniversary celebrations.

The track lists of each album and companion discs (containing live tracks, studio outtakes and alternate mixes) are shown, along with a commentary on each. This should also represent a complete collection of what is currently available, in the best quality it can be.

The Reissues

The first wave of albums reissued (Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III) were released on 2 June 2014. The second wave (Led Zeppelin IV and Houses Of The Holy) were released on 27 October 2014. The third wave (Physical Graffiti) was released on 23 February 2015, almost exactly forty years to the day after the original album’s release. The fourth and final wave of albums (Presence, In Through The Out Door, and Coda) were released on 31 July 2015.

 

 

The Remastering

All material on the 9 studio album reissues was remastered at Metropolis Studios by Mastering Engineer John Davis, with Jimmy Page assisting. The remasters were created from 96kHz/24bit digital transfers of the original analogue tapes.

This is the second remaster of the band’s studio material. The first occurred in 1989/1990 and was done by Jimmy Page supervised by George Marino at Sterling Sound. These remasters were issued on Led Zeppelin Box Set (1990) and Led Zeppelin Box Set 2 (1993). Later in 1993 the band’s studio catalogue was reissued using the remasters, and 4 non-album tracks were added to the end of the Coda reissue.

Box Set 1 Box Set 2

Box Set 1 & 2 (1990/1993)

Not much can really be said about the new mastering on the 9 original studio albums, beyond it being flawless. The 96khz digital files I used for reference are incredibly warm, and putting aside limitations of the original production (such as mic bleed and quality loss from folding tracks) the sound quality is like being in the room. After repeated listens I couldn’t find anything I can make a negative comment on. The attention to detail is amazing, and explains the 2 year period the project took to complete.

 

 

The Companion Discs

In compiling the companion discs of the 9 original studio albums Page had a vision of a ‘work in progress’ for each album. He wanted songs from the period that showed various stages of the album in production. He also stated that he was very keen to present alternative versions and new tracks that not even the most comprehensive collectors would have heard before. This approach couldn’t be followed to the word (luckily), as many of the best outtakes (such as ‘Jennings Farm Blues’ on LZIII) have circulated in multiple takes amongst collectors for years. For the most part though, the alternate mixes were new to the ears of most - with many confirmed to have never circulated before. In fact, a couple of the unreleased tracks have never even been known to exist prior to these Deluxe Editions.

 

 

The Packaging

 

 

Conclusion

Looking over the complete list of omissions it seems the live recordings not included is the biggest opportunity missed. So many high quality soundboards of the band’s 10+ year existence collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, and now is the perfect time to share them with the world.

The studio tracks released were of varying necessity, but not every outtake can be amazing. Some of the tracks included are brilliant, and we are blessed for hearing them, while others could have been substituted for versions that have circulated for years that are far better.

The inclusion of just a handful of demos would have also been very welcome, especially some the acoustic songs recorded around the 70/71 period.

Overall though, the Deluxe Editions are great packages - the sound quality is perfect, the packaging is incredibly detailed (although some detailed liner notes on recording dates would have been nice), and the overall look & feel of the whole collection is perfectly put together. As a long-time fan, many of my complaints are probably more nit-picks and I wonder sometimes if those that don’t have access to information and unauthorised recordings actually enjoyed these releases more than I did?

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