Led Zeppelin - The Remasters Companion

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Missing

It is said that after the death of John Bonham a deep depression fell upon Jimmy Page. Many authors suggest that for a period Page, who curated the band's archives and tape library, was known to give away items (including reels of tape) to passing fans that showed interest. This seems to have been due to his mental state, and also his apparent substance addiction at the time. Although Page has never officially acknowledged this, it does possibly explain why there are so many studio tapes and soundboard recordings of Led Zeppelin live shows circulating.

If this is true it has been both a blessing and a curse for fans (and no doubt for Page himself). It is great in that we have had a huge number of Zeppelin bootlegs of both live shows and studio outtakes on the market to choose from - many of which would likely have never been heard if left to Page himself to issue. On the downside the release of most of this material (especially in the early days of vinyl bootlegging) was in average to poor quality, and with very little (or wrong) information surrounding the releases. Had Page released the material himself he would have shown it the care and attention it deserved. We are also left with some extensive studio outtake packages that are often disputed as even being genuine Led Zeppeling recordings.

I mention all this beacuse in considering and compiling the lists below, I do wonder if some of the source material masters are no longer available in the Page archives, considering that some of the recent studio outtake bootleg CDs circulating are generally in reasonably high quality?

Studio Recordings

There are dozens of studio outakes to choose from, so this is just a selection of a few that really show every facet of the band's music.

  • Headley Grange Rehearsals (1970) - Recorded during the writing of Led Zeppelin III, these acoustic demos show songs like ‘That’s The Way’, ‘Hey, Hey, What Can I Do’ and ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ in various states of discovery. The quality isn’t perfect (the original tapes may prove to be an upgrade), but the work-in-progress feel of these tracks makes for a fun listen.
  • Feel So Bad - Although various dates and locations have been given, my guess (based on the style and sound) is that this was recorded during the same Led Zeppelin III session that produced ‘Hats Off To (Roy) Harper’ and ‘Key To The Highway / Trouble In Mind’. It is very similar in style and tone to the other two, and the vocals use the same warbling Leslie speaker effect. It’s another great acoustic blues romp, but shows off some really nice Page guitar work. It also borrows a few lyrics from Bukka White’s ‘Fixin To Die’. It ends with a brilliant (seemingly impromptu) performance of Elvis Presley’s ‘That’s All Right, Mama’.
  • Headley Grange Rehearsals (1971) - These rehearsals (from the band’s second visit to their favourite Victorian country house) are a treasure trove of great unreleased material when writing Led Zeppelin (IV). Although some are fully formed electric run-throughs of the songs (such as the speedy version of ‘No Quarter’ prior to all lyrics being in place), there are some amazing early acoustic versions of tracks like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway To Heaven’, and other untitled instrumentals. This is surely a better insight into the making of an album than a slightly different mix of a song?
  • The Chicago Auditorium Rehearsals (1973) - Presumably recorded during a sound-check, the band tries out a few lesser known songs for the live setting (such as ‘The Wanton Song’, ‘The Rover’ and ‘Night Flight’). The rehearsals are disjointed (but interesting), but what makes this recording important is the band moves into an impromptu performance of their favourite rock & roll tunes from the 50s and early 60s. Tracks like Chuck Berry’s ‘School Days’ and Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’ (usually mislabelled as ‘C’mon Pretty Baby’) are a band having fun - and a side of Zeppelin that is only glimpsed on this one occasion. There are 14 songs (11 of them covers) on the circulating tape.
  • Take Me Home - Only relatively low quality rehearsal recordings sem to exist of this song recorded during the first days of making Physical Graffiti. On close inspection, it is possibly an early run-through of what later became ‘The Wanton Song’, but it only bears very slight resemblance.
  • Swan Song - Possibly the most legendary of all Zeppelin outtakes, and for very good reason. Recorded during the Physical Graffiti sessions, this shows the making of a new ‘Stairway To Heaven’ style masterpiece, multi-layered and complex. The 2 circulating takes show 2 very different sides to the song, one being a short run-through and the other being a more fully formed song. Unfortunately neither have lyrics to give any indication of where the song would go. To me, and many other fans, this is the great lost Zeppelin masterpiece. It possibly wasn’t released on the Deluxe Editions due to Page later reviving it in very different form as ‘Midnight Moonlight’ on an album by his post-Zep band The Firm.
  • Don’t Start Me Talking - Sometime in November 1975 prior to the recording of Presence (possibly at S.I.R. Studios in Los Angeles) a bunch of rehearsals were recorded. What we have of these rehearsals is a fragment of ‘Royal Orleans’, a short clip of a very early (and more up-tempo) ‘Tea For One’, and most importantly a full performance of the song ‘Don’t Start Me Talking’ (originally performed by Sonny Boy Williamson). The copies of these rehearsals circulating are by no means great quality, but they are certainly listenable, and considering how slim the extras on the Presence Deluxe Edition were, the cover song in particular would have been a great addition.
  • Fire - Recorded during a May 1978 rehearsal this track seems to have lived a short life, not being heard of again after these tapes. It is possible of course that the band recorded studio versions during the recording of In Through The Out Door, but doubtful.

It is also worth mentioning that there is still one officially released ‘studio’ track missing from Deluxe Editions - the ‘Moby Dick / Bonzo’s Montreux’ remix / mash-up made by Page during the first remastering of Led Zeppelin’s catalogue in 1990. Page made it clear the track was an ‘experiment’ as such, and whilst it is a great mix, most fans don’t class it as an official Zeppelin track - so it is probably likely to fade into obscurity from here on.

At the time of the second wave of releases there were rumblings on the internet at the exclusion of the track ‘Lucifer Rising’, written toward the end of 1973. The track was written and recorded by Page alone as part of a suite of music for the Kenneth Anger film of the same name, and as such it was never associated with the rest of the band. I personally would have questioned the inclusion of it. Page did release the recordings (along with other unreleased takes) in March 2015 on the deluxe boxed set Jimmy Page - Sound Tracks, which also contained other solo works.

Live Recordings

Jimmy Page is, and always has been, a perfectionist. Many of Zeppelin’s best live performances are of a quality that would leave a casual listener cold, which is probably why they weren’t considered for the project - which is a real shame because as you will see from the list below some absolute gems have been missed. I don’t see the companion discs as an item designed for casual fans anyway, but for the die-hards that are always thirsty for more - so lower than perfect sound quality should not have been important.

  • As Long As I have You (9 January 1969, at The Fillmore West, San Francisco) - A couple of versions of this Elvis Presley cover are floating around, but this one seems the best (in both quality and performance). The 17 minute track is important as it shows a band learning it's stage craft on one of their earliest known live recordings, recorded during their first U.S. tour. The 24 April 1969 version from the same venue, on the band’s second U.S. tour, is also very worthy of inclusion, although the vocals suffer from low volume.
  • I Gotta Move (14 March 1969, at the Konserthuset, Stockholm) - A cover of the Otis Rush song, this track (recorded in pretty good sound quality on the band’s second tour of Scandinavia) shows the genesis of tracks like ‘Bring It On Home’ and ‘The Lemon Song’, tracks no doubt being written around this time period.
  • The Royal Albert Hall Concert (1970) - When Led Zeppelin DVD was released in 2003 in proved that the vaults still contained plenty to care about, and the jewel in the crown of the release was the exceptionally high quality concert at The Royal Albert Hall on 9 January 1970 - recorded not just to film, but also multitrack audio. This concert stands amongst the best at documenting a young hungry band at their prime. To have this entire concert newly mixed and remastered on a companion audio disc (or 2) for either Led Zeppelin II or Led Zeppelin III would have been amazing. Better yet, release it as a separate double album as part of the campaign. Still in the works maybe? Jimmy? Are you reading this?
  • Knebworth Festival (1979) - Zeppelin performed 2 shows at the 1979 Knebworth Festival (the first on the 4th of August and the second a week later on the 11th). This was the band’s first live engagement in 2 years (following the death of Robert Plant’s son in 1977), and was the first time to play in the U.K. in 4 years, so the shows are important landmark performances. Both were filmed (parts of which appeared in 2003 on Led Zeppelin DVD), and recorded to multitrack audio - and although they aren’t perfect performances, they are a great example of the mature version of Led Zeppelin playing live. Much like the other full shows mentioned above, these concerts (edited to make a full show from the 20+ songs recorded on each night) would have made a great extra companion disc (or two), added to the In Through The Out Door reissue. Based on the sub-par extras included on the Deluxe Edition, I have no doubt this would have been welcomed by many fans. It is quite well known that the band were never big fans of these performances (being quite rusty to playing live), so it is doubtful we will hear much more of them any time soon.

In hindsight, I would love to have seen a double (or even triple!) compilation of unreleased live tracks released with the reissues, chronicaling the band’s live performances from the early shows right up to final performances in 1980. A compilation like this excuses the questionable sound quality of some of the earlier performances.

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