By Patrick Prince
As Robert Plant appears to be distancing himself from Led Zeppelin's legacy, Jimmy Page has spent the last few years gathering forgotten band material from studio archives. The result is the upcoming release of deluxe editions for each Zeppelin studio album, with rare unreleased songs, song sketches, live recordings, and alternate takes of well-loved classics on a companion audio disc.
In mid-March it was officially announced that the deluxe editions would start with the first three Zeppelin studio albums being released on June 3 by Atlantic/Swan Song (with the rest of the albums TBD later in the year), and ever since Page, now 70, has been on a whirlwind PR campaign.
The campaign began in earnest with invitations being sent out to select members of the press for an intimate listening party/presser in New York City hosted by Page.
At a downtown Manhattan hotel on May 13, Page presented the following eight songs of outtakes, alternate takes, live tracks, and rare original tracks to those invited:
"Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown" (Led Zeppelin I) live
"You Shook Me" (Led Zeppelin I) live
"Heartbreaker" (Led Zeppelin II) take
"Whole Lotta Love" (Led Zeppelin II) take
"Gallows Pole" (Led Zeppelin III) take
"Since I've Been Loving You" (Led Zeppelin III) take
"Immigrant Song" (Led Zeppelin III) take
"Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind" (Led Zeppelin III) unreleased song
It was the first time the press had heard such material and the reaction was a mix of restrained euphoria and wide-eyed enthusiasm. And how could even the rock press contain their emotions? Each alternate take, for instance, was so raw and honest.
"No jiggery-pokery," Page explained. "All these mixes are of the time. Basically, that's what it is. Obviously, we were playing live. All of this stuff is 1,2,3,4, on with the red light."
These were real takes with all their honest bumps and bruises along the way. It was a rare peek into the studio, hearing the evolution of future rock classics. It was simply fantastic.
The reaction should be the same for Led Zeppelin fans upon hearing this unleashed Zep for the first time. And each deluxe edition will have its own personality.
Led Zeppelin I's deluxe edition will contain a live concert recording on the extra disc. The recording is from previously unreleased Paris show in 1969 (The Olympia, October 10, 1969). It's exactly as those who remembered Zeppelin in the early days: uncontrolled and LOUD. The highlight is the medley "Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown." Robert Plant gives a vocal onslaught of the senses, and, if anything, it is a reminder that he is no longer capable of this kind of exaltation.
Led Zeppelin II's extra tracks are really worth the listen. The "Heartbreaker" take certainly sounds more garage rock than what it became. Pages guitar sounds untamed and sharp, and his solo break seems like a bit of impromtu art. You can feel the seeds being planted for the next immortal take. "Whole Lotta Love" in particular is also interesting in its infancy. The legendary song break brings all the Plant moans and Page guitar wizardly whistles to a new distinction. No solo afterwards. No bongos from Bonham either. And that immortal guitar riff is fresh and newly cooked. After hearing the final recording a thousand times over, it has been grooved in my brain a certain way. To hear it differently is a refreshing experience.
Led Zeppelin III is the real payoff. "III" has an alternate take that instantly sent a shiver up my spine: "Immigrant Song" full of unrelenting energy right out of the box, like a wild tiger escaping from its cage. It has an added vibrato guitar strum, screams that are more Viking-like, and weird ecstatic chants at its end. With it's psychedelic bent this may be as good as the final take. The lo-fi unpolish of "Gallows Pole" is a lot different, too. Page's acoustic guitar is unburied ("All that intricate guitar sunk down in the final mixes," Page claimed). And "Since I've Been Loving You" has one of Page's best lead guitar bits maturing. The lead is not yet mastered but it is still a beautiful thing, full of spontaneity and wielding emotional drive. You can even hear the buzz of Page's amp in this full-on alternate take. Then "Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind," the newly-found track (on a studio box that was simply marked "blues"), sounds similar to "Hats off to Roy Harper," but better (IMHO). Just Page and Plant doing their thing together.
"The idea was to go in and do something which was quite radical as far as the blues," said Page of the newly revealed 'Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind,' "because a lot of people were just doing the blues renditions. But I was very keen to do something along the country blues aspect of things. It started off with experiments like with the harmonica and double-tracking harmonica and then running it thru my amp ... where it's really eerie. Basically, I started the intro and we lock into what you hear. And that's the one take. It just really goes to show how in-sync Robert and I were. There's no doubt about that. Again, it's that sort of approach to the blues which isn't the way other people would do it."
Each album is remastered by Page in the following full list of formats (deluxe editions highlighted):
• Single CD - Remastered album packaged in a gatefold card wallet.
• Deluxe Edition (2CD) - Remastered album, plus a second disc of unreleased companion audio.
• Single LP - Remastered album on 180-gram vinyl, packaged in a sleeve that replicates the LP's first pressing in exacting detail. (For example, III will feature the original wheel and die cut holes.)
• Deluxe Edition Vinyl - Remastered album and unreleased companion audio on 180-gram vinyl.
• Digital Download - Remastered album and companion audio will both be available.
• Super Deluxe Boxed Set - This collection includes:
o Remastered album on CD in vinyl replica sleeve.
o Companion audio on CD in card wallet.
o Remastered album on 180-gram vinyl in a sleeve replicating first pressing.
o Companion audio on 180-gram vinyl.
o High-def audio download card of all content at 96kHz/24 bit. (Live tracks are 48kHz/24 bit).
o Hard bound, 70+ page book filled with rare and previously unseen photos and memorabilia.
o High quality print of the original album cover, the first 30,000 of which will be individually numbered.
o Led Zeppelin will also include a replica of the band's original Atlantic press kit.
The hard bound book that comes with the Super Deluxe Boxed Set is an impressive, glossy presentation of rare photographs and memorabilia collected personally by the musicians and related to each album. When Goldmine asked Page about the process of gathering all the memorabilia and photographs for the books, he replied that it was really a group effort: "Robert sent in a few pieces. In 'II' you'll see Robert sent in some lyrics for 'Ramble On,' and in 'III' he also sent in 'Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.' He sent in a few bits, I had some photographs I put into it, and it was throwing it all in, really."
With the many deluxe editions being released nowadays it is hard for the music lover to pick the right one. But the Led Zeppelin Super Deluxe Boxed Set is the way to go. It is one of those gems that must be acquired. It's an edition to be cherished for a lifetime.
And Jimmy Page is also prepared for the future. "I've done really, really hi-resolution files for whatever system comes next," he offered.
There's been too much talk about Robert Plant's creative integrity and not giving in to the temptation of a grand Led Zeppelin reunion world tour. But I have a great deal of respect for Jimmy Page for all the effort he has done in keeping the Zeppelin flag flying high. He continues to keep it exciting for the fans. In a few words, thank you, Mr. Page.
Here is the complete track listing of the first three remastered albums and their companion discs:
Companion Audio Disc
Led Zeppelin II
Companion Audio Disc
Led Zeppelin III
Companion Audio Disc