Review by Andrew Hamlin.
Led Zeppelin 1 – IV (Atlantic Records).
Anything in the can worth swirling and quaffing, Jimmy?
I had to push myself to listen to this latest round of Led Zeppelin reissues—first four albums, the rest to follow. Once I pushed “play” I always felt splendidly inundated, but I doubt I’m only one who has to search for the music that started this whole thing, through graph paper–mental and emotional labyrinths of the madness, the money, the women, the black magic, the musical thievery, the death of John Bonham; and, in my case at least, old friends, some now lost to me, and how all this (plus the rest) adhered to and imbued all our affairs.
Some resisted—one fellow with an impeccable collection of English punk vinyl rasped “I hate them,” but I caught the man in his convertible singing along to every word of “Dancing Days.” Some became reclused monks a la the fourth album gatefold (and Jimmy’s business onscreen in The Song Remains The Same)—I gave a CD of T. Rex outtakes to another fellow, and he just squinted quizzically. He had four or five copies of every Zeppelin song released legally up to that point, but he’d never even heard of T. Rex.
So I’ll cut to the chase: Is this new old bonus material merely can scrapings? For the debut album, the answer’s a passionate “nay.” The Live At The Olympia set, from Paris, twelve days before the release of Zeppelin II, gives us a band that wouldn’t exist too much longer—rambling through baroque, but baroquely-shaded and shockingly delicate, textures, longer and sometimes richer, takes on tunes they’d scrunched down to LP-size bites. For the fifteen-minute “Dazed And Confused” (now “inspired by Jake Holmes,” who hopefully gets paid for the “inspiration” Jimmy stole so long ago), Page recedes into a corner, mediating and respiring through his instrument; John Bonham follows him, a cornerman on the ring’s edge, heeding his leader and eventually pushing them both back into the moment.
Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” blows up more like driving through a blizzard, every Bonham bash a gout of snow into the windshield of Robert Plant’s exalted cries, manifesting the pain in pleasure, that steadfast tradition of both blues and its underlying eroticism.
Plant’s patented vocalism, an “ah” bent in the direction of an “oh,” certainly surfaces, but so does a jazz-like elasticity in both words and music. This particular lineup had two lead singers—Plant calls, Page answers, a spirit conjured in mystic moves by the singer to double him, bolster him, and guide him. But which shall emerge the true master?
The remaining “companion discs,” as Jimmy dubs them, consist largely of minor variations on themes you’ll know well, lacking that zeal and shape-shifting spirit of 1969. “Thank You” shorn of Plant’s contribution, reinforces the quiet majesty of John Paul Jones’ organ and the elegant underpinnings of that grand ballad mounted confidently amidst lumbering peg-leg heaviness. “That’s The Way,” from Zeppelin III, benefits from the dulcimer and reverse echo Page later rescinded, as Plant’s again-tender singing stands out to higher relief.
(Marky Ramone, in his new autobiography, calls side two of Zeppelin III “a twenty-two-minute, largely acoustic, folk experiment that left a lot of critics pissed off that they didn’t get to hear the next ‘Whole Lotta Love.’” He omits how Bonham plays on a fair portion of that stuff, bolstering the singular slant on English folk. Also, plenty of the masses in the stands wanted “Whole Lotta Love” for themselves—witness John Paul Jones, recalling the front rows chanting and clapping for that number during “Stairway To Heaven”’s live debut.)
“Whole Lotta Love”’s own rough mix finds Plant apparently reading off cue cards for the breakdown, maybe gaping at Page’s impression of a thirty-foot zipper zooming up a ninety-foot vinyl miniskirt. As for the two honest-to-gosh new songs here, well, Zeppelin II’s “La La” carries instrumental promise but sounds unfinished sans Plant; III’s “Key To The Highway/Trouble In Mind,” cut without Jones and Bonham, skitters on a fluttered, papery vocal suggesting Mick Jagger circa “I Just Want To See His Face.” Yes, I think it should have seen the finished album off.
So to you the music lover, I suggest you assess the paucity of full-wattage revelation, consider how many copies of these songs you
already own, gauge the depth of your love of a grand band that made their name not loving you back. But grab Zeppelin I for that Olympia disc. Something answered a summons out of esoteric aether, that night. Lose yourself (and maybe find me) chasing it.
Houses of The Holy and Physical Graffiti are also available via Atlantic Records.