Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace Of Sin

From Musicbanter.com

Upon Sweetheart Of the Rodeo’s completion, the events which saw the birth of one of the early and more influential country rock groups took place. To cut a long story short, a Byrds album which had been born out of the creative friction between Roger McGuinn’s desire to keep strolling down Notorious Byrd Brothers Avenue and bassist Chris Hillman and new boy Gram Parsons’ idea to record a country rock record, did indeed cause the classic lineup of the Byrds to split up for good. Parsons left the band on the eve of their South African tour and, soon after, he was joined by Hillman, who’d agree to play guitar and sing the occasional vocal track in a new, forward-thinking country band – the Flying Burrito Brothers. While McGuinn and the Byrds went into a sharp and rapid decline, Hillman and Parsons formed quite the songwriting partnership, swelling the ranks with pedal steel guitarist ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow and the multi-talented Chris Ethridge filling out bass and piano duties. With the nucleus of the band now in place, the Flying Burrito Brothers took to the studio armed with a deal with A&M, several session drummers and some very promising material.

Promise that is, indeed, delivered with the kind of gusto which made Sweetheart Of the Rodeo the timeless classic that it is which results in, basically, another timeless country classic. The difference between the Gilded Palace Of Sin and the aforementioned Byrds album though is, most obviously, that nine of these eleven songs are original compositions, like the superb, upbeat opener Christine’s Tune – one which not only revels in the beat group-type harmonies that make Sweetheart Of the Rodeo as forward-thinking as it was, but also with a psychedelic twist. Throughout this album, pedal steel guitarist Pete Kleinow either uses a fuzzbox with his weapon of choice or plays it through a rotating Hammond Leslie amp, giving this song a kind of psychedelic country feel about it. It takes the experiment that was Sweetheart Of the Rodeo a step further. The following Sin City lacks such an affect but still serves as a very good slow-burner to take the album onwards.

From there, as per Parsons’ idea of ‘cosmic American music’, we get two covers of old R’n’B standards, with both Do Right Woman and Dark End Of the Street being two top-notch examples of that idea not only coming to fruition but actually sounding damn good as well. The latter in particular, with Parsons’ lead vocal and Hillman’s harmony, really presents a fascinating show of R’n’B being wired up to a country motor and doing a world of good for itself.

Next up is another trio of Hillman/Parsons co-writes, starting with the bouncy, bluegrass-flavoured My Uncle as it rounds off side A, before moving on to the unrelentingly top-drawer level of quality which is side B. Wheels gives Kleinow’s concept of a psychedelic pedal steel guitar another chance to shine here, piercing through a truly beautiful, harmony-heavy and achingly emotional slow-burner, which sees Parsons’ strength for the despairing country ballad as a vocalist really coming into its own. Juanita, propelled as it is by Kleinow’s this time unadorned pedal steel, Hillman’s acoustic strumming and some more absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies between him and his co-writer, is another wonderful ballad that it’s so easy to just lose yourself in.

It’s hard to imagine the album getting any better but, oddly enough, it does. Hot Burrito #1 and Hot Burrito #2 were both hastily-written by Parsons and Ethridge, which is quite something given that they’re two of my favourite songs of all time, let alone country songs. A couple of Parsons’ finest vocal performances without a doubt – you can almost hear him crying as he sings ‘I’m your toy, I’m your old boy, but I don’t want no-one but you to love me’, augmented by Kleinow’s psychedelic-leaning contributions make for a couple of heart-wrenchingly beautiful classics.

Do You Know How It Feels, another Parsons/Goldberg composition, leans much more towards the traditional and as such isn’t too far removed from something the International Submarine Band would’ve recorded, but doesn’t bring the level of quality down one little bit. The curtain call, Hippie Boy, is simply brilliant. With Parsons’ wonderful lyric being spoken over a backing track dominated by his own work on the organ, it’s a bit of a sore thumb on the tracklisting but nevertheless is a wonderful way to put the lid on the record.

A record which, since getting hold of it myself, has become my joint-favourite that Parsons have ever been involved with alongside Sweetheart Of the Rodeo. In some ways, it’s probably stands as more of an example of how much everyone who claims to hate country is missing out on than the Byrds album. For all the colours added by the psychedelic touches of the organ and fuzzy pedal steel, the way it takes the experiment that Parsons and Hillman kicked off while they were in the Byrds, the mutual understanding of a rich musical tradition that they then take full advantage of to become a truly great songwriting partnership and, of course, the Hot Burrito songs, make for an absolute classic and another album I’d recommend to absolutely anyone.

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May 15, 2010 Posted by | The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Midnight Lightning (1975)

From Answers.com

The opening riff to “Foxey Lady” provides the foundation for the instrumental “Trash Man,” and no amount of bastardization can take away from the genius guitarist his legacy. If you take this work at face value, without the baggage of what “producer” Alan Douglas did to the tapes, this time with Tony Bongiovi along for the ride, it’s still Hendrix. Maybe God allowed the series of albums to happen so the world could see Hendrix’s work could survive doctoring and musicians jamming with his art after the fact. That this disc goes for big bucks on Internet auction sites says something about the timelessness of the music.

The title track, as with seven of the eight performances here, has session player Alan Schwartzberg on drums, a far cry from his work with Carole Bayer Sager. Mitch Mitchell only appears on Hendrix’s blues classic “Hear My Train,” Schwartzberg adding shakers. Bob Babbit is the “designated bassist” on the entire project (no doubt what Billy Cox and Noel Redding thought about this), and Jeff Mironov shares guitar duties with Lance Quinn. That’s not a misprint. Thankfully, the extra guitarists are somewhat invisible — you know, what’s the point of having co-vocalists add their talents to a Janis Joplin disc? What these recordings effectively do is offer the world a comparison between what the official Hendrix estate is doing, and what Douglas did. The Hendrix estate wins that battle, Eddie Kramer and John McDermott carefully restoring all the master tapes of Jimi Hendrix, and restoring them properly. Discs like Midnight Lightning are also a statement on how a great artist’s legacy can go through various hands and the artistic consequences of tapes traveling as if under their own steam.

History is an excellent vantage point from which to view. The title track is great — and it goes along with the cover painting very nicely. Is it blasphemy to say that this is a highly enjoyable disc? All the post-Cry of Love releases — War Heroes, Crash Landing, Voodoo Soup, Blues, Hendrix in the West, Rainbow Bridge, the soundtrack to the Jimi Hendrix film, and this — provide another crucial look at Hendrix. The more the merrier. It is great to have the official Hendrix estate with Janie Hendrix, John McDermott, and Eddie Kramer doing this properly, but this version of “Gypsy Boy (New Rising Sun),” the inclusion of Mitch Mitchell’s “Beginnings,” another “Machine Gun,” and “Blue Suede Shoes” exist, thus they are important additions to the Hendrix archives. It will be interesting to see if the official Hendrix estate eventually re-releases the Alan Douglas masters just to keep these once-legit works from cluttering the market with counterfeits. ~ Joe Viglione, All Music Guide

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Midnight Lightning | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix: South Saturn Delta (1997)

From Answers.com

Shortly after the Hendrix family reacquired the rights to Jimi’s catalog, they signed a long-term deal with MCA Records and pulled many of the compilations of unreleased material and rarities off the shelves, with the intent of re-releasing the material in better collections.

First Rays of the New Rising Sun, an attempt at assembling Hendrix’s uncompleted last album, was the first release from Experience Hendrix LLC, and it was followed months later by South Saturn Delta, a collection of rarities — all but one of the 15 tracks were never officially released in the U.S. — that spans his entire career. Its intent is to capture the full range of Hendrix’s music through an alternate history, and it works pretty well. Among the highlights are tracks from the War Heroes and Rainbow Bridge Concert albums (“Look Over Yonder,” “Tax Free,” “Midnight,” “Pali Gap,” “Bleeding Heart”), “Sweet Angel” (an early version of “Angel”), an instrumental “Little Wing,” a solo take on “Midnight Lightning,” and a studio version of “Message to the Universe (Message to Love).”

There are also alternate mixes of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Power of Soul,” “Drifter’s Escape,” “South Saturn Delta,” and “The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam’s Dice.” It’s an intelligently sequenced, listenable collection of some of the very best outtakes and rarities from Hendrix, and is another sign that Experience Hendrix LLC’s restoration of Jimi’s catalog will be smart, stylish, and logical. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix South Saturn Delta | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck: Live, Remastered And Expanded

From Allaboutjazz

Jeff Beck is the most explosive guitarist of his generation. Since he first stepped into the spotlight as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, he has played with an impulsive, unorthodox logic all his own. It’s an approach he has continued to hone through pioneering forays in the realm of jazz-rock fusion, as presented by Blow By Blow, Wired and later collaborations with Jan Hammer and Beatles’ producer George Martin.

Today, at the age of 62, Beck continues to be a source of inspiration for air guitarists far and wide. His two stints on the road in 2006 suggested he may very well be the ultimate embodiment of electric guitar pyrotechnics. An artist who usually tours only sporadically, an east coast tour of America in autumn came close on the heels of a similar west coast swing in the spring, and the gigs produced Official Bootleg USA ’06 (available at shows and on-line). It finds the elements of Beck’s music more tightly fused than ever.

Here Beck’s band is closely in formation with him as they play, but there’s not a lot of collective improvisation going on. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Pino Palladino and keyboardist Jason Rebello play along with their leader, as Beck himself continues to unfurl his seemingly endless imagination to find—or more accurately, impart —subtlety to familiar songs like “Blue Wind. The disc sacrifices the vocals of Beth Hart as offered on stage, but this only reaffirms how the live sets progressed almost non-stop from beginning to end. It’s as if a Beck show these days is as one long improvisation.

Make no mistake, though, the concert presentation is well paced, as it no doubt should be, given the fact set lists remained fairly constant through both tours. Yet with Beck parlaying his own inimitable brand of unpredictability from moment to moment, there’s no sense of ennui. The flourishes of Colaiuta act as necessary touchpoints after such stratospheric journeys as the one Beck conducts on “Brush With The Blues: here his deconstructionist jazz sensibility is never more evident.

The guitarist’s fondness for melody broadens the dynamic range of the fifteen tracks. “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers features Beck using a feather-like touch he utilizes again, to an even greater extent, in the second encore, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow. “Two Rivers” finds him displaying a restraint at the other end of the spectrum from the frenzied abandon he exhibits on “Scatterbrain.” But it’s “Nadia,” from the recent album You Had It Coming, and “Angel, off Who Else?, where Beck finds the finest nuance to etch the pretty motifs in the tunes.

Re-forging elements of his past would appear to be the impetus behind Beck’s current public appearances, though that’s not obvious on this generic looking, no-frills package. Nevertheless, the techno leanings of his last studio album, Jeff, are virtually nowhere to be found, replaced instead with bonecrushing hard rock riffing reminiscent of early albums with the Jeff Beck Group; Beck’s “Bolero sounded of a piece with the sleek sturm und drang of “Led Boots.

Not coincidentally, Truth and Beck-Ola were reissued in October 2006 with bonus tracks aplenty on Legacy Recordings, so it made perfect sense for Beck to hearken back to that phase of his career. Yet even in 1968, Jeff Beck eschewed the cock rock caricaturing of Jimmy Page who formed Led Zeppelin from the remains of The Yardbirds after Beck’s departure. The recent remastered and expanded editions of the Jeff Beck Group’s two albums give further credence to Beck’s visionary status, arguably superior to Zeppelin in both concept and execution.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Live Remastered & Expanded | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix: The Cry Of Love (1971)

From Blogcritics.org

Jimi Hendrix died September 18, 1970. He had been in the studio recording tracks for his next album until about a month before his passing and was as proficient in the recording studio as he was on stage.

He was also a perfectionist and would leave behind multiple takes of many of his songs. He would also write and develop songs while he was recording as there would be tracks of the same song that would be far different from each other. Very few artists left behind as much studio material as did Hendrix. There was also a treasure-trove of live material that had been recorded over the years. In fact, live material and concerts are still being discovered.

The Cry Of Love was issued March 5, 1971 and was the first album to be released after his death. Some of the tracks may have a somewhat unfinished feel but there were also some that were polished and rank with the best that Hendrix ever produced. The tracks, except for one, would find Hendrix recording with former Experience drummer, Mitch Mitchell and Band Of Gypsy’s bassist, Billy Cox. It would be Mitchell and Eddie Kramer who would produce the album.

The Cry Of Love can only give us an incomplete picture of the mind of Jimi Hendrix and the musical direction he was traveling. The ten songs that Mitchell and Kramer chose for the album find Hendrix still experimenting and pushing the limits of the guitar sound to places that had never been traveled but also find a new sophistication of lyrics plus some structured underlying melodies.

The ballads, “Drifting” and “Angel” are probably the strongest tracks. “Drifting” contains some of the best lyrics that Hendrix would write. There is a poetic quality to them and they paint a poignant picture with words. “Angel” features some subtle slow guitar playing that if far from the frenetic style for which he was famous.

“Ezy Rider” and “Up From The Storm” are classic Hendrix rockers. “Ezy Ryder” would appear in a number of incarnations over the years and gives a good look into the various stages of Hendrix’ creative process. “Freedom” combines guitar virtuosity and a melodic structure. “My Friend” was recorded at the Electric Ladyland sessions in 1968 and provides a good counterpoint to the other material contained on the album. “Belly Button Window” was recorded August 22, 1970 and is probably the last studio track that Hendrix ever produced.

The Cry Of Love would be a huge seller and reached number 3 on the national music charts. It may not have been Hendrix’ best album but it is still very good. It has the historical value of providing some of the last material that Hendrix would put on tape. All in all, The Cry Of Love is an essential part of the Jimi Hendrix musical legacy.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix The Cry Of Love | | Leave a comment

Jeff Beck Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s (2008)

From Allaboutjazz.com

Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s, recorded during a 2007 run at the renowned London club, is Jeff Beck’s first release on the Eagle label after a long-standing tenure on Epic Records. It’s an understatement to say it bodes well for the continued vigor of the man who replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds.
Recent setlists haven’t varied dramatically on Beck’s last few tours, and the length of performances here never exceeds six minutes, so this isn’t exactly a laboratory exercise in improvisation. But this seventy-minute cd isn’t merely a cross-section of Jeff Beck’s career suggesting his embrace of its different phases. Nor does it just offer an exhibition of the sequencing logic of sixteen selections that creates a cumulative momentum. Nor is it only a display of how the guitarist and his band do justice to this varied material.

Live at Ronnie Scott’s constitutes a series of revelations about the love/hate affair Jeff Beck conducts with his instrument grounded in his mercurial touch. The bittersweet nuance he applies to “Nadia,” for instance, is that of a wizened musician who has not just retained but honed his personality over the course of time. Equally sinewy and soft on “Stratus,” the very sound of the British icon’s guitar is a mix of blues and jazz tone no less carefully proportioned than one-time tourmate Stevie Ray Vaughan or, perhaps, even T-Bone Walker. (And it’s arguable the iconoclastic Beck is as influential an innovator as the latter.)

In the midst of this emphatic illustration of individualism, Jeff Beck imbues the music he plays—as well as his on-stage relationships with the musicians, here including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist Jason Rebello—with the pure joy of the moment. The foursome is fully engaged in creating the haunting mood of “Angel (Footsteps).” In ample demonstration of the abandon and the restraint at their collective command, the quartet tears through “Back’s Bolero,” then decelerates without missing a beat or note to deftly allow the leader to finger a few exquisite notes in quiet closing. And the infectious relish Beck demonstrates these days on stage also translates into a generosity of spirit and humility, so that precocious bassist Tal Wilkenfeld authors her own well-embroidered solo on “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers.”

Charles Shaar Murray deserves to gush in his liner notes for Jeff Beck Performing this Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s, but less of the British journalist’s fractured prose and more photos of Beck on stage with his band would present a better visual counterpart to the dynamism of the music inside. Still, the sound quality of the concert mix, pristine and ever-so-present, is more than enough to compensate for those relatively minor design and packaging shortfalls. As much as it captures the vibrancy of the music within, this outstanding clarity might well represent a metaphor of Jeff Beck’s approach to playing these days.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jeff Beck Performing This week...Live At Ronnie Scott's | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Living With War (2006)

From BBC Music

Neil Young is no stranger to putting politics in music. He’s spent his entire career offering up the occasional haranguing to sit side-by-side with beautiful songs and his entire last album, Greendale, was a statement on protesting and the environment.

Living With War, as the title suggests, is inspired by America’s involvement in Iraq and the Bush administration in general, and is filled with the dual towers of anger and imagery that have powered him since his rage truly began three decades ago on “Ohio”.

That said, his ire does weigh a little too heavily at times, infecting songs that could have done with a moment or two to breathe, instead of being hammered down your throat.

This is the Neil Young of Rust and of Mirrorball. You might not agree with his politics, but when he’s angry, he’s a formidable songwriter. Living With War is another fist in America’s gut.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Living With War | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971

Neil-Young-Live-At-Massey-Ha-491993From BBC Music

It never rains but it pours eh? A good decade and a half after taunting us with tales of boundless archive treats and multiple disc box sets Neil Young seems to have finally decided that we’ve been patient enough. Mere months after releasing the awesomely good Live At The Fillmore East (with Crazy Horse) he now brings us this historic gig from 1971 in its entirety. Boy, was it worth the wait…

Following the commercial highpoints of his stint with Crosby Stills and Nash and the platinum-selling After The Goldrush – this gig represents a triumphant homecoming of sorts. The excitement of the audience witnessing the local boy’s return is palpable, even when Young announces that he’s going to be doing a set mainly composed of new numbers! But what numbers they are.

His next album was to be his greatest commercial achievement (and ironically was to eventually force him onto a more challenging musical path) – Harvest. Stripped of either the country garage stylings of Crazy Horse or his more salubrious West Coast chums, these direct readings brim with the energy of a man hitting his songwriting zenith. Not only do we get early versions of classics such as ‘’Heart Of Gold’’ or ‘’Old Man’’ we hear songs that were either shelved for several years (‘’See The Sky About To Rain’’, ‘’Journey Through The Past’’ and ‘’Love In Mind’’) or simply never saw the light of day (‘’Bad Fog Of Loneliness’’).

Peppered with earlier material, even from his days with Buffalo Springfield, it fast becomes clear that this is no ordinary ‘unplugged’ experience. His approach to acoustic troubador chic had, by this point, been tempered by his membership of the West Coast royalty. Every chord and inflection contain the sun-drenched mellowness and harmonic sophistication associated with the period, but remain entirely Young’s due to his own gloomier perspective (‘I live on a ranch now…lucky me.’).

For all that, Young is obviously in fine spirits, joking with the crowd while still bringing a fiecre concentration to each number. The ringing applause prior to the encore of “I Am A Child” says it all, really. His producer, David Briggs, urged Young to release the gig instead of Harvest, and listening to it 35 years later, you can see why. This is the real Neil…

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Live At Massey Hall 1971 | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock (1999)

From Sfloman.com

Originally released as Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock in 1994, this expanded 2-cd edition figures to be the last word on Hendrix’s famous Woodstock performance since it contains all but two songs performed that day, both of which were sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee.

Still, though it may very well be the single greatest Hendrix live album with regards to his guitar playing, Live At Woodstock is not without its problems. For one thing, Jimi was a highly visual artist (starting with the fact that he was left-handed but played a right-handed guitar upside down), so obviously you don’t get quite the whole effect when merely hearing him play live (but surely you’ve seen the Woodstock movie, correct?). Secondly, for all his plaudits as a live musician, he was actually a pretty erratic live performer, especially in his somewhat confused last year, and this concert has its highs and lows. The biggest problem is his backing band, consisting of Mitchell (great as always), Cox (a supporting player at best), the aforementioned Lee, and two conga players.

Dubbed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, these guys were a far cry from the original Experience. In fact, the percussionists sucked and the band hadn’t practiced enough and lacked cohesion, which engineer Eddie Kramer realized and rectified by wiping out their parts from this album, thereby presenting the new version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience as a hard-hitting power trio. Simply put, what was heard on stage August 18, 1969 is not what is heard on this cd, and the inauthentic nature of this release is likely to offend purists, especially given the historical importance of this performance. After all, is what Kramer did here so different than what Alan Douglas was so severely criticized for doing over the years? If Kramer was willing to remove things, surely it’s possible that he added things as well, no? The whole thing makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, but with that rant out of the way let me say that what’s here sounds fantastic for the most part. Sure, some of these jams are a bit long and monotonous, his stage patter is often incomprehensible and quite goofy, and I wish that there was more material from Axis and Electric Ladyland (only one song apiece), but despite battling fatigue and less than ideal conditions (a 9 a.m. Monday morning start time), Jimi puts his heart and soul into this justifiably legendary performance. Disc one features probably my favorite rendition of “Message Of Love” (we have Mitchell instead of Miles and Jimi is on fire), plus fierce jams mark “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Lover Man.” Again, as with Live At Winterland the band can get bogged down a bit when they try the bluesier stuff, and the improvised jam “Jam Back At The House” takes awhile to get going, but once it does boy does it ever, as does “Hear My Train A’ Comin” come to think of it. But disc one is merely a warm-up for disc two, which starts with my favorite version of “Izabella” but really gets going with a nearly 14-minute version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” Simply put, this version is jaw-dropping, mind-melting, relentlessly awe-inspiring; feel free to add your own adjectives, because guitar-based jamming simply doesn’t get any better. Next up is Jimi’s monumental shredding of the “Star Spangled Banner,” which may be his signature guitar solo (he pulls out all the stops) and which evokes that war torn era like few songs. It sounds better than ever placed within its proper context here, too, and sandwiched around a couple of short, punchy, and flat-out ass kicking early Experience classics (“Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe”) are two other “songs” that showcase Jimi’s improvisational genius, and which can’t be heard on any other release.

The aptly titled “Woodstock Improvisation” is basically Jimi just strutting his stuff as arguably the greatest guitar player the rock world has ever known, while the subdued “Villanova Junction” delivers the calm after the hurricane hits. Simply put, this sequence of songs on side two is Jimi Hendrix the live musician at his absolute best, and Mitch Mitchell too on the songs where Jimi also lets him let loose. They were playing like men possessed, like they wanted to steal the entire damn festival, and though the reality of the band performance on that morning was in actuality far less than what’s presented here, that shouldn’t stop your enjoyment when listening to this album. What may curb your enjoyment somewhat is the sheer exhausting nature of these long, jam-heavy songs, which likely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea even though it is mine.

Note: There are plenty of other releases that have appeared over the years, many of which have been pulled by Jimi’s estate. The two most necessary purchases that don’t appear on this page I suppose are Live At Monterey (better seen and heard on DVD) and the 4-cd box set The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which is a real treasure trove for Hendrix fanatics. That said, most of the alternate versions on the box set don’t sound all that different, some of the live tracks were previously available (the contents of the long out of print Hendrix In The West basically appears in its entirety), and some of the recordings sound like demos that should’ve remained unreleased. In short, the songs are usually good to great but on the whole it should’ve been better.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Live At Woodstock | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains The Same DVD (2008)

From Tcm.com

They are giants in the world of rock ‘n’ roll with overall record sales that are second only to The Beatles. Led Zeppelin’s musical legacy also continues to forcefully reach beyond a 12 year-long career that began in London during 1968 and ended with drummer John Bonham’s death from alcohol poisoning at the age of 31 in 1980. The continuing resonance of the band is easily seen with the performance footage culled from California dates during 1972 that were packaged recently as both a soundtrack CD and concert documentary DVD in How the West Was Won (2003), which debuted at number one on the Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. The success of How the West Was Won underscores a public thirst that had been unquenched since the release of The Song Remains the Same (1976), a Led Zeppelin concert film that was an entirely different bit of patchwork – one that tried to fuse together the Led Zeppelin mythos, via visual flights of fancy, with concert footage taken in 1973 at Madison Square Gardens, itself later reconstructed for editing purposes.

By 1973, Led Zeppelin had come out with five albums, the last of which was Houses of the Holy an album that hit the U.K. charts at number one and stayed on chart for 13 weeks. This was a significant feat for any band but, by Led Zeppelin standards it was shy of something like their second album release of Led Zeppelin II, which debuted at number one and stayed on the charts for 138 weeks. The first track on Houses of the Holy is The Song Remains the Same which was originally conceived by Jimmy Page as an instrumental piece to be titled The Overture but was later given lyrics by Robert Plant (with a different working title of The Campaign) and was influenced by their life on the road. Lester Bangs, writing for Creem, referred to the whole album as “A true masterpiece” and singled out The Song Remains the Same as a highlight. On a side note, Lester Bangs was the famous rock-critic played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in director Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film about himself as a young scribe flirting with rock `n’ roll in Almost Famous (2000). Anyone old enough to still own their vinyl copies of The Song Remains the Same might, at this point, be interested to open up the double-album and read the page-long preface on the left and inside jacket written by Crowe himself.

It was in 1973 during a mid-tour break for Led Zeppelin that filmmaker Joe Massot approached Page and Led Zeppelin’s infamous “fifth” member, manager Peter Grant, with an offer to shoot the next leg of the concert. What Massot did not know was that other people had tried to film the band as well, but Grant had exercised final-cut rights rather forcefully by dumping buckets of water over sensitive and plugged-in camera equipment and consoles. Massot projected the budget for his project to be $100,000, mixing 35mm concert footage with 16mm behind-the-scenes footage. This would later turn into a nightmare when Massot was kicked off the project and another director, Peter Clifton, was brought in because, as Clifton said, Massot’s “biggest mistake was that he shot some stuff on 35mm but he used 400 foot reels, because he was shooting with hand-held cameras. This meant there could only be one three-minute take at a time. And ‘Dazed and Confused’ was 27 minutes long.” (Source: Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin, Chris Welch.) The film ultimately wound up costing about six times more than was originally predicted, but more on that later.

Grant wanted all the rights to the film and made sure the band paid all the bills associated with the film. Massot’s crew included Ernie Day, the camera operator for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Robert Freeman, a title designer on A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). “Massot and crew flew over and filmed various backstage shots, screen tested the stage act at gigs in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and then filmed all three of their Madison Square Garden dates on July 27, 28 and 29 – Coming at the end of a grueling tour, these particular performances were hardly magical nights.” (Led Zeppelin: A Celebration, Dave Lewis.) This sentiment is echoed by Stephen Davis in his widely-read Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga when he notes that after a hard tour full of sleepless nights, “dope, booze, and room service hamburgers” Page was such a basket case that when his “family saw the state he was in – exhausted, malnourished, sleepless, raving – they tried to get him into a sanitarium for a rest. Jimmy himself told a journalist that he thought he belonged either in a mental hospital or a monastery.”

The band’s woes for that month of July in 1973 were capped by the theft of hard cash they thought had been safely stowed away in the safe of their hotel. A headline in the New York Daily News read: “Led Zeppelin Robbed of 203G – Rock Group’s Hotel Box Rifled – Led Zeppelin in Big Loss.” That might not seem like a lot of money by today’s standards, but keep in mind that, at the time, “Patrons paid $4.65 to $6.65 for tickets” (Led Zeppelin: The Press Reports, Robert Godwin). It seemed a good idea to distance itself somewhat from such trying times by adding some footage later of Led Zeppelin’s planned world tour in 1975 & 1976, but these plans would be derailed when Robert Plant suffered a jeep accident, thus putting the tour on hold. “Page used this period of inactivity to tie up the movie and soundtrack, using the footage shot with Joe Massot and employing Peter Clifton to arrange the technical aspects. The movie poster and sleeve design depicted a run-down picture house, which was based on Old Street studios, a London rehearsal theatre they used to perfect the 1973 US stage act prior to the tour.” (Dave Lewis)

Massot never stood a chance. As Welch reports, he “had accumulated thousands of feet of film and now faced the mind-boggling task of trying to edit it together into a coherent movie. It almost broke up his marriage and drove him to a nervous breakdown.” Subsequent screenings of the rough footage to the band went seriously awry, with one screening causing John Bonham to spit up his fish and chips as he laughed in derision at Jimmy Page’s make-up as an old hermit during his fantasy sequence. Massot was shown the door and an Australian director (Clifton), someone the band remembered having approached for an earlier shot at filming them, was tapped to finish the job.

Clifton saw Massot’s footage as a jumble that would be impossible to synch and edit together into cogent form unless drastic measures were taken – such as secretly re-recording the whole concert at the Shepperton Studios where they had often rehearsed before. Clifton recalls (as quoted in Welch’s book): “I said to Led Zeppelin, ‘If you are prepared to take the bits of Madison Square Garden including a couple of incredible action shots, I’ll play you the soundtracks, project the bits on a huge screen in front of you and we’ll put the cameras between you and the screen. When the shots come on, the soundtrack will be right, you play along and I’ll shoot you again.’ At first they couldn’t believe I could do it and the trick was to work with an editor called David Gladwell, who had worked for Lindsay Anderson and later became a director himself. Between us we matched up these three nights from Madison Square Garden.”

When the film was finally released three years after the initial Madison Square Concerts that inspired it, the opening grosses were a respectable $200,000 and the soundtrack album went platinum. There was a wide divide between the many critics who savaged The Song Remains the Same as a messy affair and the fans who gave the film a standing ovation at a New York premiere – presumably the same premiere that Joe Massot had to buy a ticket for from a scalper just to see what had finally come of the project he had launched. Whatever its shortcomings, fans would guarantee that the film continued playing long past its theatrical run as a staple on the midnight movie circuit. No matter how it was sliced-and-diced together this was, after all, and as Cameron Crowe cites in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Led Zeppelin’s “first adventure into cinema.”

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same DVD | , | Leave a comment