Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same (1976)

51Ypeo2eqhL__SL500_SS500_From starling.rinet.ru

A soundtrack to a somewhat kinky movie featuring Led Zeppelin onstage and Led Zeppelin in their sick medieval fantasy sequences, this wasn’t released until in 1976, already after the release of both Physical Graffiti and Presence, but this is where it belongs chronologically, because all of the material was filmed and recorded on the Houses Of The Holy tour.

I hated the movie totally and uncompromisingly, but now I realize it was primarily because of the fantasy sequences (my God, these guys managed to combine utmost banality with childish horror games. Ehh.

If, according to Cameron Crowe’s liner notes, through these sequences we can really ‘view the images in Page’s mind during “Dazed And Confused”‘, I suppose I’d better set up my own images.) The live material is actually quite strong, although rumour has it that none of the band members ever liked their level of performing at the actually filmed shows. Whatever. The material is good.

What might put you off is that this is a double album with but nine tracks, most of them approaching or exceeding the ten-minute limit, and one going far beyond twenty minutes! Apparently, Led Zep were worthy disciples of Cream and worthy concurrents of Yes and Genesis. More the former, though, as the lengthy tunes are mostly filled to the brim with sparkling Page solos.

If you didn’t like these solos in the first place, you’ll dance on the album; if you did enjoy the studio versions, but hate lengthy solofests in general, you’ll listen to it once and shove it onto the racks. But if you, like me, respect Page the guitar man better than Page the dark songwriter, you’ll be thrilled by a large part of what you’ll hear.

The track selection draws heavily on Houses, certainly, plus evergreens like ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Rock And Roll’, ‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’. However, again in the Cream tradition, the songs don’t sound at all similar to their studio originals. ‘Rock And Roll’ is raw, dripping with energy and distorted power chords a la Pete Townshend, and it could even surpass the original were it not for Plant’s muddy vocals: not only isn’t he in top form, he’s also mixed very badly.

But this is all rendered unimportant as long as you realize the great virtuosity of Page who is able to carry on the brontosauric riffage and add some pretty fine staccato solos on top of that. ‘The Song Remains The Same’ and ‘Celebration Day’ are unimpressive, although Page’s guitarwork is again superb. But from then on, everything goes just fine: ‘The Rain Song’ manages to recreate the gentle ‘orchestral’ feel of the original, with J. P. Jones playing some masterful and moody Mellotron instead of the strings.

And then there’s ‘Dazed And Confused’… what can I say about this twenty seven minute long version of ‘Dazed And Confused’? Well, the lengthy bowed guitar part makes me jump up in my chair as if it were a dentist’s one, but apart from that, the tune’s good, with Page ripping out all kinds of solos and even throwing in a line from ‘If You’re Going To San Francisco’ for no special reason. Of course, no song deserves to be twenty-seven minutes long, but once you get used to it, you’ll also get drawn in, sure as hell.

The introduction section alone is well worth it: Jones’ bassline is given the full potential of blossoming (and sending rows of uncontrolled shivers and small furry animals down your spine), while Page masterfully increases the tension by playing a chaotic, apocalyptic pattern. And then, after all, one mustn’t forget the finger-flashing technique: ‘Dazed And Confused’ was the most self-indulgent Jimmy ever got, and this is one case of self-indulgency I can easily tolerate. (Trivia bit: did you know that ‘Dazed And Confused’ got thrown out of the setlist each time Page jammed his fingers? Which happened at least twice, if my memory serves me well).

And well, the second disc is pretty much flawless. ‘No Quarter’ is as good as the studio counterpart and maybe better; it’s given a somewhat harder treatment, but that doesn’t spoil it none, and this is also the only track on the album where Plant’s vocals are really superb (the refrain was strangely muddled on the studio version). ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is okay, with a much lengthier and more climactic solo; ‘Moby Dick’ is horrible just like any twelve-minute drum solo would be, but there’s nothing particularly offensive about it; and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is breathtaking, with Page engaging in battle against the theramin and then suddenly turning the song into a frenetic boogie-woogie before returning back to the menacing riff for the closing part.

Truly, I don’t know why some fans lament here, claiming this live album to be a letdown. Go listen to Who’s Last for a letdown. Go listen to Live At Leeds for a ‘best-of’ live album. This one is just normal: flawed, but listenable. In fact, strange as it might seem, this is the Led Zep album I listen to most of all, just because it substitutes a greatest hits collection for me. The rare case of a Led Zep album with no bad songs at all (‘cept the title track, of course).

In fact, the only major complaints I can skedaddle out of myself is the sound quality (the mix is often poor – particularly on the first several songs) and Plant’s vocals, which are getting super-obnoxious. The man feels a necessity to adlib anything, and anywhere, and sometimes he gets so carried away he starts adlibbing even in those spots where he’s actually supposed to, you know, like, sing. Otherwise, there’s no reason to detest the album.

That said, The BBC Sessions are still a better bet for your first live Led Zep experience in almost every respect – except that there’s no ‘No Quarter’ on ’em.

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March 9, 2013 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Song Remains The Same |

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