Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


Lord bless the BBC! For years now they’ve been putting out these cute little compilations, and they all range from amusing to great. This one’s one of the most recent, devoted to unveiling before us the grandiose live powers of what was formerly known as ‘the ultimate hard rock band’.

Needless to say, this is a must for everybody with even a passing interest in Led Zep. Whatever complaints I may hold towards separate original albums, there’s little to complain about as for what regards this package. The songs are all from the early years – they don’t go any further than IV, and so much the better (even though I would dearly love to see a live version of ‘No Quarter’ here as well).

The one major flaw is that several of the songs are repeated in two, sometimes even three versions – personally, I don’t see why I should patiently tolerate three similar takes on ‘Communication Breakdown’ (even if, strictly speaking, they’re all fabulous) or two nearly similar takes on ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ (even if, frankly speaking, they’re just as fabulous – brilliant use of pauses!). This makes me ditch a point – sorry, guys, even if there was nothing else interesting left, you’d have done better to eliminate some of these versions.

After all, nobody asks you to increase the running time to seventy plus minutes if there’s nothing substantial to increase it with. However, some of the doublets do seem motivated – there is, for instance, an early version of ‘Dazed And Confused’ and a later version of the same, so that one can compare the original tight, relatively short hard rock number with the grandiose twenty-minute metal symphony it evolved into later. So the problem is not really as serious as one could have supposed.

But never mind the problems! Why don’t we enjoy the good sides instead? From the early days, there are two kick-ass versions of ‘You Shook Me’ the first one of which comes close to surpassing the original in what concerns the level of ‘hardness’ and sparkling energy – if this dates from the band’s first recording sessions on the BBC, I really suppose Jimmy made a solemn vow to make a non-forgettable introduction of the band to the radio-loving public. There are also some interesting blues numbers you won’t find on any other official release, like the riff-fest ‘The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair’ whose main riff later got re-worked (that’s another synonym for ‘stolen’, of course) into ‘Moby Dick’, or the fast, jammy ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’.

The playing is nearly always exceptional, except that Plant often gets as obnoxious as ever, with endless wailings and insertions of the line ‘squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg’ in every possible place – whenever the line could be expected or whenever it couldn’t. But I guess that is no big surprise for those who are at least vaguely familiar with Mr Robert’s style, and the true fans should concentrate on Mr Page anyway, because Mr Page obviously liked the BBC studio environment.

Apart from that, on the first disc you also get your ‘How Many More Times’ (good, but a little bit too long) and ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ (cool! The guys on the BBC have guessed my taste! They knew exactly how to please me! To think they could have put on ‘Rambling On’ instead!)

So, if you don’t count the excessive live versions of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ (one should be enough) and ‘Communication Breakdown’ (one should be too much), the first disc is totally glorious. The second one does have a couple misfires, though. First, what the heck is ‘Thank You’ doing on here as the closing song? That’s one of the lamest ballads they ever did! Anyway, I don’t care much – it being the last song, I can simply stop the CD earlier than needed. Second, why choose such an unsatisfying version of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’? Mind you, I loved the song on III, but the performance on this disc is simply sloppy – Plant doesn’t bother to sing at all, and Jimmy doesn’t seem to notice that Plant doesn’t sing and instead of compensating it with great guitarwork, gets loose himself. I wonder if they were drunk in the recording studio or what? Yuck! And finally, I never liked ‘That’s The Way’.

But, the rest is a totally different matter: ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (this time going into a medley of old blues numbers and coming out again) are as polished as ever, ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is actually better than the live version on Song Remains The Same, and the generic cock rock just does what it is supposed to do – get you in a groove and make you forget all your troubles (‘Black Dog’, ‘Heartbreaker’).

So, simply beautiful. Indeed, I heartily recommend this album as the place to start with Led Zep – forget all these hit packages, they’re just for navel-gazing jerks! Real music lovers should only get hit packages after getting all the original albums, I say! Instead, invest your hard-earned pay into this little 2-CD package and witness the world’s greatest heavy metal band (yup, you heard right; the world’s greatest hard rock band is The Who) at their very, very, very best, before they just turned into a hit-making hair metal machine.

Long live the BBC! Especially since officially released live Led Zep stuff is so hard to come by – which is a shame, because judging by the vast amounts of bootlegs out there, a lot of Led Zep facets really turn out to be missed. God only knows what they used to perform live in those lengthy medleys – all kinds of rock’n’roll, blues, country, whatever, even Beatles covers, I guess.

By the way, if you listen closely to the first version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, you’ll hear Plant do a little tidbit from ‘Mystery Train’ on the ‘orgasmic’ part. Pay attention next time!


May 25, 2013 - Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions |

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