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 | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


Capturing one of the last performances of a very long tour, the band’s only previous official live release, The Song Remains The Same (which accompanied the widely panned movie of the same name) too often saw an exhausted band going through the motions.

Now that these much bootlegged BBC Sessions have finally been released, any lingering doubts about the band’s live prowess have officially been obliterated. Disc one features three BBC sessions from 1969, and these raw performances focus primarily on Led Zeppelin the blues band – albeit the heaviest damn blues band on the planet.

Disc two, which I prefer, comes from a single show recorded live at London’s Paris Cinema studios (which the BBC used regularly to showcase new and current bands at the time) on April 1, 1971, and this disc is notable for some spectacular performances (“Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Thank You”), and for previewing three songs (“Stairway To Heaven,” “Black Dog,” “Going To California”) from the band’s not yet released fourth album.

BBC Sessions shows off Zep’s improvisational essence, and it also features some notable covers, including Sleepy John Estes’ “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” whose main riffs would soon morph into “Moby Dick” (uncredited, of course). The band also tackles Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and interrupts “Whole Lotta Love” with an oldies medley containing songs such as John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun’” and Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama.”

Most of these songs come from the first two Led Zeppelin albums, and the performances are uniformly excellent and incredibly powerful, including “Travelling Riverside Blues” again (the same version from the box set). On the downside, Plant tends to go over the top at times with his histrionics, and the inclusion of multiple versions of several songs (including three takes of “Communication Breakdown” on disc one) amounts to overkill.

Granted, there’s some credence to the liner notes’ claim that “the band could play the same song ten nights in a row and come up with ten different versions”, and the two versions of “Dazed And Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love” don’t have a hell of a lot in common with each other (and at least they’re on separate discs), but a better idea would’ve been to pick the best versions of each song, though few will find fault with the performances themselves.

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


This album is the definitive Led Zeppelin experience. It captures all of the power, intensity, and mysticism that flourished through the atmosphere of their live performances. The music itself is a reflection of the many different chapters in Led Zeppelin’s career, with each song serving as a personal souvenir that represents all of the musical voyages their albums have invited us to embark on through the years. This album is a celebration of their legacy, moments of musical alchemy recorded in time for us to simply enjoy.

Led Zeppelin has often been renowned for their phenomenal live performances, and this album serves as our window into all of the energy and passion that each member of the band brought to the stage. One of the other live albums in the Led Zeppelin discography is How The West Was Won, which features a lot of the long instrumental passages and musical spontaneity that Led Zeppelin often dwelled upon in their concerts.

The performance in this album, for the most part, is much more straightforward, as the songs featured on the album remain faithful to their studio incarnations.

As I said before, each song on this album represents the many different musical styles Led Zeppelin explored throughout their career. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” reflects the prominent blues influences of their earlier efforts.

Robert Plant’s vocal deliveries on this song are some of the most impressive on the album. His sorrowful, yet passionate cries of heartbreak and deceit exquisitely compliment Jimmy Page’s dreary guitar work, both elements working together to create an expressive southern blues tone. Another highlight of the album is “Dazed And Confused”.

This song has always provided some of Led Zeppelin’s finest instrumental moments. The musicianship in this song has such a hypnotic vibe to it. John Paul Jones keeps the rhythmic groove flowing along, allowing Jimmy Page to erupt with a set of explosive solos. Jimmy Page’s innovative guitar antics is certainly what makes this song such a captivating experience, but it’s John Bonham’s drumming that gives “Dazed And Confused” its overwhelming sense of intensity.

Thunderous and magnetic, Bonzo’s percussive dynamics practically steal the spotlight from everyone else in more than one occasion throughout the album.

We also get to see the more abstract side of Led Zeppelin on this album. The compilation has the decency to offer both the ordinary, as well as alternative versions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed And Confused”. The musical structure of “Whole Lotta Love” is one that easily lends itself to experimental potentiality. As we’ve seen in various performances, Led Zeppelin often takes advantage of the instrumental midsection of “Whole Lotta Love” to incorporate lengthy musical passages, but on this version we find the band taking us on a long musical voyage were we encounter a collective medley of traditional Blues songs.

There is a complimenting diversity in the selection of the songs within this album, offering heavy favorites like “Immigrant Song” and “Heartbreaker”, to even more delicate ballads like “Going To California”. But of course, no Led Zeppelin compilation is complete without having perhaps their most illustrious piece, “Stairway To Heaven”.

“Stairway To Heaven” is not just a mere song, it’s an experience. An accession that takes the listener away into a sensuous musical ecstasy. “Stairway To Heaven” is a journey, it’s a constant progression into something different, exposing us to something new with each passing moment. From a gentle folk piece, we hear it evolve in sound, growing louder and more abstract, before finally blossoming into an unforgettable climax. But it isn’t just the music that makes this song so mesmerizing, the lyrical narratives are the centerpiece of the entire experience.

It’s a reflection of our existential role in this world, a reminder that everything we do in our lives and everything we experience, is always under our control. There are different paths that are always laid out in front of us, and with the wisdom we manage to pick up throughout our growth, it is up to our best judgement to decide which one will lead to our essential well-being.

This is one of the best Led Zeppelin compilations out there, from beginning to end, it has something to offer to every loyal fan. I highly recommend this album to all.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


Led Zeppelin never, it is said, played the same song the same way twice. Now I have all four official Led Zeppelin live albums and can vouch for that. Just in case anyone doesn’t believe it, the band has chosen to include several versions of “Communication Breakdown” on this album, as well as two versions of “You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You, Baby”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love”, all from their early repertoire. That has been derided, but I believe it is to prove just that point on one album. So, I will say it again. Led Zeppelin NEVER played the same song the same way twice.

The album itself is a superb example of how the band sounded before they became so big that they could do anything they wanted and get away with it. These were rock gods before anyone worshipped them. This is just one step away from small clubs and provincial theatres.

This is as far away from the stadium rockers they eventually became as it is possible to be in a professional musician environment. The BBC is to be commended for putting this out – it is a rare insight into the band’s early, bluesiest years. It provides you with an insight into the development of tracks, especially their live versions, which were to become so prominent a few years after this was recorded. For instance, the medley incorporated into “Whole Lotta Love” begins here, and the extended bowed guitar solo from “Dazed and Confused also gets an early outing.

But there are some fascinating vignettes of future studio tracks as well. Given that the second part of this double CD was recorded between the release of Led Zeppelin III and their classic fourth album, tracks from the latetr are given an early airing on a fresh audience. What strikes me about this is that when Robert Plant announces, some months before it is due to be officially released on IV, that the next track is called “Stairway To Heaven” the audience claps politely as you would if you were listening to something you had never heard before. That’s the point!!!!! No one had heard it before. Think about it, this is rock radio’s most played song ever being played live before anyone had ever heard it! You can actually judge the song on its merits, putting aside the hype, for the only time ever.

There are other examples of how the band managed to mix things up. “Black Dog”, unreleased at the time this was recorded, starts with the intro from “Out on the Tiles”, surely in itself one of the most underrated of all Led Zeppelin tracks in my opinion. And of course there are the unreleased songs such as Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues”, Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and “The Girl I love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair” which were live staples in the band’s early years but, as far as I know, were never recorded properly in the studio, if at all.

The result is a marvellous album and one well worth getting, especially if you are a fan of Led Zeppelin. I really wish that someone (are you reading this, Jimmy) would dig out some of the tapes that must be sitting in someone’s basement somewhere, and put together a compilation of live sets covering “Kashmir”, “Achilles Last Stand”, “Ten Years Gone”, “Tea For One”, “Carouselambra”, “Trampled Underfoot” and so on. The DVD containing them issued a few years later is fine as it is, but a lot of those tracks really belong on a good CD compilation in their own right.

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions (1997)


Since the many foibles of Led Zeppelin still occupy a reasonable plot of debate sime among my peers, I was delighted to see the BBC Sessions coming out, if only to fuel a few more conversations about John Bonham’s drinking habits. Surprisingly, the reaction among the Led-heds I know has been skepticism. It seems that in the recent years, with the release of several box sets, multi- disc remasters and tribute albums, the Sessions seems only another addition to the slow, odorous Led Zeppelin corporate behemoth. A reaction to the Beatles’ Anthology success, if you will, and just in time for the holidays.

And then there’s that live thing. I had heard, justifiably, that the sound on the Sessions was state- of- the- art for the period, and that the tapes had been meticulously cleaned-up in accordance with the Zeppelin Remastering Bible (Vols 1-34.) We all know that there’s nothing worse than a shittily recorded live show, and this ain’t it. The sound is clean, clean, clean. What does this clean, clean, clean really mean, mean, mean, you ask? Well, it means that this double-disc set of tracks is packed to the gills with tasty little live morsels that rarely get through production of a studio album. The drums stand out beautifully, John Bonham’s “gimme a half- a- beat and I’ll be there” style shining through.

Plant’s voice isn’t nearly as together as on the studio recordings, but he stays within reasonable boundaries, suggesting that they worked hard to make sure that these hugely- popular televised broadcasts shed them in the best light. Any comment about Jimmy Page would be an understatement, so I’ll refrain. And hell, even John Paul Jones at that goofy keyboard, splashing his faerie magic all over the place is rockin’. Overall, you get the Zeppelin sound with the veneer of studio production stripped off. There was no one to play the second guitar or do the voice overdubs, so out they go, leaving raw Zeppelin, in all its bluesy, roots-rock glory.

In short, we got a slice of Rock-N-Roll history. We got high sound quality. We got the titans in great form. And ain’t that enough?

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions | | Leave a comment