Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin (Box Set) (1990)

51voa4-cMnLFrom amazon.com

Review Like it or not, Led Zeppelin and their music are the central locus of everything we call rock music today (for better or worse). This is not to minimize the vast contributions of other artists like Elvis, The Beatles, James Brown, The Who, Cream, and others. But simply put, Zep wrote the rule book.

I was a late comer to their music. I had heard all of the singles on the radio, but I guess the reason I never got into them was that at the time, it seemed that everyone I knew who was into Zeppelin was a stoner-type and that wasn’t my thing. I suppose I felt that I would have to be jacked-up to enjoy their stuff. But here’s the kicker: I never really listened to them in depth before my last year of high school. I only heard them, and there is a major distinction between the two.

A friend of mine brought all of their albums (which are showcased on this incredible set) over to my house on a weekend and we popped in one after another. At first I was thinking that we might get through one album and then move onto other things like playing our own music or going to a movie. I was wrong. One by one we sat and drank Dr. Pepper (an entire 12 pack) and listened through Zep’s catalogue.

I was beside myself. This was Led Zeppelin? But I’m hearing blues and gorgeous acoutic numbers and long songs that unfold like a good novel? I was hooked. What I was discovering at that moment was what so many others had. Led Zeppelin were extremely well rounded in the history of music. This is very evident in their blues outings from the first album especially. Some debate the validity of their blues performances. So be it. I don’t really care for blues in general, and this is as close as I get to listening to them. Zep does a great job with the blues. Call it what you want-it’s all good music.

If Zep had stopped there they would not have garnered the attention they did. But they didn’t. The band continued to add to their repetoire. Indeed, Zep were really the first true ‘heavy-metal’ band no matter what Jimi Hendrix fans say. Need I say more than ‘Communication Breakdown’? If that is not a precursor to the galloping riffage of Metallica and others I don’t know what is. But they didn’t stop there either. Listen to the gorgeous tracks like ‘Ten Years Gone’ and ‘Tangerine’ and feel the melancholy of the songs. It’s brilliant and haunting.

I know many people site the Beatles as the best band in rock history. I think those kind of debates are pointless-however, for me, no one tops Zep. A band that gets big today is one thing; the rock scene is horrendous. But Zep was playing during the era of Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, and The Who: not exactly a music scene devoid of talent. This only lends more creedence to the idea that they were the best ever. This set is a wonderful compilation of many of their best songs (not all) and some lesser-known ones that could have been hits. Look no further, this is the king of all box sets, and one of the best values out there.

Essential.

Review It’s 2009, 40 years after “I” came out; almost 20 years after this box set hit the market. Remastered versions of the original albums have been available for more than a decade now. As one review said: this box set is passe. LZ has always been an album band. Get the original discs. I’m here to provide an opposing view, not to the historical and entertainment value of the original albums, but rather to wonderful alternative provided by this set. The four CDs here (and two discs of box set 2) enable you to listen to Zeppelin in a larger context, spanning the different styles of songs, moods, and instrumentation, in a way that makes sense and ultimately captivating.

In my frequent readings of reviews posted on the Amazon site, a common theme for just about any artist or band is the disputed role of compilation CDs. From the viewpoint that they provide all you need of the artist, invariably loyal fans will point out that this or that chestnut is missing and therefore you cannot be happy with just that CD. From the view of the listener who first explores the band, gets a taste for it and starts digging into the original albums, the compilation quickly becomes obsolete. (Should have listened to the reviews and gone for the original albums…)

But what about the proposition: suppose an album is put together of the best songs of the artist. Could that collection be better than any of the original CDs? That’s where this box set comes in strongly. Through clever sequencing the four discs included in this set not only collect the bulk of the best songs produced by Led Zeppelin, they also provide a most satisfactory listening experience, one that goes beyond the original albums and adds something new, enabled by the longer CD format.

Purists who gringe at the idea should consider this: In the days that these albums came out, the sequencing of the song was adapted to the two sides of an LP. That’s why, on “IV” for example, “Stairway” concluded side one–as such it was not immediately followed by another song, leaving the listener time to reflect and hold those last chords in his/her ear. In line with this thinking, in all compilations thus far, “Stairway” concludes a disc. Not so on the reissue of the original album: with the final chords of “Stairway” still ringing in your ears, noisy Misty Mountain Hop comes up as a not yet wanted intruder…

This is not to put down the original albums in CD form (the music is timeless), but instead of listening straight through on the discs as they are, I challenge the purists to see if, for Houses of the Holy, for example, the sequence 1. The song remains the same, 2. Dancing days, 3. D’yer mak’er, 4. The rain song, 5. Over the hills, 6. No quarter, 7. The Ocean, 8. The Crunge, doesn’t make for a better listening experience than the simple sequence of putting the two LP sides back to back. On “IV”, try the sequence: 1. Black dog, 2. Rock and roll, 3. Four sticks, 4. Going to California, 5. The battle of evermore, 6. When the levee breaks, 7. Misty mountain hop, 8. Stairway to heaven. Isn’t that closer to the spirit of the original LP sides? Knowing that these albums comprised two “programs”, is there really anything “sacret” about the song order of the issued CDs?

The key here is the pacing of the songs. I read that Jimmy Page himself put this box set together. Like LZ concerts of the days, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t deliberately followed the format of those concerts in these CDs, i.e. an energetic opener of three or four songs, a slower/quieter middle part, then picking up steam again for the final conclusion. And boy does it sound good! The original album sides were sequenced that way too, although the effect is not as clear because of the relatively brief playing length. In this box set you see this sequencing very clearly in discs one and two. Discs three and four pick up on the direction Zeppelin went into starting on “IV”: songs that are loud, dirty, and droning. Of these, disc three cherry picks perhaps the best of the type, and keeps going with high energy from beginning to end (“No quarter” provides some respite). Disc four attempts to do the same; although it does not sustain the quality of disc three it still contains great songs sequenced in way that enhances the impact while allowing you to take a breath from time to time.

Many of the songs contained in the second box set are ones that often dissuade me from listening to some of the original albums (the ones that I think hold up best as separate CDs are “III”, “I”, and “Physical Graffiti”, in that order). It’s not that these are bad songs, but they’re just not ones that I long to hear. There are still many great songs on the second box, though, and together with this first box, you have all songs that were issued. And you have them in a format that makes sense 30-40 years hence.

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May 23, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin (Box Set) | | Leave a comment