I’ve been long suspect that I’ve been a dummy my entire life. The fact that I can listen to a much maligned outtakes album like Coda and enjoy it more than Presence has such connotations. How can a straight-thinking person think such things? Maybe it’s the pure imperfection of this I like. Perhaps I approached their earlier albums feeling that Led Zeppelin were a little too self-aware that they were immortal rock ‘n’ roll gods. Who knows?
Anyway, Bonham died in 1980, and I guess that meant there was no chance of Led Zeppelin continuing to release albums under that moniker. So I guess that gave Jimmy Page reason enough to go through the vaults to pick out some unused songs to remix and release. Some people saw this gesture as a cheap cash-in, but according to Page, it was a response to these songs being rampantly bootlegged at the time. That’s a really damn good reason for him to have released this. If nothing else, it proved that there was a sizable audience for this stuff.
And the kids of the early ’80s had a good reason to be interested to hear these songs. The opening track, “We’re Gonna Groove,” kicks ass! It was recorded live way back in 1969. As you might imagine, that was when the band was at the peak of their live playing abilities, and it shows. Everything is in its place; Plant squawks like a rock star, Page’s guitar licks are tight and exciting, Jones’ bass is infectious and danceable, and Bonham’s drumming is tight. It’s a cover of a B. B. King song, but it sounds exactly like a classic old Led Zeppelin song. So where can it go wrong? Frankly, I wonder why this song isn’t more beloved by their fans.
A live version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is also included, and it’s certainly another one that the die-hard fans will lap up greedily. I find it to be a little bit sloppy and I’m not a huge fan of Page’s improvised and selfish licks throughout, but I can’t deny that I get a little something pumping through my veins when I listen to it. “Poor Tom” is a folkish rocker that was left off of Led Zeppelin III. It isn’t bad for what amounts to a two-chord song! What keeps it afloat, amazingly enough, is Bonham’s tight drumming.
Also amazingly, Coda contains a four-minute drum solo, “Bonzo’s Montreux,” that I don’t find boring. When I think of drum solos, I usually think of flashy and pitter-pattery things that are sometimes fun at first, but they pretty quickly start to bore me. This drum solo, on the other hand, is rhythmic and huge. It sounds as though Bonham were playing it on a mountaintop, and Zeus was his audience. I can’t say I’m greatly awestruck listening to it—it’s just a drum solo after all—but it’s one of the few drum solos out there, I’m aware of, that makes me want to tap my foot.
Things were going great until the closing track, “Wearing and Tearing,” an overlong and sloppy song that was left off of In Through the Out Door. Shouldn’t we be immediately suspect of anything that was left off of that album? Normally yes, but I actually like the other outtake, “Darlene.” It’s a stiff boogie-woogie, but the detached riff is kind of catchy, and the loud drumming makes it seem epic. They even treated us to some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano in there, which certainly doesn’t hurts!
Despite my opening paragraph, Coda is by and large the worst Led Zeppelin album. It’s the most scattershot and sloppy collection of songs this band ever released. But what were we expecting? Masterpieces? This is an outtakes album, for cripes sake! What’s more, they had already used up the best of their pre-1975 outtakes for Physical Graffiti. However, this album isn’t as bad as its reputation would have us believe. I found Coda to be an altogether fun release. However, it’s only meant for people who already own and love all Zeppelin’s other albums. Make this your final Led Zeppelin purchase. Unless you’re weird and like to do everything backwards.
Coda is a unique album for us to review. Although it is listed officially as the ninth and final studio album by Led Zeppelin, it could just as well be listed as a quasi-compilation of unreleased tracks in the tradition of The Who’s Odds and Sods or Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Like those, this is a fine and entertaining album, and a must-have for any serious fan of the artist. But we internally debated whether it was proper to include Coda with our reviews from 1982. After all, it had been a full two years since the death of drummer John Bonham and the subsequent disbandment of Led Zeppelin as a cohesive group. Also, the most recent recordings on Coda were made four years prior to its November 1982 release, with the earliest recording stretching back to the late 1960s. The truth is, we simply could not overlook this album. After all, this IS Led Zeppelin and this band is likely to be the only one which Classic Rock Review covers every single studio album (I mean, we’ve already done Presence, what can we possibly exclude?)
The album spans the band’s entire career, from live performances just after their debut album to unused songs from In Through the Out Door sessions. However, it focuses mainly on the bookends of very early material and very recent material with very little representation from the band’s most popular “middle” years. This is most likely due to the fact that 1975′s Physical Graffiti included many unreleased songs from that era.
With such a chasm between the early and recent material, producer and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did a great job making it all sound cohesive. This included extensive, yet not overwhelming, post-production treatment of each track. According to Page, the album was released because there was so much bootleg stuff out following the disbandment. However, Coda was not a comprehensive collection in its original form. The 1982 LP contained eight tracks and ran at a mere 33 minutes in length. Eleven years later, four more tracks were added to CD versions of the album, tracks which were mysteriously excluded originally. Some have suggested it was really only released to fulfill a contract obligation to Atlantic Records.
“Walter’s Walk” is the oddest song in this collection, as it is the only that comes from the mid-era of the band, credited as a 1972 recording during the Houses Of the Holy sessions. However, both Page’s guitar style and especially Robert Plant’s vocals are clues that a significant amount of overdubbing was likely done for the Coda album. As one who, recently reviewed Plant’s 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven, it is quite clear that his vocals on this track are a much greater match for 1982 than for 1972. Still there’s no doubt that this song existed in some form in the early 1970s as a portion of it was included in the extended jam version of “Dazed and Confused”.
Most of the original second side were tracks leftover from the 1978 Stockholm sessions for In Through the Out Door. These are all solid and well produced tracks which were only excluded due to time constraints and were slated to be released as an EP following the band’s 1980 North American tour, a tour which never took place due to Bonham’s death. From these particular tracks, you can hear that Zeppelin was experimenting with more modern genres during that era. “Ozone Baby” is the closest to new wave that the band ever came. It is riff-driven with some interesting changes and features harmonized vocal effects from Plant, a rarity for the band. “Wearing and Tearing” is the song most closely resembling the times, admittedly a response to the punk scene that swallowed up the U.K. while Led Zeppelin was on an extended hiatus in the late seventies. In this sense, it is probably the most interesting song on the album because it possesses the raw power of their early material and offers a glimpse to where they might have gone had they continued.
“Darlene” is a fantastic, oft-overlooked gem by Led Zeppelin with a perfect guitar riff and entertaining rock piano. John Paul Jones really stepped to the forefront on In Through the Out Door, writing much of the material and adding the extra dimensions of keyboards on a consistent basis. That approach is best demonstrated on this track, which incorporates a basic, rockabilly canvas with some interesting variations and song transitions. The side is rounded out by “Bonzo’s Montreux”, a live drum rehearsal caught on tape by one of the engineers before a 1976 show in Montreux, Switzerland. Page later added some electronic effects, and the band had a suitable tribute to their fallen comrade.
Coda begins with a wild frenzy of a song, “We’re Gonna Groove”, written by soul artists Ben E. King and James Bethea with the original title “Groovin’”. A studio version was scheduled to appear on Led Zeppelin II, but due to the band’s hectic schedule that year, they never got around to recording it. Page took a live version of the song, recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and did a masterful job of overdubbing lead guitars and enhancing the vocals and drums for the Coda track. He did something similar for “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is taken from the same concert, the only song in the “studio album” collection to be repeated, which is unfortunate, although this version is superior to that on the band’s first album.
“Poor Tom” is the absolute gem from this album, a folk song from sessions for Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970. It is backed by a consistent and infectious drum shuffle by Bonham. The song contains dueling acoustic guitars and some fine harmonica by Plant, a great skill by the vocalist often overlooked. The unexplained lyric to this song is rumored to have deep roots in English folklore and/or contemporary philosophy. From those same sessions came “Hey, Hey What Can I Do?”, another acoustic folk song that was released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song”, but was long out of print when it was finally released on Zeppelin’s 1993 box set and subsequent versions of coda.
Three more songs were also added to post-1993 versions of the album. “Baby Come On Home” is a straight-up soul ballad from sessions so early that the tape canister was actually labeled, “The Yardbirds” (Led Zeppelin was originally called the “New Yardbirds”). That master tape went missing for several decades and allegedly turned up in a refuse bin outside Olympic Studios in 1991. The track itself is an interesting listen with Page playing a Leslie guitar and Jones on piano and Hammond organ, not to mention the sheer novelty of hearing the band perform this genre straight up. “White Mountain/Black Mountainside” is a long, solo instrumental that Page performed often during the band’s early years until it morphed into music which would become “Stairway to Heaven”. “Traveling Riverside Blues” is a barrage of blues anthems that show the Zeppelin sound forged in the earliest days, especially the bluesy slide guitar by Page and the great bass by Jones. It is the finest of the four newly added tracks and it baffles fans like myself as to why it was originally excluded. Although this song got its title from a Robert Johnson classic, it is actually more like a (then) modern day tribute to the blues legend, with Plant incorporating lyrics from several of Johnson’s songs.
The term “coda” means a passage that ends a musical piece, following the main body. To the band’s credit, they kept their compact implicit in this title and did not continue any further without without Bonham. This gave Led Zeppelin a bit of career cohesion which all but guarantees that their tremendous legacy will never be stained.
Either Jimmy was out of money or nostalgia was grabbing him by the throat, but truth is: it’s hard to imagine an album that could shatter Led Zeppelin’s reputation more than Coda. What’s interesting is that a large number of these outtakes date from a relatively early period in the band’s career, before their slump into the vulgarized power metal style. And yet, most of these songs are totally, unlimitedly, un-com-pro-mi-sing-ly unlistenable, at least for me. Lovers of generic heavy metal will dig it, but not me.
There are exactly three songs on here that I would rank as ‘trying to approach ‘decent”. The cover of B. B. King’s ‘We’re Gonna Groove’ ranks along with their more moderate Graffiti product like ‘Custard Pie’: fast but not melody-less, and bluesy which is a bonus. While one might get tired of the overall bluesy style of their first albums, on PG and Presence I simply can’t wait to hear a blues like ‘Tea For One’ or ‘In My Time Of Dying’ because it always elevates the playing. This one’s good, too, but an incredibly deceptive beginning for an album.
Then there’s a strange countryish ditty called ‘Poor Tom’ which, although credited to Page – Plant, is an obvious rip-off from some obscure ‘classic’ song; what it does painfully remind me of is the Stones’ cover of ‘Prodigal Son’, only augmented by a full-blown rhythm section. The mix is bad (BTW, the mix is mostly bad throughout the album), but if you’re diligent enough you just might like it. At least, in this context it’s OK.
It’s easily understandable, too, why it never could fit into any of the ‘regular’ albums: while there is indeed a ‘minor’ atmosphere on the song, it’s nowhere near as overblown as some of their acoustic balladeering (‘Thank You’, for instance), and it’s nowhere near as gloomy as some of their other acoustic balladeering (‘Gallows Pole’, anyone?). This is why I find it particularly delicious.
Finally, the third track that is somewhat interesting to me is the instrumental ‘Bonzo’s Montreux’, a mostly drum-driven boogie that could be called an extended drum solo, but in reality it isn’t: it’s just Bonzo banging away a complicated rhythm track on a battery of doomed drums. Or, well, maybe it is a drum solo, but in that case I always loved drum solos that are rhythmic and constitute a real solid groove (like Ron Bushy’s solo on ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’), and this one’s one of the best in the genre.
It sounds absolutely mind-blowing, what with all the force he puts into his blows (the coda is especially shattering), and it’s probably the best requiem they could put on record for him. One complaint, though: why couldn’t they record a track like this instead of the stupid drum solo on ‘Moby Dick’?
This is, however, where the scarce praisings end and the garbage dissection comes in. For me, it was hard to imagine anything worse than the songs they put on Presence; boy, was I ever mistaken. In fact, ‘Wearing And Tearing’ is a worthy candidate for Worst Song in my more than 500-CD catalogue. ‘Ya know, ya know, ya know, ya know…’ Ya know what? If I heard a song like this played by KISS or Poison or Cinderella or Twisted Sister, I’d probably just turn off the radio/TV and walk away without much afterthought.
But hearing this lifeless, gross, profanized piece of noise-making played by Led Zeppelin, a band which I like and generally respect in spite of all the critique on this site, it’s really a pain in my heart. Actually, it’s not even heavy metal, it sounds more like very poorly executed hardcore punk – and that’s not even music.
Of course, none of the other songs can hope to be as bad as that (I ditched the rating one special point for that horror), but that’s small consolation. ‘Ozone Baby’ is a ridiculous fast-tempo ballad with strong punk connotations (bad punk connotations) again, and ‘Darlene’ looks like a Houses Of The Holy outtake cuz it sounds as most everything on that album: in a different style from their usual one. They attempt to record something like ‘heavy dance music’ on that one, but they fail because these two things don’t fit in properly, not to mention that Plant sounds especially self-parodic.
Sometimes it seems to me (don’t laugh) he’s trying to pull a Captain Beefheart, with similar hoarse vocalization; but it takes a lot of brawn to match the vocal skills of Mr Van Vliet. The hookless rocker ‘Walter’s Walk’ is just as forgettable (it reminds me of all those weak cock-rock numbers on Physical Graffiti), and the live rendition of ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ (why that one?? why not ‘Stairway To Heaven’ at least?) has long since been superated by the better versions on the BBC Sessions.
In all, my reaction is a total yuck. I understand that in 1982, when the album was released, it was certainly acceptable when judged by any lesser bands standards. But in retrospect it almost looks like a dead dog’s droppings: if you played me ‘Wearing And Tearing’ without my knowing the author, I’d never even suggest Led Zeppelin; I like the band too much for even being able to suggest such an atrocious thing.
Why Jimmy allowed the band’s reputation to be flopped and flapped around in such a miserable way is beyond me, and I’m pretty sure they still have loads of better material in the vaults. Or maybe I’m wrong? Maybe speaking of ‘loads of better material’ is more like prattling about goblin gold? Well, anyway, like I said: better dream of goblin gold than sniff a dead dog’s droppings.
From New Musical Express
That there is no appreciable difference between ‘We’re Gonna Groove’ from 1969 and ‘Wearing And Tearing’ from 1978 – the opening and closing tracks in this sackcloth and compilation of unissued Led Zeppelin material – isn’t merely the evidence of their utter failure to rise above a style of automatic redundancy. It is, coupled with their success and influence, the stuff of tragedy.
The most disgraceful thing about Zeppelin was their absolute lack of intelligence. Never mind their boorish excess, their ox-like insensitivity and their thuggish absence of grace – it was their ignorance that was so appalling.
The gargoyle offspring of heavy metal they suckled were fed on a celebration of the moronic. They weren’t stupid – stupid HM could at least have a certain humour about it, although the myth of ‘glorious vacuity’ is a dangerous one – they were less than that. They made unfounded arrogance an end in itself.
Zeppelin were largely responsible for the terrible state of American rock. Although they were popular enough over here they influenced American directions with dictatorial absoluteness. Only now, with fourth or fifth generation strains like the beaming young jackals of Loverboy, is the mutant beginning to take on a different shape; but even today (witness Robert Plant’s enormous solo success) America harbours a primordial lust for the gargantuan dribble of Zeppelin music.
Coda will do well enough over there, although even admirers might feel a little short-changed. The one relief of the record is its brevity, eight tracks totalling a little over 30 minutes. They comprise various warm-ups and out-takes all quite without consequence – idiot blues, folk (‘Poor Tom’, an acoustic track which has most appeal because of its comparative restraint) and the sweating labours of a rock music taken by an agonising bowel disorder.
Because Jimmy Page hadn’t an iota of a pop consciousness, Zeppelin never stood a chance of the chart legitimacy of Status Quo, their smarter cousins. They never made a single – not because they were above all that but because they never knew how to.
Such a failing leaves them stranded in these enlightened times: Zeppelin made an unpleasant virtue out of stamping oafishly on trends, and now their blinkered sights have turned ruthlessly on them. History cannot remember Led Zeppelin kindly: it will hold them culpable, ludicrous, addled lords of misrule.
Their graveyard status seems assured when you hear this record and realise that there is nothing you want to recall. In a sound in which John Bonham’s bass drum is the predominant factor (Bonham’s vegetable technique is presented in the completely unlistenable ‘Bonzo’s Montreux’) its colourless fury is the make-up of exhaustion.
But perhaps the greatest tragedy is the way they insist the legacy will live on. If Jimmy Page genuinely expects to make millions from what will be a Led Zeppelin 2 in all but name then the grand illusion is unshakable – and it’s frightening to think he may succeed.
It isn’t Abba who are the most pernicious influence to have blighted popular music – it may still, alas, be this terrible group.