Led Zeppelin I, II, III
Deluxe Editions

Led Zeppelin

Diehard fans of Led Zeppelin knew that at some point the lid would be blown off, and Jimmy Page would finally cough up the goods nice and proper — the goods being pretty much anything unreleased, much of it bootlegged over the years. At 70, Page realized it was pretty much now or never if he ever wanted to retouch the fabled Zeppelin catalog and throw in a few extra goodies. Now, it’s official, and remastered Deluxe Editions of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums — I, II, III —include, for the first time, a second disc with unreleased live tracks, studio alternate tracks and outtakes. Longtime fans may frown at buying yet another remastered Led Zeppelin CD, but the bundled second disc is the bait that will draw them in. As for anyone else with only a faint notion of who or what Led Zeppelin is, these three sets from Rhino serve as a great introduction.

Unlike the cheap Zeppelin compilations that have plagued the marketplace in recent years, these sets are offering something substantial and likely unheard by a majority of Zeppelin fans. The eight live tracks from the October 10, 1969 Olympia show in Paris that fill the second disc of Led Zeppelin (their debut) are raw and rough in spots, but the sheer energy and exuberance is off the charts. I’ve heard some bootlegs from the same period that sound almost as good, but the performances aren’t anywhere near as enchanting. The band you hear is young and hungry, as they come out swinging with “Good Times Bad Times.” When you hear Robert Plant’s voice, you’ll understand why he doesn’t want to go another round with Zeppelin — he couldn’t possibly yelp and screech like that again! The raunchy version of “How Many More Times” is simply breathtaking.

Led Zeppelin II upped the ante for the band and the second disc is a solid reflection of their progress. Of the eight studio “rough mixes,” “Whole Lotta Love” offers the most thrills and spills in terms of sonic ear candy. It’s definitely rougher, a bit hollowed, maybe even a little more ominous than the original. Instrumental backing tracks of “Thank You,” “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)” and “Moby Dick” provide insight into how tight the arrangements and interplay was between Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. The final instrumental is something entitled “La La,” which doesn’t sound anything like Led Zeppelin at first with its driving Booker T style organ and acoustics. Then it falls into sort of a Zeppelinesque jam before morphing into a full-blown psychedelic head trip. If Page has any more like these, then he’s holding out.

The rough and alternate mixes on the second disc of Led Zeppelin III offer, like its predecessor, raw and disparate versions, many quirkier and experimental than what was released. “Immigrant Song” is doused with range of effects, while “Celebration Day” is rubbed out with a cache of dryer guitar sounds and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is jacked up with a few more scattered leads and rougher edges than usual. An instrumental of “Out of The Tiles” gets the title of “Bathroom Sound” but is clearly another example of how tightly wound the group was. If nothing else, you can use it at your next Karaoke get-together. Peppered with a few more acoustic instruments, “That’s The Way” definitely boasts a livelier feel than its released counter. Nice to see “Jennings Farm Blues,” an electrified jam of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” and long in circulation as a bootleg, finally get its official release. The blue-soaked “Key To The Highway” is another one of those that sounds unlike anything Zeppelin previously released, but it accurately captures the roots of this fine British band.

The elaborate packaging with updated covers and extra photos added to all three sets will have completists and collectors scrambling down to Best Buy at the stroke of midnight (check the hours of your local Best Buy to verify). Super Deluxe Editions maxed out with CDs and vinyl could break the bank. Whatever the cost, these sets will likely render 1993’s The Complete Studio Recordings, a 10-CD box set of all the Zeppelin studio albums, obsolete once everything is out. I’ll take comfort in knowing that there’s still more to come — I’m imagining a Physical Graffiti box set — and keep dreaming that Jimmy Page will someday turn his attention to releasing live shows from 1975 and 1977 before he turns 80. Until then, it’s best to sit back and enjoy what amount to definitive versions of Led Zeppelin I, II, III.

~ Shawn Perry

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