I was 7 years old when Led Zeppelin were formed in London 1968. Consisting of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham they were the quintessential English rock band who went on to personify the ultimate rock band worldwide. Many have sought to emulate, many have copied, but none have equalled.
A quick listen of the first two Queen albums released in 1973 and 1974 respectively exposes Freddie and the boys original blueprint. Brian May, whilst a highly gifted guitarist could never match the swagger and presence of Jimmy Page strutting his stuff across the stage. Queen went on to become in effect the worlds biggest cabaret act whilst Led Zeppelin managed to remain solid as a rock even if later albums experimented with funk, disco, or African infused rhythms. They also retained a sense of humour. The final track on the Houses of the Holy album The Crunge with its tongue in cheek nod to James Brown for example.
Rock bands had become so ostentatious during the 1970s that a bedroom poster was the nearest I would came to seeing Led Zeppelin live. There remains the faintest of hopes that they may reform as they did for the one off concert in 2007, but I will not be holding my breath. Yet perversely it was un-obtainability that seems to have drawn me (and 1000s of others) closer to their enigma. This was in total contrast to my affinity with Pink Floyd, which was shattered by the punk explosion in the UK (1977-78). I did not listen to a full Pink Floyd album for many years afterwards, although I did regain my senses in time for their Pulse Tour resulting in a quite amazing evening on 20th October 1994 at Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London.
Led Zeppelin where also at the top of their game as both a recording and live band when the UK pop charts were dominated with the likes of the Bay City Rollers singing Bye, Bye, Baby, Pete Shelley, Love Me Love My Dog and even Laurel and Hardy charted with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. It is clear to see now given the quality of pop music on one hand and the rock dinosaurs on the other that pop and rock music where driving into a car crash that would fuel the brief, but necessary punk period. Punk fizzled out like a damp torturous fart from a septic stomach with its ultimately boring and predictable uniform of wall to wall mohican haircuts, tartan trousers and biker jackets.
Whilst monster bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer were never to rediscover their self indulgent status after the punk period Led Zeppelin remained unscathed, which is pretty surprising given their 1979 weak album offering In Through the Out Door. Led Zeppelin had not performed live for two years since the death of Robert Plant’s son during the band’s 1977 North American tour, and they had not performed in the United Kingdom for four years. It was the bands manager Peter Grant who decided that the band should perform at what is now renowned as the classic Knebworth concerts instead of embarking on a lengthy tour. A estimated 400,000 people attended the two Knebworth events on 4th and 11th August 1979.
The death of drummer John Bonham in 1980 all but brought the curtains down on the band. The reunion (with Phil Collins on drums) at Live Aid 1985 was such a disaster that they refused to allow it to be included on the Live Aid DVD release. Collins still remains sore about his Live Aid jam with Led Zeppelin 25 years after the gig and recently revealed that he almost walked off stage in mid-set. Collins and Chic drummer Tony Thompson had both apparently been drafted in as replacements for the late John Bonham.
Jimmy Page blamed the replacement drummers for not learning their parts, but Collins claims it was Page, Plant and Jones who ruined the experience. “They weren’t very good and I was made to feel a little uncomfortable by the dribbling Jimmy Page.” Collins concluded recently.
It was an ignominious farewell and one that would dog any potential reunion for years to come. Fans were kept at bay by Jimmy Page’s remastering and repackaging releases of the bands historical material. That was until the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert held in memory of the music executive at The O2 Arena, London on 10th December 2007. The band performed their first full-length concert since the death of Bonham in 1980 and in a fitting touch for this one-off reunion Bonham’s son Jason played drums during the set.
The 02 concert seems to have provided the band with an exorcism of the Live Aid debacle and unlike the Live Aid concert the 02 concert was formally released as both a CD and DVD under the title of Celebration Day, but for the fan it added nothing to what had gone before.
Led Zeppelin IV
The first Zeppelin album I recall buying was 1971s Led Zeppelin IV, although I would have purchased it later circa 1974-75. Over the course of a year I went on to purchase all their available albums, which was no mean feat in those days. Initially attracted to the album through the seminal track ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ which seemed to filter into my brain at night as I lay beneath my bed sheets, transistor radio pressed against ear hoping my parents would not detect the sound of the tuning radio. Inevitably they did and the said radio would be confiscated and so the cycle between generations would turn and grind around.
It was about this time I obtained my first cassette recorder, so with transistor radio perched safety I would hold the small cassette recorder microphone close to the transistor and tape the music. Building up c60 or c90 cassette tape to be traded at school with my fellow spotty, greasy haired and adolescent boys we were like desperate junkies.
This is how I was introduced to the likes of The Beatles, Hendrix, Dylan, The Doors and all those bands that did not penetrate the mainstream pop shows on TV. The cassette case, which housed the tape had self-made inserts normally constructed from a magazine photo that would somehow relate to the music contained on the tape. I still have a few cassettes from those days.
Whilst Stairway to Heaven holds a special place. It is a track, which has been slaughtered to many times by warbling tight trousered rock crooners who simply have had too much hair and hairspray at their disposal. Each counterfeiter dreadfully seeks to represent their own interpretation, which makes listening to the original feel like a Vietnam veterans flash back of carnage, panics and cold sweats. Led Zeppelin 4 also has possibly the two finest opening tracks of any rock album in history. I defy anybody to dispute this. ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Rock n Roll’ set a standard that has simply not been matched.
It started with the Beatles Anthology where literally anything picked up by the microphone in the recording studio, including instrument tuning, conversations. mistakes, practice warm ups and lack lustre mixes were to be given a formal release. The classic Doors and Hendrix albums were given the same treatment. Pink Floyd’s followed with their immersion box set releases. Now we are to be subjected to yet another repackaged and remastered release of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums with the “super deluxe box set” coming in at a whopping £91.00 ($150.00) each.
When it comes to making money from fans with Led Zeppelin the song definitely remains the same with each “super deluxe box set” the buyer will receive:
- CD1: Original album newly remastered in vinyl replica gatefold sleeve
- CD2: Companion audio in a new sleeve, featuring previously unreleased studio outtakes
- Vinyl 1: Original album newly remastered in gatefold sleeve replicating the original album on 180 gram vinyl
- Vinyl 2: Companion audio on 180 gram vinyl in a new sleeve featuring negative artwork based on the original album artwork, and featuring previously unreleased studio outtakes
- HD Download Card with original album and companion audio in 96 kHz/24 bit
- LP sized, individually numbered, high quality print of the original album cover
- Album-size hardback book (80 pages)
Led Zeppelin are one of the most successful, innovative and influential rock groups in history. If the 1960s belong to the Beatles then the 1970s belong to Led Zeppelin. I’ve taken a look at these “super deluxe box set” you know what? I’m going to stick with my old vinyl.