on 21 May 2000
The first time I heard Whole Lotta Love, I blushed - but the truly sexy thing about Led Zep is not Robert Plant's on-heat yowling (tho' it has its moments...), it's Jimmy Page's guitar. This album more than any other, for me, demonstrates the range of his playing style: from the powerful, irresistible riffing of Whole Lotta Love to the delicate sweeps and picks of Ramble On, it's a seductive, mesmerising genius. It helped a lot, of course, that the rhythm section is so instinctive: the bass on the Lemon Song, is perfectly judged, and you can't write any review of a Led Zeppelin album without some reference to the incredible power of John Bonham's drumming. There is a tightness about this album that makes it difficult to dissect, and maybe that is the secret of LZ's enduring appeal: the sum of the parts is far greater than any other band. Even Livin' Lovin' Maid, the one throwaway is fun (there's always one, isn't there?), in a tongue-in-cheek, early '70s manner. If i had to take one album to a desert island, it would be this one.
on 5 June 2014
As most people know, there's no bigger fan of Led Zeppelin than Jimmy Page himself. So for the third time he's spun the original tapes for another Remastering project (1990 was the first for the 4 CD/6 LP Box, then '93/'94 for the individual album releases and Complete Box Set).
So is it worth it? The answer is a resounding YES!. Pitched somewhere between the previous re-issues and the Mothership compilation in terms of volume (slightly louder than the former but not the all-out sonic assault of the latter), the most noticeable thing about these new Remasters is the increased bottom-end that gives Bonhams' bass drum even more thump and allows the unsung hero John Paul Jones to really shine. Its not just a case of turning the bass up, there is a real warmth and new depth to the sound that shows real care was taken by Jimmy Page to bring a new dimension to the albums we know so well.
Of particular note is the restored fade-out to 'Ramble On'. Previous Remasters cut at least ten seconds from the end of the song and although this release is still a little bit shorter than the original vinyl its good to have a more complete version. Elsewhere, across the three re-issues some songs are slightly longer than earlier CD versions but again not quite as long as when they first appeared.
Of course, the music is exceptional so I don't feel the need to comment on too many individual songs. Suffice to say, the quality of these albums puts 99% of modern music to shame. It doesn't matter how many times you've heard 'Whole Lotta Love'. As soon as its finished you want to put it on again, something that can't be said of a lot of music nowadays.
The bonus discs are a mixed bag to be honest. There are some great alternate/rough mixes of things like 'Immigrant Song' 'Whole Lotta Love' and a fantastic first version of 'Since I've Been Loving You' but the unreleased tracks are nothing special. The important thing, however, is the albums themselves and they are still magnificent. Roll on the rest of the catalogue.
Update; For those who are interested I have recently purchased bootleg CD's of the first four Zep albums, transferred from original vinyl LP's by the infamous Dr.Ebbetts. The quality of the first two is extremely good, and being from original releases some songs have noticeably longer fade-outs as I alluded to earlier. In particular on 'Communication Breakdown' and 'Ramble On' you can hear far more towards the end. III and IV aren't bad either.
Of course, we'd all like to own the Robert Ludwig vinyl pressing of 'Led Zep II', which was issued in the States and then hastily withdrawn. I've not heard it but apparently it's the one to get, mastered so hot and loud that some record player needles couldn't handle it and jumped about as a result. There are some out there but for obvious reasons they command very high prices. If you can't get your hands on one of those then an early original UK pressing will do just fine. I can't comment on first pressings but I do own an original second pressing (Matrix No; A2/B2) and a later one (Matrix No; A6/B4)and the difference in sound is very noticeable. The earlier pressing is an amazingly loud cut, the main riff to 'Whole Lotta Love' for example, simply roars out of the speakers and will take your breath away.
On the later pressing the opening riff is far more understated and gradually builds (much like all subsequent CD mixes), but it lacks the sheer out and out power of the second pressing. Find a nice copy and you will not be disappointed.
Most folks who buy this stunner of an album are going to be those who are familiar with the contents and just want to know whether it is worth their while and cash to get the new versions so that is basically what I hope to sort out.
Doing an A-B with the superb remasters done without compression away back in the early 90's shows this new version to be no louder, to have great instrumental separation and no compression issues. This is a cd that can be thrown on and cranked up without the earache inducing nonsense that plagues so many rock albums. Sonic quality and not sonic assault has been the aim for this game and it pays off big time.
Plants vocals just float right out of the mix, dead center for most of the time, swinging wildly from speaker to speaker at others. His voice just sounds like a guy in a recording booth singing his heart out, rather than a version of the sound of a guy singing his heart out in the recording booth, if you get my drift. He just sounds right.
John Paul Jones bass has never sounded better, every note is now distinct and clear, from the attack(so you can tell when he is using a pick or fingers) right through to the palm mutes, resonant fade aways etc..... I have heard lines here that were never apparent before but are there when I go back to the previous remaster.
Jimmy's guitar work, well that is just the bizz, as you would expect. What he doing is more apparent, for example the over dubbed guitar army now has each guitar spread out that wee bit better, his string bending better defined.
John Bonham's drumming is much easier to appreciate, cymbals ringing out and decaying more naturally, better bottom end bass drum welly thudding out nicely.
The downside of this increase in sonic fidelity is that you can clearly hear when the original tape levels were pushed into distortion. This is not so noticeable on previous remasters, tending to be masked behind the lower resolution of the digital master, but that's the price you pay when fidelity is the goal. This is not the same as the digital mess you get when a recording is brickwalled.
Highlight so far has got to be The Lemon Song. Incredible!! Never heard it better. Wow, it is just like sitting there. Jimmy's small single line fills as Robert sings about the need for citric acid release are a revelation. You can hear him run the plectrum down the strings and so on. John Paul Jones bass playing on this recording is still bench mark standard, amazing in other words.
The bonus cd is alright, but not something I would play that often. It is of superb sound quality, just lacking the true top end of the main album and does have some great wee alternative bits scattered through it. Edit- this bonus cd is a first class listen. The stripped back versions are really good, the core being similar, but some guitar work being different - the middle section of Whole Lotta is stripped right back and is all the more freaked out because of it, some vocal overdubs missing, some vocal lines that were scrubbed from the finished version and so on. There is an instrumental version of Living Loving Maid that is just a guitar drums and bass that makes this second cd worth having. It is brimming with wild energy and incredible playing.
Kudos to Jimmy Page for the sterling job he and the team did here!
Barely a year after their debut, Zeppelin released what is probably their most famous album. This one firmly cemented their reputation as rock’s undisputed kings and helped them break America like no British band had done before or possibly since. Riff laden, dripping with sex, and stuffed with epic songs it is a rock monument and remains the standard bearer for the genre as well as being one of the albums which aspiring artists look to for guidance and inspiration.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ is frequently listed as having the greatest guitar riff of all time and it isn’t difficult to see why. It is very simple, only a few notes, but within those notes is the embodiment of rock n roll. We immediately sense sex, excess, freedom, confidence, flamboyance, attitude, and a raft of other feelings, and that’s before Plant even opens his maw to unleash those timeless first words. As with many tracks here there is a looseness which comes from the track starting off from live jamming sessions, yet as well as this the song is incredibly tight- the sound of a band working as a whole. We get the impression that each member could anticipate the moves of the others. Though the riff was Page’s own genius, Plant adds a stream of Willie Dixon inspired lyrics to create the finished article- the song is primarily about sex and aside from the lyrics, you’ll probably get that from the moans and groans. More than a simple rock anthem, the strange middle section shows that the band were keen to experiment with other sounds and techniques but equally ready to return to normality via a stunning Page solo.
‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ seems to be a quiet moment in the album as it opens with jangly, soft guitars and some quiet Plant vocals with some phased effects. Plant sings to a woman of running away and all signals are pointing towards a straightforward love song. Bonzo comes in though with a blast lifting the song off into a heavier chorus. This is one of the major light and dark, soft and heavy combo songs which the band recorded, the technique working as well as any other song they’ve done. We get a last blues guitar solo, followed by a larger, louder one, we get fading effects, we get an outro over a minute long of Page and Plant psychedelic partying- all in all another hit.
‘The Lemon Song’ continues the riff magic with another masterful introduction from Plant and Bonham. Plant squeals loudly through a range of Carry On style innuendos and classic Blues routines while Jones gives the song some funk with his bouncy improvised bass. Page unleashes one of his best solos before a free jamming session in the middle, before an explosion of excessive metal madness where every member blasts away as loud and fast as possible.
‘Thank You’ brings the quiet moment eventually, a ballad packed with loving sentiment, hippy ideals, organs, chimes, acoustic beauty, harmomic vocals, yet keeping free of saccharine droplets. One of Page’s best acoustic solos features here, backed wonderfully by some subtle keys by Jones while Bonzo keeps blasting away inexplicably. Plant wrote all of the lyrics here in a tribute to his wife, a sign that his skills as a writer were growing significantly and the band were continually messing with form ending the song not once, but twice.
‘Heartbreaker’ opens with one of my favourite riffs ever, one which oozes with sleaze and rock-god quality. Add to this some raunchy lyrics about a sexually conquering woman and a man grown wise and weary of her ways, some skyscraping power chords, and a lesson in skins by Bonzo and we have another classic. As great as the riff is, the real moment of genius is Page’s improvised solo which goes on and one and which you never want to end. Beginning slowly with the spotlight on him, he string bends and picks up speed before free jamming up and down the fret board with ridiculous speed and then burning out; just as you think it’s over, the rest of the band provide cavalry support which kicks Page back to life and things go from insane to somewhere else. This opened the door for a million imitators.
‘Livin Lovin Woman’ follows quickly and is similar in sound and theme, this time relating the story of a groupie who harassed the band. Page never liked the song and it was never performed fully live, but it is one of my favourites. The light and shade is there again, the title is used as a refrain with Page giving backing vocals, the riff is again inspired, and the whole thing is silly, fast, and fun.
‘Ramble On’ is another acoustic moment and while it is recognized as a favourite by fans and critics alike, it’s never been too high on my list. It’s well constructed and well played as to be expected, the lyrics are full of Tolkien and folk inspired moments, and it provides a breather after the previous songs. I simply find it quite plain, but the melodies and rhythms are charming nonetheless.
‘Moby Dick’ is the stuff of drumming legend- a lone man stuck behind his kit as a spotlight shines upon his brow while he stares down a slavering crowd of fifty thousand, his band-mates off stage, his arms held high, ready to swing down and begin a 10 minute thunderous lesson. The version on How The West Was Won is near 20 minutes, whilst the original here is a meager 4 minutes and features accompaniment from Page and Jones at the start and end. When played live the band would often jam along, incorporating bits of other Zep tracks as well as segueing into songs from other artists, but the selling point is that Bonzo would thump away for an eternity with a variety of techniques. The fact that his drum solos keeps listeners entertained is testament to his genius and skill as most would turn off within 1 minute.
‘Bring It On Home’ is often the forgotten track here- most people hear the slow, soft intro, the harmonica along with Plant’s zany vocals and assume the rest of the track is similar nonsense. While this part does last over a minute and isn’t the most listenable part of the canon, around halfway through Page unleashes one of his greatest riffs- all the more powerful because people never get this far in the track. Bonzo crashes in to help out, the riff is repeated in 3 different keys before Plant chimes in with some heavy rock vocals. This could have been 2 standalone tracks, though one of them would have went down as a classic, the other possibly as a joke.
Any number of tracks from this album are classed as rock classics; indeed some of them are classic simply amongst the best songs of all time, so much so that every music fan should have it in their collection. It goes without saying that any budding rock stars or guitarists (or drummers, bassists, singers) should use this as a bible. This album marked a turning point in the band’s career, where they would move away more from covers and become creative song-writers in their own right. It also shows a change in the tide of rock music, becoming, heavier, faster, more sexual, more daring, more technical; many of today’s clichés and standards were either started or perfected here. It is already obvious that this is an influential album- for any younger readers or those who have not yet heard it for whatever reason- this does transcend genres and boundaries and whatever may have been putting you off getting this-put that aside and give it a go- it will likely be nothing like you expected.
on 6 September 2003
In 1969, 'Led Zeppelin II' was released and comparing it to their debut you can hear a subtle change in direction. While Zep I was almost a pure blues album, this one keeps the blues close to its heart but taking a more directly rock approach. The most noticeable aspect of this album is Jimmy's riffing; it's totally relentless and each one sears its way into your brain. Recorded on the run across America while on tour, the album is bursting with an energy rarely captured in the studio, and it does have a very 'live' feel to it, apart from a few overdubs by Page. No track is weak here, although Bonham's solo 'Moby Dick' did get a little silly during the live sets when it lasted about half an hour. 'Whole Lotta Love' is the obvious standout, being sampled for the 'Top of the Pops' theme, but my personal favourite is 'Ramble On', a more gentle and lighter song set in Tolkien Middle-Earth with some brilliant Plant vocals and tabla (I think that's what it is) from Bonham. I can't stress how great a rock album this is, and should be in any budding young guitarist/bassist/drummer/singer's collection. A must.
on 16 November 2004
So, which is the greatest?
First I thought it was "I" for its raw, bluesy, rock and roll. Then I listened to "III" and found the beautiful melodies and delicate acoustics and thought that I loved it the most. But returning to "II" made me realise what Led Zepppelin are all about.
The driving bass lines, the lashing drum beats, the howling vocals and incendiary guitar licks combine to create incredibly powerful rock and roll music that will just blow you away. This album shows how rock and roll should be. Its an example of a hard working band that makes every note and every beat count.
You just cannot get enough of these songs. They inspire a feeling which a lot of other bands forget. The buzz which musicians feel when making the music is something that is often not conveyed to the listener from the CD. On this album however, the band has made the connection to the fans.
If "Heartbreaker" doesn't make you want to weep with joy, and don't know what will. This is vintage: rock and roll at its finest.
Its a lesson in rock music, you just need to hear it...