Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Led Zeppelin - Box Set

The very first box set I ever owned was the very first box set that I remember coming out. The Led Zeppelin Box Set "Digitally remastered from the original tapes," I remember the television commercials saying. I also remember starting to beg my family for the box set at that point in 1990.

I had very little clue who Zeppelin was, and I'll admit that, but I knew Kashmir which was all over the commercial, along with Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll, and one or two others, and I knew I wanted this set. It would take about four more years before I would actually get it.

In that time I bought myself Zeppelin IV/Zofo/Untitled, because it was the cool album at the time. However, once I had this box set I traded it for a CD that was so not worth it, but that's another discussion, for another review. What I'm getting at is that I really only went a year and half to two years without this box set, from the point I got my first CD player.

Hell, in 1990 not too many people owned Compact Disc players, but the box set was available in three formats, not just the one. There was CD (four discs), Cassette (four tapes) and Vinyl (six records/twelve sides), and if you had that last one, the order changed up a bit, from the other two.

Now, I'm going to pretty much tell you how this review is going to end. When you get down to the ratings at the end, they will all read "10". This collection is a perfect ten, and it's a perfect ten from even more angles than the ones I normal judge by. This set contains a great selection for the hard core fans, for the commercial fans, for people that respect Zeppelin even if they aren't into them, and for the regular everyday bloke.

The first disc in the set opens with Whole Lotta Love, which to this day is my favourite Led Zeppelin song. They wrote this song and then spent the rest of their career releasing songs that were okay, but not as good. I mean it's really a sad state of affairs, and it leaves me mad as shit, since this was from their second album. I jest.

In all seriousness Whole Lotta Love taught me so much about Rock music. It wasn't just about being loud, it's about being heavy. From a drummer's point of view this song taught me the skills to control the hi-hat with my foot, and also lead to my redesigning the set up of my drum set and how I play all together. Then there's the importance of slightly muting the string for that awesome chug. Oh yeah, what about all that awesome trippy experimental stuff, at least it was for 1969 when originally recorded. This is one of those songs that must be cranked, so you can truly feel it. Also, if you can't tell from what I've already writen, the songs on this collection do not appear in the same order in which they were released. Like it was done on other box set reviews I've already covered.

Next is Heartbreaker, and I will totally admit that I don't care for this song. Everytime people hear that I always get a shocked reaction, and I understand why. This is totally a great song, and the band rips it up huge, but I just find it boring. The guitar masterbation part in the middle is a bit of a turn off for me, because it totally kills the flow of the song. I get why it's done musically, and it's totally cool and makes sense, but the breaking heart kills the song for me. However, I love that it doesn't flow into the normal Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman). Instead it cuts to the next song.

Communication Breakdown, is another one of those songs that totally rocks my world. I love this song to the extreme, and it is just so Rock N' Roll, but holy crap is it heavy. Also from 1969, but from the original self titled album, instead of Zeppelin II like the two previous songs. This song is just pure white energy.

Track four belongs to Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, also from the first album. This song is a fantastic accoustic number, that features Plant's amazing vocals doing that thing they do, when they are getting all mystic sounding. Then at 2:23 when the song really kicks in you don't even remember that that's an accoustic guitar pounding away through the speakers. And then it comes back down and get's all double tracked pretty and lolls you into a false sense of mellow before it starts taking you on that roller coaster of musical emotional bliss. This song is a 6:42 long audiogasm. Half of the beauty to this song is the production, and the other half is a band that didn't get confined by borders.

We then go back to Led Zeppelin II for What Is and What Should Never Be. This is another white energy kind of song. It totally pulls the negative out of your mind and leaves your body feeling like a million dollars. You want to dance to it, get your groove on, and just chill right out.

Now, as I've mention the vinyl has a slightly different layout than the other two formats. Side one ends at this point and side two starts next. If I had to guess, when this boxset was being planned out, it was being planned with the vinyl in mind more than the Compact Disc. As we go you'll see it more and more, but was that not the perfect first side of a Zeppelin album? I also promise the second side works the same way too.

It opens with Thank You, which is a great song, but one that I don't care for. I can't give you a good explanation as to why, all I know is that it doesn't tickle any of my fancies. But that's okay, because you don't have to like all of their music. That's what Pop bands are for, this was a group of artists.

After that comes a live recording from 1970. This version of I Can't Quit You Baby is the version originally released on Coda, 1982. If you like slow rhythms and guitar masturbation, this is a Blues number for you. If you are a real Zeppelin fan this song is also for you. I think the casual listener would probably skip this one. That blends almost seemlessly into Dazed and Confused, a song that all bassists must learn. This 1969 number from their first CD runs an impressive 6:27, which I've heard called "overkill", but I don't care. This is one of those songs that just takes you away on one hell of a journey. This song is pretty much a ride through your mind musically. The lyrics are a different story. "Been Dazed and Confused for so long it's not true. / Wanted a woman, never bargained for you. / Lots of people talk and few of them know, / soul of a woman was created below. / You hurt and abuse tellin' all of your lies. / Run around sweet baby, Lord how they hypnotize. / Sweet little baby, I don't know where you've been. / Gonna love you baby, here I come again." Women are such the curse and cure.

I'm really not sure how I feel about Your Time Is Gonna Come. It's a good song, but it sounds way too much like listening to a church hymn to me. The organ doesn't help either. However, it's a bit catchy and easy to sing along with, so I still do that when the song plays.

How does one complain about a song inspired by Lord Of The Rings? I know how one can, but Ramble On is not one of them. Instead of doing something lame and using lines like "my precious", Plant does the lyrics in a way, that there is only one point where he clearly references LOTR. "Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear. / How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air. / T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. / But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah." If not for that verse, this song from Zeppelin II, most people would think is about a woman. Hell, even with that verse, most people still think this song is about a woman.

Travelling Riverside Blues, comes from the BBC. Recorded live on 24th of June, 1969, at the time this box set was originally released this track was considered previously unreleased. However, it was later included on the BBC Sessions album. This is a typical Blues song from this band, which is to say that it's enjoyable, as long as you like when they play that way.

I love the bounciness of Friends. It's fun and playful and totally an accoustic heart pumper. Also the first track to appear from from 1970's Led Zeppelin III. Also from that album is Celebration Day, which is just as bouncey and fun. This one is electric instead of accoustic, but totally rockin' and all part time. It's not just a clever name.

Hey Hey What Can I Do was the only Led Zeppelin song to ever be released, but not featured on an album. This originally appeared on the b-side to "Immigrant Song". The single was released in 1970. As for the song itself, it's okay. It's much like Travelling Riverside Blues, and I can go either way with it.

The first disc ends with White Summer/Black Mountain Side which is an 8:01 guitar solo (for the mostpart) recorded 1969, but never released until this box set. The first part comes from Jimmy Page's days with the Yardbirds and the second was on the first Led Zeppelin album. I'm not going to lie to you, this thing runs long. I love listening to it, but there are some days when I really can't make it more than four minutes into the song before I want to switch it off. However, this is a great way to end the first CD.

Although this track ends side three of the record (record two side one, for anyone confused), so the feel of the second record is completely different. All the slow odd stuff is up front, and all the commercial stuff is put on the back half of the album.

The second disc opens with Black Dog. If you don't know the song by the title it's the one that opens with "Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove." I totally love this one, but over the years I find I don't have the same passion for it that I once did. I think it comes from the fact that this is one of the more radio friendly Zeppelin tracks, even though it's still almost five minutes. One thing that I always found funny about this song was how much it sounds like Rock And Roll, which also came off Led Zeppelin IV.

Now one of the great things about bands that started in the late 60's early 70's is that they would release at least one album a year for the first couple albums and then finally maybe take a break. When you look at the release dates for Led Zeppelin I-IV they were all released between 1969-71. That's four of the greatest rock albums in only two years. Then and only then did Zeppelin take a break.

The first track to show up on this collection from the Houses Of The Holy album (1973) is Over The Hills And Far Away. This is another song that I loved in my youth, but has lost some of the appeal as I've gotten older. I'm not sure why, but that doesn't mean I don't still enjoy the song now.

I absolutely love Immigrant Song, which brings us back to Led Zeppelin III. The track is just shy of two and a half minutes, but it's just a fast and brutal attack that reflects the lyrics. "Ah, ah, (those are actually repeated a bit)/ We come from the land of the ice and snow,/ From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. / The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands, / To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming! / On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore. / Ah, ah, (those are actually repeated a bit)/ We come from the land of the ice and snow, / From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow. / How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore, / Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords. / On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore. / So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins, / For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing."

The Battle of Evermore was one of the tracks from IV that I never cared for. Even once I read Lord Of The Rings I still didn't care for this one all that much. The music is fantastic, and totally suits the content matter, but it just doesn't appeal to me. Also, like other LOTR songs there's only one verse that's a real give away "The pain of war cannot exceed the woe of aftermath, / The drums will shake the castle wall, the ring wraiths ride in black, Ride on."

I find Bron-Y-Aur Stomp a little too Country Blues for me. It's got a great rhythm and beat, that you can't help but groove to, but it's not my kind of song. However, this is an excellent tune that I knows millions of people love, and I can totally understand why. That was one of the best parts about Led Zeppelin, they gave you a great spectrum of diverse musical sounds. That meant you wouldn't like every song, but you had to respect the men making the music.

The second vinyl album finishes with Tangerine. "Measuring a summer's day / I only finds it slips away to grey / The hours they bring me pain. / Tangerine Tangerine / Living reflection from a dream; / I was her love she was my queen / And now a thousand years between. / Thinking how it used to be / Does she still remember times like these? / To think of us again? / And I do. / Tangerine Tangerine / Living reflection from a dream; / I was her love she was my queen / And now a thousand years between". Now clearly it would seem this song is about a woman. However, I beg your pardon with the question of "Could it maybe be about the actual fruit." The music reminds me of what it's like to eat that very first tangerine.

The third record is made up entirely of the second half of the second CD. This is one of those moments when you can see how much thought really went into this collection. Having it all sync up as much as to say that the collection is broken into halves.

The first track on the third vinyl is Going to California another one of those songs that I don't care for, but this one it's because it feels so long. It's only 3:31, but I would swear that it feels more like five plus minutes.

Since I've Been Loving You is 7:24 Blues/Jazz exploration from Led Zeppelin III. This is one of those songs that you have to let warm up. It starts off being a skip track, but as it grows you get totally drawn in. This is the type of music that never gets released anymore, because it's totally about musical expression and emotion. There is so much raw emotion in this song that you can't help but feel your heart get dragged through the mud and kicked around, before you get sucked into a vortex of loneliness.

It's back to Houses Of The Holy for D'yer Mak'er. This is great fun tune. I know a lot of people can't stand it, and think it's crap, but once again I can't stress enough how important it was that Zeppelin didn't pigeon hole themselves into a specific sound. They were always exploring.

As much as they explored they also remembered their roots too. Gallows Pole is a traditonal piece that was arranged by Page and Plant for Led Zeppelin III. This is good solid song that I've grown a larger appreciation for over the years. When I first got this box set I would often skip this one, now I'll happily listen to it. The first track offered from the 1975's Physical Graffiti is Custard Pie. I will be honest, not a fan of this one, and I still skip it if I'm near the CD player or a remote. To me this is a pretty stock kind of song. It has no real substance and it seems like album filler. I also know that I just pissed someone off with that, but this song just doesn't work for me. It sounds like a throw away track from the first album they went back and re-recorded.

Now it's on to side six of the vinyl collection, and the last four songs on the compact disc.

First up is Misty Mountain Hop, which is a really fun song. This is a band that's having some fun and just doing there thing. It sounds like pure, natural, unrehearsed magic. This is how all music should sound, even if it is rehearsed, produced and kicked into shape. Also it really helps that this song is just so hippy in lyrics. "Walkin' in the park just the other day, Baby, / What do you, what do you think I saw? / Crowds of people sittin' on the grass with flowers in their hair said, / "Hey, Boy, do you wanna score?" / And you know how it is; / I really don't know what time it was, woh, oh, / So I asked them if I could stay awhile. " I mentioned already how I think Rock and Roll sounds very much like Black Dog, which is funny since both come from the same album originally (IV). I'm not sure why it is that I think this, although I know part of it comes from Plant's vocal delivery. Other than that, this is a song that does not have a clever title. It describes the feel, vibe, energy and passion in this song.

I'm not sure why they placed The Rain Song in the second last slot on this CD. It's one of those songs that's rather slow and it really brings down the tempo and feel of what's been building. Sure it's a pretty song, and I'm sure many a tongue have been pulled to this beauty, but oh my god is it slow. It's another one that I have no issues with skipping. Also with a time stamp of 7:39 the song also runs long, but it thankfully doesn't feel long.

The second disc finishes with Led Zeppelin's biggest song, Stairway To Heaven. I have a love hate thing with this song. I think it's over played, over analyzed, over read, over rated, and over exaggerated. However, I karaoke the shit out of the bitch. At this moment if I turn it up any louder the pictures will start to rattle off the wall. Also, I'm feeling musically fulfilled. It's a great song, it really is, but there are months when I don't want to hear it, and there was probably a good year or two in my twenties when this CD finished after Rock And Roll.

Actually, of the four discs in this box set, the second disc got played the least between the years of 2000-2005. Also, during the last couple years of the 90's the only disc I would listen to less than this one was the fourth one (which I listen to the most during the other listed time above.) The problem with this disc is that it makes up the core of the commercial music. So, I've heard it all a thousand times, and that's not including when I've put the CD on.

Now a days, the album in this set I listen to the least is the third disc, which for those keeping a vinyl count makes up side seven, eight and nine. It's the shortest disc in the set, with the least amount of tracks, but they are some of the longer songs. Only one of the songs dips five and half minutes. Basically, you could call this the epic disc.

My second favourite Zeppelin song is Kashmir from Physical Graffiti. I know this song is almost as big as Stairway, an I can't get over how much radio play this song still gets since it's 8:32 in length. Also this has got to be one of the best poetic set of lyrics, without going overboard, that the band has ever done. "Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream / Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream / My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again / Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin' through Kashmir. " It's not just your typical run of the mill, brain dead, Rock N' Roll rambling. Also, can we say heavy. I mean I love letting this beast roar out of my speakers.

I'm also noticing that as I go here I'm not mentioning much about song writers. Most of the songs are written with the Plant/Page combo, however, well over half the songs that make up this set always have at least Bonham or Jones attached to them. Kashmir for example is listed as Bonham, Page and Plant, and that drummer has a lot of song writing credits.

The next song demonstrates the Jones, Page and Plant combo. Trampled Under Foot is one of those songs where the title makes no sense at all, not a single mention of being trampled under foot, and it is only vaguely alluded to. However, this is such a good song that it doesn't matter. Jones' keyboard/organ work is amazingly top notch, as well as his kickin' bass groove. This is just one of those songs that you can't help but get into.

For Your Life is one of those songs that sometimes I feel a need to skip, and other days I want to let it spin out. Well if I had it on vinyl I'd let it spin out, because it's the last track on side seven. To be honest I find this song drags on a bit longer than I care for. It's a decent enough tune, but it just feels over worked and forced. Almost like they felt the song had to run over six minutes.

I really don't care for No Quarter unless I am really stoned. I mean really stoned. Then I often find myself nodding off to this song instead. I understand why some people dig this song, but I have just never been able to get into it.

Dancing Days, is just one of those fun songs, but when you look at all the songs on this collection from Houses Of The Holy, you can tell the band was just sort of using up old bits, or left overs, from the earlier albums. Not to say that this song is no good, it's just a little basic.

Some Led Zeppelin songs I find are like a fine wine, they only get better with age. For example When the Levee Breaks was a song that I would generally skip. Not that it was a bad song, it just wasn't something I was in to. However, that's changed a fair amount in the last 10 years. To the extent where this song even ends up on my Mp3 player once in a while.

I love the high speed chug and gallop of Achilles Last Stand. The best part about this song is that it never really slows down. There are points when the vibe is a bit calmer, but that's it. Otherwise this song is a 10:25 exercise in endurance and stamina, at least for the guys playing it.

I love the first 1:28 of The Song Remains the Same, after that it's still a decent tune. It's a bit pretty for my liking in parts, and I don't care for the dreamy sound to Plants vocals, but once again this is a group of artists doing their thing. This is also the track that kicks off side nine of the vinyl.

Ten Years Gone is one of the more mellow tracks on this disc, and for the most part I always blank out when it comes on the CD player. It's fantastic background music, but I have never really paid much attention to it.

In My Time of Dying is a great way to finish off the thrid disc. It's just over eleven minutes of pure energy and drive. Also how does one argue with such honest lyrics. "Jesus, gonna make up.. somebody, somebody... / Jesus gonna make up... Jesus gonna make you my dyin' bed / Oh, Saint Peter, at the gates of heaven... Won't you let me in / I never did no harm. I never did no wrong / Oh, Gabriel, let me blow your horn. Let me blow your horn / Oh, I never did, did no harm. / I've only been this young once. I never thought I'd do anybody no wrong / No, not once. / Oh, I did somebody some good. Somebody some good... / Oh, did somebody some good. I must have did somebody some good... / Oh, I believe I did". This is just a fantastic song the whole way around, and you don't even start to notice how long the song runs until you pass the ten minute marker.

The last disc (side ten) is kicked off with In the Evening, which has a beautiful middle eastern escence, but sounds a little like it was inspired by whale songs as well. This is song, like so many others has a great energy that the band keeps up for 6:49.

I have to say one of Led Zeppelin's greatest accomplishments is being able to constantly write and release longer songs, and yet still keep them feeling long and drawn out. I mean it does happen from time to time, but for the most part you just don't notice the song's time.

Candy Store Rock, is like this cross between Blues, Pop, and Swing. There's just this great little mash of styles that help make this song Jump. I don't normally pay much attention to it, but that because it's one of those songs that blends into the background for me.

"Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain / Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the grain / Got no time to pack my bags, my foots outside the door / Got a date, I can't be late, for the high hopes hailla ball. / Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean's roar / Play for free, play for me and play a whole lot more, more! / Singing about good things and the sun that lights the day / I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost it's way. / Sitting round singing songs 'til the night turns into day / Used to sing on the mountains but the mountains washed away / Now I'm singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart / She is only three years old and it's a real fine way to start." I love the way these lyrics are delivered in The Ocean. Also, it really helps that this song always puts a smile on my face.

Ozone Baby is just a real good time. It's a bit groovy and totally bouncy.

You have to wonder if the Houses of the Holy wasn't ready in time for the album of the same name, so it got postponed until the Physical Graffiti album, or maybe the band was just having a wee bit of sport with their audience. Either way it doesn't matter since this is just a really fun tune, that makes you want to get up and boogie.

The eleventh vinyl side opens with Wearing and Tearing from Coda. This was one of the other three songs left over after the In Through The Out Door sessions (Darlene was the third track, which is not on this set). Not that it's a bad track, it just would have meant Zeppelin releasing another double vinyl set at the time. In fact I love the energy and vibe of the song. I think it's this great tune.

Poor Tom, also from Coda, is a left over from the Zeppelin III sessions. I can see why this song was held back. It would have caused the third album to be way over the top with the Classic Blues styling. I personally generally ignore this song, using it mainly as background music.

I love the guitar intro to Nobody's Fault But Mine. I then like when Plant starts to copy it with his vocals. It's a great warm up to a song that moves. I mean there is some really drive and passion to this number, plus a dozen or so well placed stops and starts. It just really gives this song a hell of a body to listen to.

Fool in the Rain is one of those songs that I have always loved. It's such a great feelgood piece. It's just a basic fun kind of song. The musicianship on this song is something else as well. Jones' piano work, Bonham's percussion and Page's guitar are all over the place in a good carribean kind of way. "Now my body is starting to quiver / And the palms of my hands getting wet / I've got no reason to doubt you baby, / It's all a terrible mess / I'll run in the rain till I'm breathless / When I'm breathless I'll run till I drop, hey / The thoughts of a fool's kind of careless / I'm just a fool waiting on the wrong block, oh yeah / Light of the love that I found..." It just give's you that simple love feel.

Then it's on to side twelve. The very last section of the disc.

In the Light is a good track, that you don't notice runs 8:46, at least not until the minute or so. I'm not a big fan of this song, I think it's bit stock for Led Zeppelin.

It's back to some solid boogie with The Wanton Song. I won't claim this is some great Zeppelin marvel, but it is totally enjoyable. I'm personally a bit upset that I'll never get to see this song performed live, in person. I'd love to get my groove on to this one at a concert.

Moby Dick/Bonzo's Montreux is a remix of previous two recordings that were put together for this box set. Basically this is a giant drum solo track. As a drummer I love it. I think it's totally fantastic. As your basic listener, it's a bit long and drawn out, but still very enjoyable.

I'm not sure what to make of I'm Gonna Crawl. "I don't have to go by plane / I ain't gotta go by car / I don't care just where my darling is / People I just don't care how far / I'm gonna crawl / I don't care if I got to go back home / I don't care what I got to stand to her back / I'm gonna crawl / I'm gonna move the car, baby / She give me good lovin / Yes I love her, I guess I love her / I'm gonna crawl." Clearly it's a love song, and even the music would dictate a 50's ballroom dance feel, but yet this song is pumping more passion than that, but not enough to say that this song is heavy. It's just one of those kind of odd songs.

My favourite song on the last disc is also the last song, All My Love. I know it's a simple, basic, more or less typical love song, but it's fantastic. I love the keyboard parts, the under stated guitar, and Plant's raw, but sweet vocals. This is also the best way to finish off the box set. A bit cliche when you think of it, but you can't complain without being a douche bag.

At the very end of these four discs I still hold very true to the my statement that this collection is a perfect ten. I don't care for every song, but that doesn't mean those songs aren't good. They just don't ring my bell.

I also wouldn't suggest listening to all four discs at once. In the fifteen years or so, that I have owned this collection I think I have only listened to all four discs in a row five or six times. Five plus hours of non-stop Led Zeppelin is just abit too much for me. However, if you are a hardcore fan, it may be just right for you.

10/10 - content

10/10 - production

10/10 - personal bias

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