Still Rocking in 2003
Despite the fact that Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 after the untimely death of drummer, John Bonham, the most notorious group ever are still alive and kicking thanks to founding member and producer/guitarist extraordinaire Jimmy Page. Having just released a 3 disc box set of live material, How The West Was Won and a 2 disc DVD set of various live performances, Page is making sure Zeppelin remains in the collective conciousness of the record buying public while the legendary quartet gain new fans with each generation.
The story of Led Zeppelin reads like the classic rock and roll story of sex, drugs and rock and roll; a story which has been told way too often. For with Led Zeppelin, it was always about the music. Their public persona was that of a groupie crazy, hotel bashing, and drug fueled wild men which often got them more press than they bargained for. Jimmy Page formed the band in late 1968 after the demise of the Yardbirds. In fact, before they were Led Zeppelin, they were The New Yardbirds. The name changed came about with a comment from Who drummer, Keith Moon who told Page his new band would sink like a led zeppelin. After Jimmy met Birmingham singer Robert Plant, he found his musical soul mate. The duo both had a passion for old Chess recordings. With Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Howlin' Wolf as their role models, the band would play some straight blues but more often than not, they would take elements of classic blues riffs or songs and twist them, turn them up, speed them up and ultimately create a sound that would become Heavy Metal.
Led Zeppelin released their first album in 1969. With two Willie Dixon songs, 'You Shook Me' and 'I Can't Quit You Baby' played as straight blues songs with heavy amplification, the new group were bringing blues music to an entirely new generation. However it was the tracks 'How Many More Times' (inspired by Wolf's 'How Many More Years') and 'Dazed and Confused' both encompassed very exaggerated aspects of traditional blues music. By the time they released their second album later that same year, they were garnering much press and accolades from the critics. Led Zeppelin II was recorded in a makeshift studio while the band was on tour and would forever cement the quartet as rock gods. Despite the heavy sound of the record, they were still using blues as their muse. The first track, "Whole Lotta Love" was a plagiarism of sorts of the Muddy Waters song "You Need Love". This was as well the case with the Sonny Boy classic "Bring It On Home". "The Lemon Song" was also deeply rooted in Plant and Pages obsession with 1950's blues. Zeppelin III was a departure as Page produced a mostly acoustic album. This would additionally be the last time the mighty Zep, now major rock stars, would record straight ahead blues as they laid down the high energy two bar "Since I've Been Loving You" and the traditional blues tune "Hat's Off To (Roy) Harper". While Zeppelin would go on to experiment with new sounds and create classics such as "Rock and Roll", "Black Dog" and "Stairway To Heaven" on their forth release, they always incorporated blues into their music, it just wasn't as obvious.
Despite Led Zeppelin's 10 year run and impressive body of work, what has been lacking in their catalogue is a comprehensive live record. The soundtrack from the 1976 film The Song Remains The Same captured the band in their prime but was only a little over an hour and half in length in which many of the songs take up half the side of the records; Dazed and Confused took up an entire LP side. With a band who gained their audience through their live shows, hardcore Zeppelin fans felt somewhat cheated as many of the notorious live shows were taped but never released.
How The West Was Won is a triple disc of live recording which span in time from 1972 to 1975. Produced by none other than Jimmy Page himself, the recording is clear, concise and ultimately the closet thing to actually hearing the band perform live. There are really no surprises here and the expected tracks are all present and accounted for. "Dazed and Confused" still runs close to half hour and "Whole Lotta Love" includes the classic jam session in the middle. What makes this cd so great is not only the production value but the group's intense and inspired performances. The DVD is also very well done which spans a timeframe of Zeppelin's first live television appearance in 1969 to their mighty Knebworth performance in 1979. As you watch each performance, you actually see Plant's confidence as a front man grow as well the decadence of stardom. Bonham's drums go from a stock set to custom made. Jimmy goes from jeans to custom made suits complete with fire breathing dragons. Ironically you also see the toll of being the hottest ticket in the world as John Bonham weight balloons to well over 200 pounds and Jimmy's heroin addiction shows as he whither away to less than 130 pounds. Nevertheless, they gave each audience a musical gratifying and energetic performance until the end. If you never saw Led Zeppelin perform live or even if you did, this cd and DVD are a must have for all Zep fans.
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