During a private listening session of selections from the Led Zeppelin catalog that will be reissued this summer, veteran guitarist Jimmy Page described the archival material as “an opportunity to have a look and listen to everyone in the band.”
Page says the music captures how he, singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones gelled together as bandmates. “We were able to reach the stratosphere,” he said of their chemistry together.
Dressed in a loose black suit and scarf, Page was relaxed and in good humor on May 13 at New York’s Crosby Street Hotel as he fielded questions from about 40 journalists and industry members who gathered to hear eight selections that spanned the three albums — “Led Zeppelin,” “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III” — that will arrive June 3. Each will be released as a CD, on vinyl and digitally; deluxe packages of the records will contain a companion disc of previously unreleased music related to that particular record. The rest of the band’s catalog will be reissued chronologically at a later date.
Former Rhino senior vp A&R Robin Hurley, who now acts as a consultant to Rhino for such bands as Zeppelin, introduced Page by saying the musician had been “basically embedded” in the band’s vault for three years, sorting through multiple takes of each track. Page, who remastered the collection, noted that he didn’t find it hard to determine which take of each song was the best one to use — some of them had 12 to 15 versions on offer — and that all of the material included in the reissues were complete versions of each take.
For about 30 minutes, the audience sat in darkness, save for a movie screen with the Led Zeppelin logo and images of the band’s first three albums, listening to the music. Page played live versions of “Communication Breakdown” and “You Shook Me” to represent the companion audio to “Led Zeppelin.” (The songs were recorded during an October 1969 concert at Paris’ Olympia Theatre.) Alternate studio versions of “Heartbreaker” and “Whole Lotta Love” were heard from “Led Zeppelin II”; and “Gallows Pole,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Immigrant Song” were played from “Led Zeppelin III”; along with “Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind,” a classic blues number recorded in 1970 that was released for the first time in April.
The differences between the original Zeppelin tracks and the ones Page selected for the reissues were obvious. For example, the intro to “Good Times Bad Times” was tagged to the beginning of “Communication Breakdown.” The guitar solo in the middle of “Heartbreaker” differs from the album’s version. The psychedelic studio wizardry section in the middle of “Whole Lotta Love” was less trippy and much more dependent upon Bonham’s drumming to drive it onward, and “Gallows Pole” was completely acoustic instead of incorporating the electric guitar that augments the track on “Led Zeppelin III.” Fans will also be surprised by the ending of the alternative take to “Immigrant Song.”
Hearing Zeppelin’s music thunder from the hotel’s stereo system would have been exciting even if it hadn’t been rarities that were being played. Jones’ bass was a fearful heartbeat galloping through “Gallows Pole,” and the choppy flanger effect on Page’s guitar during “Immigrant Song” hovered in the air. During “Whole Lotta Love” Bonham’s symbols clanged as sharp as breaking glass, and Plant’s howls still resonated with the same gut-wrenching primal force as when they were first heard in 1969. When it ended, one audience member declared, “That was f—ing genius.”
Overall the room was pleased with what it heard. Ben Smith of VH1.com asked Page how he thinks the reissues will affect the lore of where Led Zeppelin was in its career when it released each album. “I don’t think it changes the story,” Page replied. “I think it augments it. It adds color to it.”
The only minor criticism Page fielded was from Modern Drummer’s Michael Parillo, who noted that little new material from Bonham could be heard. Page assured him that “there’s more good things to come” when the rest of the catalog is rereleased, such as a new version of “Bonzo’s Montreux” that will arrive with the “Coda” reissue. Then he joked that he shouldn’t give such surprises away. “Can we rewind the tape?” he said with a smile.