Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Zep Remasters: Parts 1-3

The recent campaign to upgrade the Led Zeppelin catalogue to boast improved sound and bonus material began on June 3rd, with deluxe editions of "I," "II," and "III." This is a report on those editions. You are welcome to discuss all things LZ, including the usual topics such as Jimmy Page's penchant for stealing music, how you stopped listening after 1970, Robert Plant's lyrics and ill-fitting jeans, etc.. I am here to talk about the three vinyl editions that I have listened to repeatedly over the last week. As a fan, here's what I found.


I have owned the original LPs, the first batch of CDs, U.S. CD remasters and Japanese CD remasters. Of those, the Japanese remasters from 2006, which Jimmy Page says weren't really remastered at all, sounded best. Crisp, with terrific bottom. I did not get to listen to the newly released CDs. As I said, I've been listening to the new vinyl editions, and these LPs are superb. Hands down, the best of all. So good, they knock the Japanese CDs out of the park.

When you take into account that these records are over 45 years old, the intial needle-drop will impress you even more. Big and spacious, with guitar and bass flourishes jumping out at you, while Bonham's one of a kind drumming keeps your chesting pumping, LZ's first three records have never sounded so good. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, it's like listening to this music for the very first time.

If you know this music inside and out as I do, the thrill of hearing new things--a Plant vamp, an acoustic guitar that had originally been buried in the mix, etc.--make these tried and true records all the more essential.


"I" features an oft-booted concert from the Paris Olympia in 1969. Whatever bootleg version of this legendary show you own will no longer suffice. Again, sound quality is monstrous. This is LZ, raw and alive, covering most of the first album, as well as "Heartbreaker" and "Moby Dick" from "II." This is a snapshot of a band, too big for the theatre and just 2 years away from the arena and history. Undoctored, you get a performance, warts and all, with an attack that is just as much punk rock as it is blues heavy.

"II" features rough mixes and backing tracks of all but two songs from the record. But let me be clear, unlike the usual collection of "bonus tracks" tacked on to the countless re-re-re-released versions of our favorite records, the music here is not some lo-fi sketch of what you love. In some instances, the alternate versions are better. Jimmy Page liked to overdub three, four and sometimes five different guitar parts and what makes these roughs stand out is the purity. Less is more? Well, not always. Sometimes less is less, like on the track "La La," which is nothing more than a basic instrumental rock groove that could just as well be any band from 1969. No less thrilling for fans looking for something they had never heard before, but not necessarily something you'll play a second time. Whereas, the early sketches of "Heartbreaker," with a slightly different, funkier feel and alternate solo and "Ramble On," with a little more room to discover each musician's contribution are revelations.

"III," my favorite of the three and my second favorite LZ record, is the best of the lot. Worth the price of admission alone is "Jennings Farm Blues," an electric, swaggering showcase for the band, on a song that eventually became LZ "III's" acoustic "Bron-yr-Aur Stomp." The playing is relentless. Not far behind in the running is the alternate "Since I've Been Loving You," dirtier and sexier, and like all things Zeppelin, big!

The bonus material is intelligent. Page might have opted for a few more rarities, like "Sugar Mama," a studio outtake from 1969, or even the b-side "Hey Hey! What Can I Do." But instead, created a listening experience that you can go back to. The new material is not throwaway. If you like these records at all, you will get lost in the sound, the sequencing and the nuances of the new campaign.

4-stars across the board!


charlie c. said...

Nice! Short and sweet and to the point. I would have liked a comparison between the Japanese CD’s and these, ‘cause that’s where I live, but I hear you. For Page to say those CD’s weren’t re-mastered maybe begs on my definition of re-mastering or is simply part of an overall pitch for this set.
The usual – how many times do I have to purchase music that I wore out on vinyl 40+ years ago and today, would simply like to have the best possible mix(es)?? Me – I don’t think you can really improve on the Japanese box. I wonder if that live set from I will be available separately at some point. From a consumer, who pays money for CD’s (still!), it gets old to find out at least two or three times a year that – those CD’s you bought, yeah I know you bought them twice already, but they are really bogus because we have found . . . you know the rest. Plus, in this instance, do I want Zeppelin redone by a guy in his 70’s? I think I am standing pat this hand. I got some . . . dubiously acquired live sets and the Bento Box. Cool and the gang with that!

Sal Nunziato said...


Let me be more clear, I think the Japanese CDs were taken from the 2002 Rhino remasters, which were RM with Page's approval. But Page himself had nothing to do with the 2006 Japanese box, so any additional tweaking was not authorized. Doesn't make it bad.

Again, I could not compare the new CDs to the 2006 CDs, but if the sound on the vinyl is as good as it is, not to mention 4 hours of worthwhile bonus material, I see the new CDs as a no-brainer.

William Repsher said...

In the early 00's, Rhapsody had a big sale where they priced every digital album at $4.00. Little did they know they inadvertently priced all box sets at the same price ($4.00 for the whole set). Thus, I got the complete Doors, Ray Charles complete Atlantic Recordings ... and the Led Zep box set which I think was released early 00's? (Not sure about this.)

In any event, those MP3s still sound fantastic to me ... I just couldn't buy these reissues! By the same token, I cherry-picked the bonus tracks and enjoy them quite a bit. Jennings Farm, La La ... I also like the alternate, more acoustic take on That's the Way.

That's how it is with classic rock reissues. The material is often so good that even though you already own it, in a perfectly good, very listenable format ... the temptation remains to buy it again!

Noam Sane said...

I have listened to parts of "II" in lossless format (found in a newsgroup) and yeah, the sound is remarkable, it jumps out at you from the first note.

An aside - as I waited in the car for Mrs. Sane at the local grocer, Jimmy Page himself appeared in the parking lot, climbing out of a Jeep. Don't believe me? I took a picture with my iPhone:

Among the items he purchased: lemons.

Fielding said...

I'm drooling into my Dandan noodles ove he!!! Can't wait to get my grubby chopsticks on these!!

charlie c. said...


I think he is trying to sell that little girl a Super Bonus Disc!

A walk in the woods said...

Soooo glad you posted about this. I'm of a similar age to most of you it seems, so I grew up on the Zep. (Actually, I grew up on them, but not when the records originally came out - I discovered them a bit later.) Anyway, their music is very familiar to me as it is to you.

But I've been on a Zep tear now for the last few years - more than ever. And so I've been wanting to read a review of these reissues that doesn't try to give us a history lesson - I know the history - but just boils it down from the angle of, "We've all bought these on vinyl, cassette and CD - some of those formats more than once - so are they worth buying again?"

Based on your review, I'll be getting them. Zep III is my fave of all their records, so it's great to hear that the reissue of that one works so well.

One question. Does the vinyl have an MP3 or WAV download? If all vinyl had that, I'd never buy CDs anymore - even at the inflated vinyl prices we've chatted about many times here. If you can let me know that part, that would be great.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I just got through listening to lll and Sal got it exactly right.

Sal Nunziato said...

@A Walk IN The Woods--NO download cards, but I'm sure a couple of clever keystrokes will find all three, just waiting to get loaded into your iPod.

A walk in the woods said...

Good point, Sal.

A walk in the woods said...

OK, I got the CD versions of the first two albums - would have gotten III but the 2 record stores I went to were out.

I'm sorry that I'm not one to really comment on the sonic perfection of reissues - so I don't have anything more refined to offer than "They sound awesome!" and they do.

What I did want to comment on is the extra CD on Zep II. (Or 2nd record if you buy the vinyl) Wow - it's pretty amazing, to my ears. I'd forgotten how great *STUDIO* Zeppelin is... I've been listening to boots so much, I really hadn't been back to any studio recordings of their much lately.

You'll find yourself falling for the band again when you hear this stuff, that's my analysis. Like Sal said, it's well-arranged and well-done - it's not the kitchen sink of everything Jimmy could have thrown in, but what is there is way cool.

And I haven't heard the live show on CD2 of Zep I yet....