Unless you’ve been living under the “rock” in rock ‘n’ roll, you probably heard at least something about the Led Zeppelin catalog being re-released on vinyl. Well, not only are the records being re-released, they’re also being remastered by none other than Jimmy Page, and offered in a bunch of different packages, from the basic original format, to two record sets featuring the original album plus a bonus record, to a “Super Deluxe” version that includes vinyl, CDs, and a full color book (oh yeah, and there are CD versions as well).
Is this a shameless money grab as some have insinuated? Personally I think not. While you may not care about things like previously released alternate takes and instrumental tracks, a lot of die-hard fans do. Throw in some live stuff and remastering by Page himself, and I for one was pretty excited to get my hands on some of these babies. Hell, even if you don’t want the bonus materials, it’s a great chance to get a pristine copy of the albums on heavyweight vinyl for a reasonable price. It’s not going to hurt the value of your originals, and you’re welcome to keep listening to them instead if you want. Hell, I still have all the Led Zep albums on CD, all of which I bought before 1990.
The other day I was fortunate to come across copies of all three of the first batch of re-issues – Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III. The first two are the “standard” format vinyl – the remastered record in a sleeve featuring the original artwork and packaging (so Led Zep II is gatefold), while the third (Led Zep III) is the Deluxe Vinyl Edition that comes with a second record of alternate versions and instrumentals. The packaging on all three is top notch with sturdy, high gloss jackets that have colors that really pop and seem at least slightly resistant to fingerprints. I mean, don’t put down a slice of pizza and pick up your copy… but its better than some albums that I have that you can walk past on the shelf and they’ll somehow end up with fingerprints on them. The vinyl is heavy 180 gram, the inner sleeves are good quality (not just paper), and all my records came out of their sleeves looking relatively clean and unscuffed. So far, so good.
Led Zeppelin I
If “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” doesn’t give you chills, you’re already dead.
I haven’t dusted off LZ I and listened to it all the way through in years, probably. And while I won’t say something ridiculous like “gosh, I forgot how good this album is,” I will say that it still sounds amazing and it’s hard to believe it’s 46 years old. Forty-six! WTF? This album is older than I am (by a little…) and it’s still powerful and awesome. I think this was the first Zep album I bought, picking it up on cassette from one of those huge bins full of discount tapes that every shopping mall Musicland use to have at the front entrance (if you’re too young to remember Musicland, or, frankly, cassettes… <sigh>… go ask an “old” person; used to be you could get tons of great classic rock albums for pretty cheap in these bins). I will freely admit I didn’t quite “get” it right away as a 15 year old. But I did “get” Led Zeppelin II when I bought it soon after, and from then on I was all about the mothership.
The recording quality and clarity of the remaster is top notch. And yes, I even compared it to my CD version, and I can promise you that the CD isn’t any cleaner sounding. For my money this was always the most bluesy Zep album, and the one where John Paul Jones contributed the most. His bass lines are deep and heavy, sometimes slow and sometimes fast, and the man knows how to groove. He’s wicked on “Good Times Bad Times” and kills it on every song, all the way through to the opening licks on the closing track, “How Many More Times.” This is Zep at their heaviest, and it sounds great.
The second record on the deluxe version is a 1969 live show from Paris, which I’m actually curious to hear. So while I didn’t get that vinyl version, I may at some point break down and buy the CD so I can check it out, unless I can find it as a download.
Led Zeppelin II
I wrote a virtual love letter to this album for my 500th post on Life in the Vinyl Lane, which you can read HERE. I don’t have a lot more to add – this is THE seminal album in my life, that one record (technically cassette… yes kids, that’s how we bought music in the 80s because, frankly the CD wasn’t around yet, and records were what your parents bought) that changed how I listened to and thought about music. The first album that I listened to all the way through, over and over and over and over again. I don’t think I ever had it on vinyl back in the day, so it’s cool to have it on my shelf now, nearly 30 years after having heard it for the first time. Like LZ I, the quality is excellent and it sounds great on my system. Get some.
Led Zeppelin III
I have a confession. For the longest time I didn’t like Led Zeppelin III. It sat there forlornly on my shelf, surrounded by Led Zep CDs that actually got played, and collected dust. Probably the only time I’d pop it in is if I wanted to get my epic viking on and shout through the intro of “Immigrant Song.” As far as I knew, that might have been the only song on the album. Presence got played more often. Hell, even Coda might have.
But as I got older, people started telling me I needed to give LZ III another chance. And slowly I did. First coming to realize the brilliance of “Gallow’s Pole” (which is actually better than “Immigrant Song”…) to the tremendous blues groove of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (there’s John Paul Jones again!) to the sad “That’s The Way” (I don’t know how I’m gonna tell you… / I can’t play with you no more…) to the crazily underrated “Out On The Tiles.” There’s some killer stuff here. Look, I still think it’s a more uneven album than it’s predecessors, but kudos to the Zep for taking some chances and doing some different stuff. While I think Led Zeppelin IV sounds more like the first two records, the LZ III vibe is evident in the next series of releases like Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti.
As for the bonus material, there is one alternate version of every song on the album. “Friends” is the only instrumental, the different mix of “The Immigrant Song” seems just a bit more trippy, and I really enjoyed the version of “That’s The Way” with the echo effects. I doubt I’ll listen to the extra stuff often, but it is interesting to hear different ways that the band was approaching the music that we’re all so familiar with.
I’m not sure when the next batch of re-issues will come out, but I’m really looking forward to them since the next trio is probably the best three-record run in the band’s career – LZ IV, Houses Of The Holy, and Physical Graffiti. That’s tough to beat, top to bottom.