Tag Archives: Coda

Rocks In The Attic #753: Led Zeppelin – ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

RITA#753I’ve just finished the new Led Zeppelin book, recently released to mark the band’s 50th anniversary. A coffee-table book the size of a small coffee-table, it features heaps of unseen photographs as it charts the bands from their early days at the end of the ‘60s to their reunion show at the O2 in 2007.

Put together with the same care and attention as the similarly monolithic Jimmy Page book from 2010, it’s good for a quick glance while you’re sat on the toilet, but I don’t know why anybody would stump up the cash required to buy these massive tomes. I borrowed both from my local library.

RITA#753aWell, I tried to borrow the recent one from my library, but was heavily delayed by the usual lack of common sense of civil servants. Having ordered the book months before it was released, I finally got an email notification that the book was now ready to collect. I looked at the date: didn’t the library close today for a month of renovations?

I fired an email back. ‘Where can I pick up the book from? Surely it wasn’t delivered to a closed library.’

‘The book was delivered to the library on Saturday’, came the reply.

‘But you didn’t email me until the following Monday, after the library had closed?’

‘Yes, the system only sends out those emails from Monday to Friday.’

I guess you get what you pay for. A month later, I finally got my hands on it, from the freshly carpeted library.

One thing the book made me do was to revisit In Through The Out Door, probably the Zeppelin album I listen to the least (alongside Coda). Both are well worth a listen, but fall extremely short of the high standards set by the rest of the band’s back catalogue.

I’ve always liked certain aspects of In Through The Out Door – the drone of In The Evening, the funk of South Bound Suarez, the 8-bit computer game music breakdown halfway through Carouselambra – but the classical feel of All My Love, and the overall keyboard-heavy instrumentation across the record make it almost indistinguishable from earlier Led Zeppelin. If studio album number eight sounded this different, I hate to imagine what their ninth would have been like, had the band not lost John Bonham.

RITA#753bOne thing I’ve always liked is the cover design. A sepia image of a man sat at a dusty bar, with a series of alternate covers depicting the viewpoints of the bar’s other patrons. And if that wasn’t oblique enough, the album was packaged with a paper bag as an outer sleeve. The inner sleeve also features a line drawing, which if wet with water would become permanently coloured; but I’ve never been brave enough to test this out on my original pressing.

I was such a Zeppelin fiend throughout my teens, I would have given my right arm to listen to some of the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that have subsequently come out over the last decade of reissues. I’ve only dipped my toe into them, as I fear they will be the final ‘new material’ we will get from the band, and I don’t want to consume them too quickly (in much the same way as I have an unwatched DVD of To Catch A Thief, the last of Hitchcocks’s golden period films I haven’t seen).

I’ll get around to all of those unreleased tracks one day. And weirdly, despite them being my least favourite albums by the band from their initial run, it’s the bonus stuff from In Through The Out Door and Coda that I look forward to hearing the most.

Hit: All My Love

Hidden Gem: Carouselambra

RITA#753c

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Led Zeppelin

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds in London’s ultra-hip late ‘60s Flash scene. In 1968, ex-session guitarist Jimmy Page recruited fellow colleague John Paul Jones on bass, and looked north to the Midlands for gigging vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Success came thick and fast, especially after they cracked the USA with the release of their second album. The flame burnt fast though. In 1980, the band screeched to a halt when Bonham was found dead, the victim of one (or twenty) too many double vodkas the day before.

27 Feb 1972, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia --- Led Zeppelin performing in Sydney, Australia (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page --- Image by © S.I.N./CORBIS

I once had a letter – a letter! – printed in the NME. It was in response to an article where they claimed that Radiohead were ‘setting a new global blueprint’ by not releasing any singles or doing any press to promote Kid A in 2000. “Ever heard of Led Zeppelin?” I asked in my letter.

No singles? No press? And for the duration of Zeppelin’s twelve year career? It just goes to show that you can sell a heap of records entirely on word of mouth and an exhaustive touring schedule. It helps that the albums are nearly all close to fantastic too.

This was a very hard buyer’s guide to put together. How do you choose between so any great records, when tasked with only choosing three essential albums? Which ones do you leave behind? They’re all essential (and there are at least fifty good reasons to listen to the band)! Remember, it’s a buyer’s guide, so the following choices are aimed at those who are not well versed in the band’s back catalogue (if any such people exist at all).

Start off with: Led Zeppelin II (1969, Atlantic Records)

LZ1If the band’s self-assured debut set the scene, their second effort nine months later is the sound of them hitting their stride. Mainstream rock radio has taken some of the charm out of this record – redefining it almost as a greatest hits record – but there are still some surprises to be found. The interplay between the musicians on The Lemon Song is a prime example of how confident they had become in such a short space of time – just one highlight on an album full of highlights. Recorded at a number of different studios across England and America, while the band was touring, it’s an album of contradictions. It sounds heavy and light all at the same time; tight but loose; joyous and melancholic. Like the glare of a full moon in the roasting midday sun.

Follow that with: Led Zeppelin IV (1971, Atlantic Records)

LZ2IV is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the band were so sure about it, they released it without an official title and without the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ appearing anywhere on the cover or the record itself. The glaring hit on the album is Stairway To Heaven, despite never being released as a single, but the first side starts with two of the band’s biggest songs – Black Dog, a time-shifting stop-start rock masterpiece; and Rock And Roll, the band’s ode to late ‘50s music with the little help of a Little Richard drum pattern (by this time the band were well known for their musical kleptomania). The real gem of what used to be my choice hangover record throughout my teens however is the final track, When The Levee Breaks – the band’s last full-on blues cover (of a Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927) and featuring quite possibly the finest drum intro ever committed to vinyl.

Then get: Led Zeppelin III (1970, Atlantic Records)

LZ3Imagine Metallica following their self-titled Black Album with a jazz record, or the Sex Pistols recording a country and western album after their sneering 1977 debut. That’s about the level of genre-flipping between Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. To write songs that would form the basis of the album, Plant and Page retreated to a cottage in the Welsh countryside without electricity or running water. You can almost smell the rustic setting as the band replaces heavy blues for eastern-tinged bluesy folk, on what is undoubtedly the album where Zeppelin proved they were more than just long-haired headbangers.

Criminally overlooked: Coda (1982, Swan Song)

LZ4It is what it is – a bunch of left-over songs from various stages in their career, released as a bookend to the band’s 12-year reign – and for that reason it usually gets the cold shoulder. But some of these tracks were simply left off albums due to the space limitations of a single-disc LP. So to fulfil some contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, we get a Led Zeppelin III outtake, a Houses Of The Holy outtake, three In Through The Out Door outtakes, a couple of live songs and a drum workout – Bonzo’s Montreaux – which for me is the thundering highlight of the album.

The long-shot: In Through The Out Door (1979, Swan Song)

LZ5A lot of people don’t like the band’s final studio record because Jimmy Page’s guitars take somewhat of a back seat compared to prior albums. In his place, the keyboards of John Paul Jones play a more prominent role on what is arguably the most challenging record to unlock. Like most, I wrote In Through The Out Door off when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me over the years and while some of the keyboards sound a little too carnival-y, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Avoid like the plague: The Song Remains The Same (1979, Swan Song)

LZ6There really aren’t any Zeppelin albums to put into this category but at a push I’d have to offer this, their first officially released live album – a soundtrack to the convert film of the same name. What’s not to like? Well, it was pompous, overblown music like this that resulted in the British punk explosion from the summer of 1977 onwards. Who wants to listen to a sleep-inducing  twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused? Not me, that’s for sure. Where prog bands such as Pink Floyd can easily fill one side of a record with one song, Zeppelin really struggle to keep interest levels up. It may have been a joy if you were there, stoned out of your mind, but you’d need a lot of drugs to find this song exciting at home. The concert film struggles to pique my interest too – so ponderous that they had to intersperse it with cinematic cut-scenes. There are great moments on this record – not least Bonham’s amazing drum work – but this is probably the Zeppelin record I play the least.

Best compilation: Remasters (1990, Atlantic Records)

LZ7My introduction to the band, Remasters was the first Zeppelin compilation; a greatest hits set from a band that didn’t release any singles in the UK (until Atlantic spoiled it with a 1997 release of Whole Lotta Love). What to include? What to leave out? The decision, as always, went to Jimmy Page – still very much the leader and figurehead for the band ten years after they split. The double-CD / triple-LP set was just a sampler for the full box set of recorded material that Page had digitally remastered, but is now universally seen as the definitive Zeppelin collection, no matter how many times they repackage it.

Best live album: How The West Was Won (2003, Atlantic Records)

LZ8Still to see the light of day on vinyl, How The West Was Won was released to very little fanfare in 2003 as a triple-CD; which is a shame as it’s by far their most exciting live album. The result of two West Coast shows on their 1972 American tour, the band sound very energetic and the atmosphere is electric. Page considered the band to be at their artistic peak during this period, and it shows. There’s definitely something to be found here that just isn’t evident on the Song Remains The Same soundtrack / snoozefest. By that time, Zeppelin were just going through the motions, showing the fatigue of another endless American tour. On How The West Was Won, they sound very much like what you’d expect from the band that had just released Led Zeppelin IV; the biggest band in the world.

I don’t tend to listen to much Led Zeppelin these days. I played their records so much through my teens that I know them like the back of my hands. When I do hear them though, blasting out of a car on a summer’s day or on the stereo as I’m flipping through the racks at a record store, it brings a massive smile to my face. I understand Led Zeppelin aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get that. Not everybody can have great taste in music.

LZ9

Rocks In The Attic #70: Led Zeppelin – ‘Coda’ (1982)

Rocks In The Attic #70: Led Zeppelin - ‘Coda’ (1982)This album goes a long way to confirm that when bands choose not release material when they record it, there’s usually a good reason. That’s not to say this is a bad album – it’s nowhere as near as bad as the atrocious In Through The Out Door – but for a Led Zeppelin album, it’s pretty poor.

Released two years after the death of John Bonham, this is Page’s way to get out of a contractual agreement (they owed Atlantic Records a fifth album from when they started the Swan Song label to release their own work). The songs are mostly left-over pieces that didn’t quite make the albums they were originally recorded for, together with a couple of live tracks (where they’ve removed any audience noise, to make them sound like they were recorded in a studio).

The real issue is that the album is very disjointed, which you would expect from an album that collects songs from across their entire career, from 1969 through to 1978. There are also a few notable omissions – Baby Come On Home and Travelling Riverside Blues, which would eventually surface on Boxed Set in 1990 and Boxed Set 2 in 1993, and are better than anything included here.

Hit: We’re Gonna Groove

Hidden Gem: Bonzo’s Montreaux