Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (review)

Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same (Swan Song/Warner) (remastered)

The black sheep of the Zeppelin cannon gets the deluxe edition treatment, but – what’s wrong with it?

There’s a reason that The Song Remains the Same is the last album in the Led Zeppelin catalog to get remastered.  The band has been very frank in their opinion of their original live album; Robert Plant even calling it “a load of rubbish” at one point.  It was recorded at the end of a long tour in 1973 and issued largely without the band’s consent in time for the Christmas holiday of 1976. So is it really that bad?

First of all, The Song Remains the Same holds a special place in many fans’ hearts because it was, for millions of people, their first taste of their favorite band in concert.  It also was the soundtrack to the movie of the same name, which began making the rounds of late-night movie theaters several years after its release.  The film is still Zeppelin at its peak, both musically and in terms of excess.  So, how does it hold up years later?

Well, Jimmy Page, the forever perfectionist, has taken the original tapes and remixed them, giving everything more punch and bass (the original album was definitely tinny).  He also took Bonham’s drums, which were spread out in the original mix (and were distracting), and folded them back to mono, making them sound bigger than ever.  But, Page didn’t stop there.

He also drew from all three nights at Madison Square Garden, and with the help of digital editing, he was able to improve things immensely.  For instance, Robert Plant’s voice cracks during the opening notes of “Rock and Roll” on the original album, but it’s been fixed in the new version.  Check out the first time he sings “lonely, lonely time” – he originally sounded hoarse.  Now, Plant sounds gritty, even pissed off.

Then, just mixing the tracks better makes for a better listen.  “The Rain Song” seems to be the same performance from the LP, yet it breathes more and omits some of the silly effects that were put on Plant’s voice.

“Dazed and Confused” gets a makeover.  In the original version, about the 4:00 mark, there’s an obvious edit where the tempo increases.  Here, it sounds much more natural (likely taken from another performance).  Now, a song clocking in at close to a half hour is certainly a product of the times – the lengthy Jimmy Page “bow solo” is an acquired taste for sure and better saved to be watched in the film.

Another lengthy piece, “No Quarter,” is actually shorter in this new remaster by about 2 minutes, cutting out some of the highly-unnecessary funky jam in the middle.

“Stairway to Heaven” pulls a different lead vocal at the beginning, sounding more confident.  Yet, there’s no hiding the haggard voice by the end of the song, and they left that in.  For drummer John Bonham’s showcase, “Moby Dick,” they use parts of a different performance, which is two minutes shorter in length and ends with Plant exclaiming  over and over “John Bonham, John Bonham”!

Sure, there are still times when the band sounds bleary-eyed: Plant’s voice will crack, Page will play a solo that seems to go nowhere, or Jones and Bonham won’t be locked in quite like they should.  But, there’s a human element to these imperfections: this was Zeppelin at their peak and it was tearing them to pieces.  The good parts far outweigh the bad, and the band still sounds gigantic throughout.  The Song Remains the Same, despite any revisionist history, is still the definitive document of Led Zeppelin at their peak. —Tony Peters