The Zeppelin re-issues - what to do?
**** update 06/10/2014 see below
We have been hearing about the Led Zeppelin re-issues for a couple years now. Today, details finally emerged. There is the band's official site, of course. However, they just show pics and prices. The links go to Amazon and there are no details there, either. I wanted to know exactly what do I get? Fortunately, this site has the details. My dilemma is should I get them? More importantly, should you?
I have the entire Zepp catalog. Thing is, I don't really listen to them anymore. It isn't that I am sick of it, or outgrown it. It is not even that I am bored of it... I don't think. It is just that I listened to so much of it that it is hardwired into me. Example: you have Zeppelin 4 sitting over there somewhere. When was the last time you popped it in to listen to it? I bet it's been ten years. The songs are great, but they have so become a fiber of my being that listening is almost redundant. So, the remastering isn't enough of a grab for me. With the remaster I will listen to each disc once. I will think "oh, that does sound better". Then, it will go back on the wall and never be touched again.
Like all re-issues, for me it comes down to the extras, and is it worth it to me. So, let's pick one and take a look.
The first release of re-issues is the first 3 albums. They are each separate, and each come with one bonus disc. Jimmy Page is handling all of this, and he promised new unreleased stuff. I am suspicious of this, though, because he told me there were none left. In fact, in the entire canon of Zeppelin, there have been only 2 songs that emerged as unreleased from the studio albums. Page busted those out for the last box set. The first one is 'Hey Hey What can I do?'. Now, that is a brilliant and terrific song. I can't imagine why that didn't make the cut. The other is 'Traveling Riverside Blues'. This is just ok, and we can see why it never got a proper release on a studio album. It seems strange that a band with 12 years and 10 records out only had 2 songs stashed away.
So, these new undiscovered songs he is offering... frankly they can't be that good. If they were, he would have mined them long ago. That's ok, though, because the first disc set has a bonus live CD companion audio disc:
Live at the Olympia – Paris, France, October 10, 1969
1. Good Times Bad Times/Communication Breakdown
2. I Can't Quit You Baby
4. Dazed and Confused
5. White Summer/Black Mountain Side
6. You Shook Me
7. Moby Dick
8. How Many More Times
Now, this interests me. Led Zeppelin was amazing live. They changed the game. I have a ton of Zeppelin bootlegs, and the early stuff is pretty rough. I am much more interested in what emerges with Physical Graffiti. To me, that is the absolute peak of the band on every level. Because I know Zeppelin's live catalog intimately, I can tell you the disc above likely won't be great.
Dazed and Confused will go on for 40 minutes. You Shook Me and How Many More Times will each likely be about 20 minutes. Same with Moby Dick. To me, that is just a bunch of filler. Another thing to consider is live music recording sucked in 1969. It is likely 2 channel, at best. What does that mean? It means each instrument didn't have its own recording track (like it does in the studio). So, everything is jammed on to 2 tracks. So, vocals and guitars on are one, and drums and bass are on the other. The limitations of this means if you want to turn up the vocals, you can't do it without turning up the guitars. They can't be separated. That is why there is virtually no live music releases from the 60's. Dylan released a bunch, but it is mostly one track. That's ok for him, since it is just him and guitar.
Luckily for music fans, Owsley from the Grateful Dead later pioneered all live recording in the early 70's. However, in 1969 Led Zeppelin likely had no interest in what a bunch of wasted hippies from San Francisco were doing. Remember, until American Beauty came out in 1970, the Dead's studio albums were just psychedelic dreck. Their breakthrough and totally insane 'wall of sound' was still 6 years off. So, I will say without qualification that the sound of these early Zeppelin shows is likely shitty.
On the other hand, we are getting access to behind the curtain of the greatest rock band of all time. Zeppelin influenced everything, and everything about me as a musician. So, I would be a fool not check this out. Let's look at the potential positives: Maybe it is brilliantly restored. Maybe it has a dope ass 20 page booklet. I hope Page engaged Rhino records. They are AMAZING at packaging and re-issuing stuff. If I knew Rhino was involved, I would buy all three no questions asked.***** see update at bottom
The other two current released (Zepp 2 and Zepp 3) also come out the same day. Now, those also come with bonus discs, but they aren't live shows. So, they are likely outtakes and different versions of known songs. Here is my plan, I will buy at least the first release. They don't come out until June. I will review them here. I tend not to wait on this stuff, so I will have it the day it comes out, and I'll have something up here within a day or two. So, check back and I will give you the scoop. If I am impressed, I will buy the other two.
To be honest, though, I don't expect to be. The real treasures are yet to come with their later material.
Imagine if we could get an official and cleaned up release of 'Destroyer', their legendary Cleveland show from 1977. That is the kind of box set I want to see. This is the uber Zeppelin live concert. Find a bootleg of this if you are a Zepp fan. It shows the genius of their playing, their catalog... the works.
*** update - I mentioned up above that the deal breaker for me would be if Rhino records was involved. They are a record company or distributor or something. They specialize in only putting out re-releases of super old stuff. You may be thinky hacky and exploitive. Wrong. They are AMAZING. Being 42, most of my music collection is at least 20 years old. Well, Rhino takes these old collections and brings them to life. new art, new interviews and essays, remastererd records, HUGE booklets.... seeing 'Rhino' on the box literally tells me if it is worth the price. If Rhino is involved, so am I. I literally stake my name on these guys.
*** update update - I went out and bought Zepp lll remaster. I am disappointed, here is why. I went to best buy, and the packaging is very confusing. For the sake of artiness, you can't tell from the packaging which ones are single discs and which ones are double. Plus, I thought they were all double discs. So, I plunked down my cash and just got the studio disc - no bonus. I am bummed. Also, I listened to the discs and they sound exactly the same as the original. I am nuts about music and ALL the details... I noticed absolutely nothing about the new release sonically. Usually, a remaster gets you better low ends, and a crisper treble.
So, don't buy the new ones just to update your collection. The only incentive is the bonus discs. That piece, I blame on myself. And you. Mostly you.