Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin ll, Led Zeppelin lll-Deluxe Editions
5 out of 5 stars
Don’t let the non-descript titles of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums, or the short two year span that spawned them, distract you from their significance in the rich legacy of rock. Jimmy Page’s “new Yardbirds” project hit the ground running mixing acoustic folk with thunderous blues rocking and a dose of psychedelia, remarkably none of which has aged over the four decades since their 1969-’70 release.
Little more needs to be emphasized about the lasting importance of these prototypes other than this third reissue tweaks the sound with Page’s new remastering revealing nuances in the playing and arrangements that further enhance their already substantial historical cachet. The current upgrade– available in multiple formats including a wallet bursting super deluxe edition which adds a vinyl platter along with a full monty of knickknacks– also features a second disc of long awaited extras.
The band’s 1969 debut is expanded with a previously rare concert from Paris in October of that year. Even though the second album was released the same month, the gig finds the foursome running through most of the first disc’s tunes including a thunderous 15 minute “Dazed and Confused,” already a Page showstopper, nearly 12 more of “You Shook Me” and the guitarist’s solo centerpiece “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” that displays his explorations into Indian scales and acoustic side roads.
The supplementary music tacked onto Zepp ll collects some raw backing tracks, rough mixes and out takes, generally similar to what ended up on the final version. Still, any peek we can get into the making of this enduring classic is a treat and even if the one unreleased rehearsal track “La La” is more a studio jam than an actual song, there’s a youthful energy and cohesiveness to the performance that shows how tough and resilient these guys were, even in the sometimes sterile environs of the studio.
Zepp lll is rightly considered the most acoustic oriented of their catalog. It displays that side well in the gorgeous “Tangerine,” the slide guitar driven Delta blues of “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” and the galloping revamp of the traditional “Gallows Pole.” But there was plenty of plugged in rocking with the tricky, nearly prog time changes of “Out on the Tiles,” the opening salvo of the unforgettable “Immigrant Song” riff and the jittery “Celebration Day.” Newly unearthed selections such as a four minute take of blues standards “Key to the Highway/Trouble in Mind” strips the band down to just Page’s acoustic and Plant’s vocals with harp. An early attempt at “Bron-y-Aur Stomp” gets plugged in and renamed “Jennings Farm Blues” and the rest are slight variations that pad out the playing time and justify the inflated price point of a second disc.
These three albums have become essential threads in the fabric of hard rock, so the additional material will be gobbled up by Zepp’s many dedicated followers. But those new to the diverse pleasures of this music can suffice with the debut’s riveting live show and pass on the rest in hopes of better unreleased riches as the balance of the upgraded catalog is parceled out in future months.