The Last Flight of Led Zeppelin by John The Rock Doctor

PRESENCE/ IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR/ CODA: DELUXE REISSUES Led Zeppelin (Warner) ******“It was an April morning when they told us we should go/ As I turned to you, you smiled at me- how could we say no?”  With those words, the opening line from Achilles Last Stand, Led Zeppelin’s final flight is underway.  Jimmy Page concludes his massive reissue campaign of Led Zeppelin’s studio output in spectacular fashion with deluxe reissues of the band’s final 3 releases; Presence, originally issued in 1976, the keyboard heavy In Through The Out Door from 1979, and 1982’s Coda, a collection of odds & sods to fulfill a contractual obligation.  As a fan of roughly 45 years’ standing, I’m happier than a pig in… well, you know.OVERALLWhy re-master and re-release these and the other albums at all?  Weren’t the original versions good enough?  Well, not really.  Recording technology and the way we listen to music has changed so much over the years that re-visiting them in this way is a sensible thing to do.  Let me put it this way; if you remember cassette tapes, think of the original recordss as ‘normal’ quality cassettes- certainly enjoyable for what they were. In comparison, these deluxe reissues are chrome cassettes; more sonic headroom, higher highs and lower lows, more detail.  Some may not notice or even care about that difference, and fair enough- but those of us that do notice appreciate being able to hear aspects of our favorite music that we may not have noticed before.When the world transitioned from vinyl to CD’s, Jimmy Page re-tweaked the eq on the Led Zeppelin catalogue to bring them up to date for the new platform- but that was over twenty years ago, and technology has moved on.  He felt that now was the opportune time to overhaul the entire catalogue once more- after all, who to better oversee such a Herculean task than the guy that produced the originals and wrote or co-wrote most of the songs?  His search for bonus material- rough mixes, demoes and such- was exhaustive and, as he noted in an interview at, with this whole reissue campaign he has doubled the amount of Led Zeppelin studio material available.“it’s really wonderful” he said recently at, of the way  the reissues have been received. “The response to it, right from the first three releases, was just so strong in every area, from the vinyl through to the extra content- far more than I even imagined.  It brings a lot of joy to people’s lives, and that’s great.” No matter how you listen to music these days, the albums and extra tracks have been re-mastered with you in mind- for vinyl, compact disc, and digital formats.  I received the digital versions of the Presence, In Through The Out Door and Coda reissues Wednesday from Warner in order to write this article- but by the weekend I’ll have been to the local HMV to purchase the CD versions.  While these albums as well as the previous reissues of the past year are all available in deluxe box sets with vinyl, CD and digital versions included, along with extras like a cool booklet, at an average price of $160 per that’s too rich for my blood. I MUST have the physical product, so I’ve bought all the cd versions of the previous sets and am collecting the standard albums on vinyl one at a time, working diligently to replenish my record collection with music that really matters to me.PRESENCEReleased in 1976, this is the band’s most guitar driven record since Led Zeppelin II, and though Robert, Jimmy and John Paul might cringe, it’s hard not to think of it as heavy metal.  It was recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany in three weeks, under trying circumstances.  In the months previous Robert Plant and his wife had been in a serious car accident on the Greek island of Rhodes.  Plant had suffered multiple leg fractures and sang many of the vocals on this record from a wheelchair.Presence is the sound of determination, of Zeppelin not letting circumstances stay them from their course. “Lots of fist-banging on the table” is how Plant has described the vibe of the record, which contains some of the band’s strongest performances across their catalogue.  The opening track Achilles Last Stand, is a tour de force- the sound of a band up against the wall, and a wonderful, dense example of sheer stamina.  As a drummer it’s one song I used to want to play on stage, just to see if I could, but never had the chance.  Ten minutes might not sound like a long time, but it sure as hell is when you’re playing this hard.  Achilles, Royal Orleans and their rock hard version of the blues standard Nobody’s Fault But Mine are all friggin’ excellent and the band never sounded more alive.As with the other deluxe reissues, this comes with a disc worth of bonus tracks; in this case reference mixes of many of the songs on the album, sort of a peek behind the wizard’s curtain at works in progress.  For real fans this is the fun part, getting to hear some of our favorites in ways that we never have before… like the version of Hots On For Nowhere with no reverb on the vocal, and other tracks with fewer overdubs (or different overdubs) that really open them up.The star of the companion disc is the previously unheard keyboard-driven instrumental with the curious title of 10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod) (reference mix), far too mellow to have fit with the other tracks on the original album.  i also enjoyed the reference mix of Royal Orleans.  It’s one of my favorite songs from the album proper, but what makes this version a standout is the guide vocal. It’s certainly not Plant… my guess is it’s John Bonham, but I asked the president of Warner Music Canada and he’s not sure either.  Each band member brought different influences to the table and Bonham was a James Brown fan.  My guess is his guide vocal (if it is him) is meant to give Plant an idea of the cadence and rhythm the final vocal should take.IN THROUGH THE OUT DOORThis record, originally issued in 1979, is quite different from every Led Zeppelin album that had come before it, but then again the same could be said of every Zeppelin set.  Throughout their career they endeavored to make each LP different from the last, and with its keyboard dominant sound it certainly is that.  In Through The Out Door also has the dubious and unintentional distinction of being Zeppelin’s final studio record before the untimely death of drummer John Bonham.Jimmy Page has previously expressed reservations about this album, but when asked by The Guardian whether he still felt unsure about the album his reply was “No- not really.  It’s what it was in the space of time.  I would say that out of the whole of the catalogue that one seems to date quicker than the others, but I don’t want to take anything away from it.  It is what it is.  We did some extraordinary singing and playing on it.” Recorded in about three weeks at Leif Mases’ studio in Stockholm, fans have speculated over the years that its keyboard-heavy sound may have been due to Page’s absence while battling drug addiction, but he says that’s just not true.  Jimmy says that John Paul Jones had just purchased a new Yamaha keyboard like the one Stevie Wonder had, with all kinds of bells and whistles that had inspired John to compose entire songs.  Previously JPJ had collaborated with his bandmates, but In Through The Out Door saw him bringing in completed songs (except lyrics) for the first time, and there was no reason not to use them.  Some of these songs, like All Of My Love and In The Evening, remain rock radio staples even today.As a fan of guitar driven rock this is my least favorite Zeppelin record but that’s not to say I don’t like it and I’m sure many others that feel the same way.  This was a very different Led Zeppelin- navigating difficult musical waters at the dawn of the punk movement and responding to it not by jumping on the bandwagon, but by doing something completely different.  It’s as if they were saying “We’re Led fuckin’ Zeppelin- deal with it, bitches!”The companion disc for this one is made entirely of rough mixes of existing album tracks which makes it the least revelatory of the bonus materials for all three of today’s albums.  The standout track here is the rough mix of Hot Dog– the idea of Zeppelin going country tickles my fancy, but Page’s guitar playing on the rough mix is markedly steadier here than on the version that made the album.  Perhaps he had messed with the album take to try and make it sound more ‘country’, but for my money the rough mix is better.CODAIn September of 1980, the band were rehearsing at Jimmy’s house for the upcoming American leg of their American tour.  After drinking over 70 double vodkas throughout the day, drummer John Bonham went to sleep on his back.  With nobody there to roll him over when he started throwing up, he asphyxiated on his own vomit and was found dead hours later by John Paul Jones.  Just like that, the band was over.According to Jimmy Page, he was contractually obligated to provide one more Zeppelin studio album, which resulted 2 years later in Coda- a rag tag gathering of leftover tracks from previous sessions plus a live version of I Can’t Quit You Baby recorded at sound check. At the time, perhaps naively so, many of us assumed this was the final word on Led Zeppelin- but as guitarist/producer/ historian/ curator Jimmy Page has proven over the last year, we were spectacularly wrong.In the press he’s been doing to promote this final wave of reissues Page has been referring to this as “the mother of all Codas”, and I think that’s a timid assessment of this particular set.  The original version of Coda released in 1982 was 8 tracks, but this reissue comes with not one but TWO discs of companion audio, an extra 15 tracks in all.  As Coda itself was made up of various cuts from other album sessions that’s where these 15 bonus cuts come from too, making this the most extensive and ultimately satisfying of the three releases being examined here today.There are some real musical revelations on these two discs that will delight fans and make them squeal like Ned Flanders, like the early (and quite different) version of When The Levee Breaks titled If It Keeps On Raining. It sounds like an arrangement of the song that Jimmy and Robert might have considered for their Un-Led-ed project, or perhaps a way for Plant and his current band to approach the song.  Other gems on the companion discs include the original recordings with The Bombay Symphony Orchestra for Four Sticks (called Four Hands here) and Friends.  Another tasty bit is the guitar break from Bring It On Home, including a blues harp solo.With so many highlights in this package it’s tempting to just list them all.  Particularly enjoyable are the in-progress mix of Bonzo’s Montreux, the instrumental version if Poor Tom and the previously unreleased Saint Tristan’s Sword. But what really has fans excited, I think, is the inclusion of the previously hard-to-find Hey, Hey What Can I Do, which was the B-side of the Immigrant Song single and should have been included with the Zeppelin III reissue. I found the song years ago, ordering a CD replica of that single from God knows where, just to own the tune that I’d heard Plant refer to on the old “Rockline” radio show as “Our attempt at being Barry Manilow.”  I also remembered it from the juke boxes of the 70’s.  Hey- once a music nerd, always a music nerd.Baby Come On Home is from sessions for the first record and previously only available on Box Set II.  Also recorded for the first album but not included was Sugar Mama, where we get to hear a young Robert Plant finding himself as a singer.With that the vault is clean and the doors closed for good.  With all of the re-releases Jimmy Page has reminded us of what a great band Led Zeppelin was, and why they will always matter.  Rolling this program out in stages was strategically brilliant too- getting us excited as we absorbed each wave, and building anticipation for each subsequent set.It’s time now for Page to turn his focus to other creative pursuits, he’s earned it.  Jimmy has hinted that he has new music in the works and is perhaps putting a band together to do live work, and he’ll enjoy himself immensely when that happens.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me pointing out, though, that his legacy will always be the music of Led Zeppelin- the hundreds of hours of research and staggering attention to detail that has resulted in this magnificent reissue campaign indicates that he is very aware of it, and that he’s good with that too.  My heartfelt thanks to you then, Jimmy, for the many years of groundbreaking and unforgettable music, and for the many  hours of work that went into these deluxe re-issues.  Well done, sir- spectacularly well done.

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