A whole lotta Zep

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 27, 2014
Photo by: Atlantic Recording Corp. This is the reverse image of the famous cover of the first Led Zeppelin album.

Owls Head — Led Zeppelin by Led Zeppelin (1969/2014, Atlantic, 2 CDs, 117 min.). For the second time, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page has remastered the group's catalog, having first done so in 1993. The first three albums have been reissued this month in various configurations, with the most exciting part being that each has a companion disc available for the deluxe and super deluxe versions.

It was in 1968 that drummer John Bonham, bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant joined forces. Over the next decade, they sold more than 300 million albums worldwide and created a couple dozen classic tracks. From the first guitar strokes and the drumming on the opening "Good Times Bad Times," a wailing blues song, on their 1969 debut album, listeners knew they were in for a treat. A classic sound was born. Other highlights of the debut album include the rock classics "Dazed and Confused" (6:28 long, but expanded to 15 minutes on the live companion disc) and the Who-ish "Communication Breakdown." Plant showed how dominant his voice could become on the softer "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," a fine track with organ and harmonica solos. Page's guitar is sleek on a cover of Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me" blues, and there is a gorgeous organ start to "Your Time Is Gonna Come." The folkish "Black Mountain Slide," performed with tabla, was another sign of Zeppelin's future.

The companion disc is a 71-minute concert recorded Oct. 10, 1969 at the Olympia in Paris. It is an excellent show, with great instrumental interplay between the band members. The extended "Dazed and Confused" is a highlight, and there are  tastes of the second album, released later that month, in "Moby Dick," with its lengthy drum solo, and "Heartbreaker." Grade: original album and live disc, both A

The six configurations for each album are: single CD of the remastered original album; deluxe 2-CD edition with the companion disc of unreleased material and a 16-page photo-filled booklet; digital downloads of both discs; single vinyl album; deluxe vinyl version of both discs; and super deluxe box set, with both discs on CD and vinyl, a download card; a 70-page hardbound book; a high-quality print of the original album cover; and, for the first album, a copy of the band's original Atlantic press kit.

Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin (1969/2014, Atlantic, 2 CDs, 74 min.). The band wrote and recorded nearly all of its even better second album while touring relentlessly to support its debut. It opens with one of the band's best songs, "Whole Lotta Love," one of the top rock songs of all time. (I remember how impressed I was, after buying the original album, that the sound traveled from speaker to speak on the track. Other classics are the rocker "Heartbreaker," which leads right into the unexpected upbeat pop of "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)," and "Ramble On ," with its acoustic guitar and folkish start.

Also on the album are the dynamic ballad, "What Is and What Should Never Be, with vocal distortion; the bluesy "The Lemon Song" (its classic lyric goes: "I should have quit you such a long time ago"); and the jaunty closer, "Bring It on Home." The companion disc features eight alternate versions -- usually rough mixes -- and a highlight is the nice backing track for "Thank You." There also is the backing track for  "La La," which never made it to an album. Of the rough mix with vocals version of "Whole Lotta Love" here, Plant says, "This version of 'Whole Lotta Love' is the mix down from the night that we recorded it, so it doesn't have any of the overdubs that everyone will be familiar with." Grade: original album A+; companion disc A-

Led Zeppelin III by Led Zeppelin (1970/2014, Atlantic, 2 CDs, 85 min.). For the third album, Page and Plant took to the Bron-Y-Aur cottage in Wales to start the songwriting. After being joined by Bonham and Jones for rehearsals, the album was recorded at London's Olympic Studios. Highlights include the opening "Immigrant Song," an example of the album's heavy acoustic approach, and the bluesy wail of "Since I've Been Loving You." In fact, the album goes overboard on the acoustic material, including a cover of the traditional "Gallows Pole," "Friends," the draggy "Tangerine" and nearly as draggy "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp." The album also has a basher in "Out on the Tiles," a very good, soft and heart-felt "That's the Way" (about the ending of a friendship) and old-time blues on the traditional "Hats Off to (Roy Harper)."

The companion disc is basically an alternate version of the album, minus tracks seven, nine and 10. There is an instrumental version of "Friends," a nice rough mix of "Since I've Been Loving You," "That's the Way" with a dulcimer, traditional blues in Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," and nearly six minutes of guitar overdubs pieced together. Among the unheard material is "Jennings Farm Blues," and instrumental forerunner of "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp," and "Bathroom Sound," an instrumental version of "Out on the Tiles." Grade: original album B+; companion disc B

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine by The Doors (1972, Elektra/Rhino/DMC, 2 CDs). This is the first CD release of The Doors' 1972 compilation, the first released after vocalist Jim Morrison's death in 1971. The 22 songs cover recordings made from 1967 to 1971 by the original quartet of Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek. The double album has been remastered by the band's longtime engineer, Bruce Botnick. (The title comes from a lyric in "The End.") The collection includes hits, such as "Break on Through," "Love Her Madly" and "L.A. Woman," to the unexpected, such as "The Spy" from "Morrison Hotel" and "Running Blue" from "The Soft Parade." Other familiar tracks are "Strange Days," "The Wasp (Texas Radio & The Big Beat)" and "Riders of the Storm" (a personal favorite). There also are two single b-sides: "Who Sacred You," which was the flipside of "Wishful Sinful," and a cover of Willie Dixon's "(You Need Meat) Don't Go No Further," which was the b-side of "Love Her Madly." Grade: A-

Live in Holland 1976 by Little Feat (Eagle Vision, CD + DVD, 53 min.). This concert probably remained in the vaults due to some shaky camerawork during "Triple Face Boogie" and the band racing through its closing numbers; however, the performance at the famous Dutch PinkPop Festival on June 7, 1976 does capture the band's classic lineup performing some of its best-known tracks, including four tracks from the album "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" (a fifth, "Oh, Atlanta," is the only track that appears just on the CD). The lineup includes band founders, guitarist/vocalist Lowell George (formerly of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention) and keyboardist Bill Payne, with guitarist/vocalist Paul Barrere, drummer Richie Hayward, percussionist Sam Clayton and bassist Kenny Gradney.

The band created an invigorating blend of rock and roll, blues, country, folk, soul and jazz, all with a Dixified twist. A prime example here is the instrumental opening to "Fat Man in the Bathtub" from "Dixie Chicken." George is in exceptional form, particularly on slide guitar, as on the bluesy "Cold Cold Cold." There is wonderful interplay between guitarist Barrere and keyboardist Payne (he of the dirty pants on this occasion), as "Cold Cold Cold" turns into "Dixie Chicken." Barrere and George have a guitar duo during the extended jam. Three numbers are from the album "Sailin' Shoes," while "One Love Stand" and "All That You Dream" are previews  of that year's "The Last Record Album." Grade: B+

Rad Gumbo: The Complete Warner Bros. Years 1971 to 1990 by Little Feat (Warner, 13 CDs). This must collection includes 12 albums, include the deluxe two-edition of the live "Waiting for Columbus" and a bonus disc of outtakes from the "Hotcakes" boxed set. Band co-leader Lowell George died in 1979, at the much-too-soon age of 34 due to a heart attack.

The acclaimed first two albums, "Little Feat" and "Sailin' Shoes," were recorded by the original lineup, including co-founders guitarist/vocalist George and keyboardist Bill Payne. When the group reformed in 1972, Paul Barrere was added as a second guitarist and Sam Clayton as percussionist. Kenny Gradney was the replacement bassist. The sound turned a bit towards New Orleans funk on "Dixie Chicken," while "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" tried to capture the energy of their live shows in the studio. With 1975's "The Last Record Album," Barrere and Payne followed their newly-developed interest in jazz-rock; however, George was less interested in that style and his songwriting for the band dwindled. After the acclaimed live album, "Waiting for Columbus," was released in 1978, George worked on the album "Down on the Farm," but then said the band had disbanded. That album was finished after George's death, which occurred while he was touring in support of his only solo album.

"Hoy-Hoy!" was a collection of rare outtakes and live recordings, released in 1981. The surviving members of Little Feat reformed in 1987, adding songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Craig Fuller (formerly with Pure Prairie League). This lineup had a hit with the album "Let in Roll," but Warner Bros. broke ties with the band after "Representing the Mambo," which the label thought was too jazzy. (There have been five albums since then which are not included in this collection as they were for other labels.) Grade: box set A

The Complete Albums 1970-1978 by Black Sabbath (Warner Bros., 8 CDs). If you do not have all the albums already -- and what heavy metal fan would not -- here is an easy and compact way to get them. Sabbath was formed in 1978 in Manchester, England with Tony Iommi as the guitarist and main songwriter, Geezer Butler as the bassist and main lyricist, Ozzy Osbourne as the vocalist and Ward Butler as the drummer. They began as the blues band Earth, but soon added occult theme and tuned-down guitars. It was doom and gloom, but tremendously catchy. The Black Sabbath name came from the 1963 film of the same name by director Mario Brava that starred Boris Karloff. Osbourne and Butler then wrote the song "Black Sabbath," based on the work of horror and adventure writer Dennis Wheatley. And so, in effect, the band tried to create musical horror films.

The first two albums, "Black Sabbath" and "Paranoid," were commercial successes despite sharp criticism; however, "Paranoid" has subsequently proved to be one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Album three, "Master of Reality," followed quickly and contained the band's first acoustic songs. With "Black Sabbath Vol. 4" (name changed from "Snowblind" at the last minute by Warner Bros. due to that song being about cocaine usage), the band started to vary its textures, using synthesizers and strings. Rick Wakeman of Yes played on "Sabbra Cadabra," which appeared on the fifth album, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." The band returned to pure rock for "Sabotage," but in 1976, during the work on "Technical Ecstasy," Osbourne began to lose interest in the band. Osbourne finally quit the band just before work started on "Never Say Die!," the final album included in this box. Osbourne did finally return to make the album, but he was fired by Iommi in 1979 (alleged heavy drinking and drug usage played a part in the decision). So this box set includes all the original Sabbath albums with Osbourne, before the band turned to the late Ronnie James Dio as its vocalist. Grade: box set B+

Giants and Gems: An Album Collection by The Stranglers (Parlophone/Warner import, 11 CDs). In celebration of the band's 40th anniversary comes this box set of 11 full albums. The band emerged from the mid-Seventies British punk rock scene and has had 23 top 40 singles in the UK and 17 top 40 albums in the UK. They never really made it big in America, but they were one of my favorite bands, around the time of "Rattus Norvegicus" and "No More Heroes," the first two albums in this set. The early lineup included guitarist/vocalist Hugh Cornwell, bassist/vocalist Jean-Jacques Burnel (very melodic playing) and drummer Jet Black. Keyboardist Dave Greenfield quickly replaced the original keyboardist (this was a time when keyboards were not part of punk bands, and the group got some punk criticism for having to literate lyrics). Eventually, they fit more in the alternative rock category.

The band changed its keyboard sound for the fifth album here, "The Raven," which features more complicated and multi-layered songs. US fans will know that "The Raven" was never released in this country. Its songs deal with such subjects as a Viking's lonely voyage, heroin addiction, genetic engineering, contemporary political events in Iran and Australia and extraterrestrial visitors. The compilation, "The Stranglers IV" (not included here) was released in America instead. Expanding on the song "Meninblack" on "The Raven" was the concept album "The Gospel According to the Meninblack," again about extraterrestrial visitors and religious phenomena. In 1981, they issued another concept album, "La Folie," this time the subject being love. Its single, "Golden Brown," became the band's biggest hit.

The band left EMI and its next for albums (not included here) were released by Epic. Then in 1990, Cornwell left the band to pursue a solo career. Five more studio albums and a live album followed Cornwell's departure. This box set contains the next album, 2006's "Suite XVI" (a pun on "sweet 16" and the fact that it was the band's 16th album). The final album here, "Giants," was released in 2012. Additionally, this collection has two live albums, "Live (X Cert)" and "Live at the Hope and Anchor" (1977), plus a rarities collection, called "Off the Beaten Track," with 13 tracks, from 1977 to 1982. Grade: box set A-

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