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Whole lotta Led, as songs don’t remain the same


Good Times, Bad Times: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in concert in 1985

Good Times, Bad Times: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in concert in 1985

Good Times, Bad Times: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in concert in 1985

This was a few years before a hustle bustle in your hedgerow and a spring clean for the May queen - and the world domination that awaited them. Led Zeppelin's debut album didn't exactly illicit hosannas of praise in some quarters upon its release in 1969. Rolling Stone magazine infamously labelled it "a waste", before going on to demolish front-man Robert Plant for his "strained and unconvincing shouting", whatever about guitarist Jimmy Page as "a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs". Not that long after this review, Led Zep turned their band into a rock behemoth that bestrode the universe like The Beatles did in the decade before them, albeit on a lot more drugs.

Theirs is an epic tale of drugs, decadence and US groupies giving mud-sharks their most intimate embrace. In Trampled Under Foot, Barney Hoskyns' oral history of the group, the making of the Physical Graffiti album in 1975 at Headley Grange is recounted in full. Drummer John Bonham brought 1,500 Mandrax pills with him, which he happily taped to the inside of his drums to hide them from Mr Plant. (Not the cleverest of moves as the drums were perspex plastic, but there you go.) Indeed when Plant came into the studio one afternoon, he noticed the permanently whacked Bonham playing a "nice driving tempo - really laid back sort of shoom shoom on the kit. "And we thought, 'Mandrax?'

Plant pondered aloud of the classic riff that would soon develop into one of Led Zeppelin's most enduring songs, Kashmir. Overall, the story of Zeppelin was like something out of an X-rated version of the Bible; with Plant as the messianic, bare-chested prophet from Wolverhampton and Page as the Aleister Crowley devotee who sold his soul to the devil for magic chords to the Delta blues.

Devotees of The Zep will possibly have everything that the band have put out down through the years. There is still a bit of excitement ­(whatever about a bustle in the hedgerow) with the recent release of remastered Deluxe Editions of Led Zeppelin's first three albums - I, II, III.

These sonically souped-up gems include a second disc with unreleased tracks (La La, Bathroom Sound, aka an instrumental version of Out On the Tiles), studio alternate tracks and out-takes.

"The material on the companion discs presents a portal to the time of the recording of Led Zeppelin," says Page. "It is a selection of work in progress with rough mixes, backing tracks, alternate versions, and new material recorded at the time." In parts, it does sound a bit Karaoke. Or at least a bit like a Led Zepp tribute band fronted the actual band themselves.

Perhaps this is Plant's real argument for not reforming the band - that the sight and sound of him screeching out Black Dog like a chubby choirboy on smack might fatally tarnish the legacy of the band.

I mean, does the world, apart from Jack White, really need to hear the backing tracks to Thank You, Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman) and Moby Dick? Those minor quibbles apart, there are some moments worth the trip down memory lane.. Jennings Farm Blues, which is a slightly mad jam cum forerunner to Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, is a hoot, as is the raw Immigrant Song. Whole Lotta Love is intriguing to listen to played this way. As Mojo magazine put it, listening to this version of the track "without the chorus is brilliantly disorientating. A minimalistic and yet utterly revelatory version." Almost as revelatory is Plant rhapsodising on Trouble In Mind: "I eat my breakfast in California / I eat my dinner in Carolina."

It sounds suspiciously like the Led Zeppelin world tour that Jimmy Page wants so badly but Plant doesn't.

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