REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – The Complete Studio Recordings

A photo-heavy review for you today folks, enjoy the goodness!  This one goes out to Rich, from KamerTunesBlog, a collection of detailed journeys through the discographies of many great artists.

LED ZEPPELIN – The Complete Studio Recordings (1993 10 CD Atlantic box set)

It’s funny to read some of the complaints about this box set on sites like Amazon! “The Song Remains the Same isn’t included!” Well, correct. It’s called Complete STUDIO Recordings, not Complete Live Recordings. “The artwork is too small!” Well, it’s a CD, not an LP. I’m of the belief that you can’t go wrong buying the Zeppelin LPs in mint condition.  Much like Kiss or Alice Cooper, Zeppelin often gave you extra bang for your LP buck (more on that later). “Presence and Coda suck!” Well, I’m sorry if you feel that way, but this is the COMPLETE Studio Recordings, not the Personal Favourite Studio Recordings.

ZEPPELIN COMPLT_0015

Anyway, I listened to the entire box set last weekend once again, and it’s always nice to revisit Zeppelin’s back catalogue in that way. After all, each album is a portrait of where they were at that time, and are truly best when played as complete albums, not songs on a compilation. Zeppelin I and II are an embrionic, pseudo-heavy metal band with hippy tendencies, but you are immediately blown away by how good this band was. All four members were simply stunning, a raging and ripping Plant included. By Zeppelin III they really started to explore the “light and shade” that Pagey speaks of in the included Cameron Crowe essay. It is a beautiful album. Zeppelin IV of course combines the sounds of the first three together into one multi-platinum work of art.

ZEPPELIN COMPLT_0016After Zeppelin IV, their albums become harder to characterize, but diversity is still key. Much like the Beatles before and Queen after, Zeppelin were not content to be a simple bass/guitar/drums combo. Strings, prototypical tape-based synth, and numerous other instruments are brought in to add to the Zeppelin mosaic. Houses of the Holy contains one of my favourite moments in “No Quarter” which is anchored by John Paul Jones’ keyboard and synth work, a hauntingly beautiful piece. Physical Grafitti contains perhaps their highest achievement in “Kashmir”, but certainly songs like “The Rover” continue the metallic goodness that spawned the band. Presence is an album misunderstood by many, a back-to-basics tour-de-force of power. The very Rush-like “Achiles Last Stand” combines progressive rock tendencies with Plant’s lyrical mysticism. Finally In Through the Out Door represents Pagey taking a step back and Jones filling the gap with modern forward-thinking synthesizer arrangements. “All My Love” is a ballad that came about five years too soon, a Plant/Jones penned masterpiece of beauty. “In The Evening” haunts with Plant’s vocals buried in the mix under cascades of Jonesy’s synth and Page’s whammy bar. “Hot Dog” is a pure country ho-down, and Zeppelin ended their career with the diversity that they started it with. But it doesn’t end there, as an expanded version of Coda is included, an odds-and-sods collection of outtakes. Certainly these are not the absolute greatest of Zeppelin moments, but “Bonzo’s Montreaux” represents the kind of experimentation that Zeppelin were founded on. A sequel of sorts to “Moby Dick”, it is a drum orchestra and worthy of the albums before. The expanded edition includes one of my favourite tracks, Zeppelin’s version of “Traveling Riverside Blues”. Page’s slide guitar is eloquent as it is excellent.

IMG_00000647The packaging is ample.  A thick booklet with photo after photo is included, as well as the aforementioned Cameron Crowe essay. Reading it, you can see where much of Almost Famous came from. Each CD is packaged with a reproduction of each LP’s original artwork. That means, for In Through the Out Door, you get all six covers, plus an image of the paper bag, and the inner sleeve. Zeppelin III gives you a miniature version of “the wheel”, and Physical Graffiti, the “windows”. These are static versions; if only you could manipulate them like the originals, but alas.

Remastering job is OK. I detected what I thought were a couple problems, I thought I heard some tape drop-out. I hate to say it, but maybe the Zeppelin catalogue could use a fresh remastering. 20 years have passed since this was released.  And hey, just in time, Jimmy’s working on remastered deluxe editions of each album!  Stay tuned.

As for the here-and-now, you can either go out and buy each album separately, or you can buy this set. Personally I think this set is the way to go, especially if you care about packaging.  And it’s Zeppelin — you kind of need all the albums, don’t you?  I won’t rate albums individually (that would require a Zeppelin series, something I would like to do) but I can give this box set:

5/5 stars

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36 comments

  1. If I’d seen these amazing photos before now I’d probably have bought this already… but as it stands I’ll wait for the inevitable deluxes if I want to upgrade my Zep collection. I rarely listen to Zep now though, to be honest.

    Can I ask… Travelling Riverside Blues, is that the version that’s on the BBC album or a different recording?

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    1. It is the exact same version. So you’re not missing anything. This is also the same version released as a single back in 1990 for the box set.

      As it stands today this is the best Zeppelin package available. In 2014 I think we will have some very interesting new purchase choices. And 2014 is already shaping up to be an expensive year for me for Transformers purchases. So I’m screwed :)

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      1. Great. I saw the promo video for the track years ago and thought it sounded the same but I wasn’t 100% sure. It’s one of my favourite Zep tracks actually. Love their version of Somethin’ Else on the BBC album too.

        Does that mean there’s lots of Transformer stuff coming out or is it one unfeasibly large and pricey Transformer?

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        1. In my Johnny Cash thread, I explained to FanFigureZero that there is a figure coming out called Computron who is made up of five other figures. Each one will run around $100, or possibly less, but it will be a pricey one to get. And I never had any version of Computron as a kid, so I’d like that a LOT.

          Somethin’ Else was great, and so was The Girl I Love Got Long Black Wavy Hair. And yes the promo video for Riverside is my favourite Zeppelin video of them all.

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        2. I did a quick google as I was writing this review, but I didn’t see anything beyond Jimmy’s promise to do it, and that was about a year ago. But Jimmy’s never let us down, so I’m content to live spoiler-free.

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  2. This is a cool review Mike. For me when Zeppelin broke up I was 13 but a buddy got me onto Zeppelin and the first album I heard as a 13 yr old was zep 3 followed by Coda which I loved but for me it’s always been Physical Graffati man that sound is timeless actually there whole repertoire is timeless cant say that about to many bands of the genre.
    I still will purchase material of there’s if it s different like the live album from last yr with Bonham Jr on the kit..I liked that one but if its more released studio and not unreleased I tend to stay away…but I remember back in 1990 when Page put out that box set man that was incredible buzz I was a first day buyer on that!

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    1. Well man, for me to buy the Zeppelin releases, I’m hoping they would be worthwhile. I would be excited about valuable, quality unreleased recordings from each era, and unreleased/different versions of songs. I don’t expect there to be too much in the way of completely different unheard songs in the vault, but if there are, gimme those too.

      I have faith that Jimmy Page will do the best he can. He is handling these personally.

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  3. Great write-up on a fabulous package, Mike. Zeppelin’s been my favorite artist since I was 12-13 (around ’78-’79), and they’re one of only a handful of artists where every album is essential listening. Your photos of the box really capture its beauty, but even if the packaging was crap it would be a masterpiece due to the mastering (which I really like) and, of course, the music. I was fortunate to get a copy of this for free when it came out, one of the benefits of having worked at Atlantic Records and maintaining friendships there. I also own the individual CDs in replica-LP sleeves, and I believe those are also available in a single box. That set would probably be my recommendation for anyone who doesn’t own the Zeppelin catalog on CD, since you get to experience the original packaging in a fashion closer to the LPs, but you can’t go wrong with either one.

    I eagerly await the expanded editions coming next year. I already own tons of bootlegs, including at least one live recording from every tour, but I’m guessing there will be plenty of material I’ve never heard before. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for surround sound mixes. If they’re included, I hope they hire Steven Wilson to do the mixing & mastering.

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    1. I still own one Zeppelin CD from that series of vinyl replicas, which is The Song Remains the Same. And you’re right, the packaging there is pretty much top drawer for Zeppelin on CD.

      Rich I hope if you hear any good news about future Zeppelin releases you’ll share them with me at once! I will also keep my ear to the ground and eyes on all the music news sites.

      Lastly you mentioned getting this for free from Atlantic. One of our customers did too, just one, and he hung onto it and sold it to us a few years later. He ended up getting $150 for it from us.

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      1. I can’t unload anything from Zeppelin, even if it meant a nice profit (although I did trade in my original CD pressings of their catalog, which sounded awful except for Houses Of The Holy, when the remastered versions came out). I still have a pristine vinyl copy of each album, as well as the replica-LP-packaged CDs & the “Complete Studio Albums” box set, in addition to the original 4-CD box set and the 2-CD set that included remasters of the songs not included on the first box set. So even though I usually don’t do that kind of collecting, with Zeppelin I make an exception (the other artist I do that with is Big Country).

        I will definitely keep you posted if I hear anything about the upcoming expanded sets, but my guess is everyone will hear about them at the same time.

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  4. I’d had most of the albums on CD and sold them off – to you! You tried hard to talk me out of it, but I honestly needed the money at that time. So anyway, I promised to make good and replace them. And when I was ready, I bugged you with a ton of questions about this box, and the crop circle box (which I ultimately bought) versus the single albums. This box set is beautiful, it really is. I really like the look of it, it’s pleasing to the physical (graffitti?) junkie in all of us.

    So (sort of) is the crop-circle box I bought (and the little black Part 2 box to go with it). But if I were completely honest, I should have gone and got the original albums back. No remasters, just the basic old CDs like I had. I played the hell outta those. And the box is great but the tracks are in the wrong order, compared to the records I was used to, so it always messes me up because I think I know what song is coming next and I never do. I honestly think I listen to it less because it’s not in the right order. Does that make me weird? Probably.

    Anyway, I know the box sets have tracks the albums didn’t. Traveling Riverside Blues, for example. Great Robert Johnson track, and they do it well. I think there was another, wasn’t there? Anyway, if I had bought this box set instead of the other two, I would still be saying the same thing. I should’ve gone with my gut and just replaced the albums.

    On a happier note, I now have (I think, I’d have to go count) 5 or 6 of the originals on vinyl, so that’s a win right there. But I’ve no way to get those to my Mac, or the iPod, or into the car or onto my gym-workout mp3 player…

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    1. Damn. I hate to be responsible for that. I have that, and the little 2 CD one, and this. I like them all for different reasons. I still love the crop circles box! I gave that one a pretty review, too.

      Maybe we can work out a deal where those albums somehow magically end up on your Mac. I mean, you own them already…

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      1. Oh man I didn’t mean to write tht up like it was some sort of reproach to you! You were just doing your job, back in the day (and you REALLY did try to dissuade me but I was strapped), and your advice on the box set(s) was sound. They are excellent. It’s just that I have learned, since buying them (and from playing the vinyl LPs that I have), that I really should have just got the records on CD like I had in the beginning, because that was what I was used to hearing. It’s my own weirdness that had nothing to do with your advice!

        Well, if those tracks somehow magically appeared on my Mac, I would create nightly offerings to the Zeppelin G-ds for seeing fit to make a friend of mine their vessel of sharing their bountiful glory…

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        1. Well at least I tried to tell you otherwise. Listen man, it’s all good! But I think we could probably figure out something. And we can look for them in Taranna, and on vinyl.

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        2. You did try. And you were also incredulous that anyone would trade them in. Oh well, live and learn! I still do like the box set. It’s just hard to teach an old dog new tricks, ya know.

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  5. “I mean, Led Zeppelin didn’t write tunes that everybody liked, they left at up to the Bee Gees!” – Wayne Campbell. I would fully support a complete Zeppelin series, that would be great, and hear hear about Kashmir being perhaps their finest!

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    1. Well Stephen I’ll be the first to admit that a Zeppelin series is daunting! But I would like to eventually review every album I own. At my current rate, much like your blog, I will be finished in 10 years!

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      1. And then of course the album collection keeps growing, so you can never quite reach the end of the reviews. Like that paradox where if someone pays you back half the money they owe you every day, the debt never quite reaches zero!
        I felt the 10 years was the right time frame for the 1001 – any quicker I would just be hearing them as opposed to listening, any longer and I would just put it off. The not-too-ambitious timeframe works for me!

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        1. I agree. I have the benefit, in my personal quest, that I have at least heard all my albums before. I’m not going into some completely cold like you are. So for me to write a Zeppelin review (as challenging as that would be) I at least know the songs and could probably do a pretty decent half-assed review just by looking at the song titles.

          I think I enjoy the listening too much though, and I haven’t done that for this series of reviews. Everything here was replayed before reviewing, and that means I did play all 10 discs of this set. It was a blast!

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        2. Absolutely the re-listening is key. I’m working on an Oasis review for which I’m glad I went back to the album several times – forgot how good it was, and I’m sure you had the same experience with many of those LZ discs!

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  6. In 1990, my step-dad bought me the Led Zeppelin “orange zeppelin” box set collection on cassette. I had just fallen in love with III and IV the year before, and HAD to have the box set. And I was not the least bit disappointed!
    Travelling Riverside Blues is one of my favourite tracks, hands down.

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      1. I was working at Atlantic Records when “Travelling Riverside Blues” started getting airplay on one of the New York rock stations, either in ’88 or ’89. To hear a “new” old Zeppelin performance was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. There was never any indication from the DJ’s of where the recording came from, and no one at Atlantic seemed to know anything about it either (which makes sense, since it was in the BBC archives). I was so pleased when it got an official release on the box set, and now it’s an integral part of their catalog.

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        1. Cool story Rich. Now I know a little history to that song. Let’s be glad the BBC did not erase those tapes! They had a habit of doing so back then, and many live performances have been lost. When they needed tape, they’d erase something. Nobody really knew they were recording history.

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