john paul jones

REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 RSD remix single)

Unreleased Led Zeppelin?!  You don’t say!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 Atlantic Record Store Day single)

The hype for Record Store Day exclusives is as strong as ever, but most of these releases are just empty cash grabs.  Coloured vinyl reissues of this, that or the other thing…nothing will compete with a mint original.  Sometimes you’ll see vinyl releases for albums that used to be exclusive to CD, but rarely will you be able to buy exclusive music.

Led Zeppelin saw to it that your Record Store Day dollars did not go to waste.

And as if you thought Led Zeppelin had “cleared the vaults” of unreleased material!  Here’s two more unheard mixes.  These cannot be found on the Zeppelin deluxe editions.  If you’ve collected all those already, then prepare to add two more tracks to your collection.  This is a pretty clear indication that Jimmy Page is not finished dusting off old tapes to sell.

There are no liner notes to explain when these mixes were done or by whom, but “Rock and Roll” was mixed at Sunset Sound.  Alternate mixes are fun for a fresh sound on an old favourite.  You can hear different nuances.  “Rock and Roll” has a nice clear heavy sound and maybe a little more echo.  “Friends” (from Olympic Studios) has a harsher sound, with the percussion part prominent in the mix.  The old intro is trimmed off in favour of a clean start with the acoustic guitar.

The yellow vinyl is a gorgeous bonus.  Add it to your Zep treasure chest.

4/5 stars

 

Thanks to Mr. James for picking this up for me.  You are a true gentleman, with a creepy Facebook avatar.

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#358: The Personal Impact of Led Zeppelin

ZEPPERS

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#358: The Personal Impact of Led Zeppelin

Christmas 1990 was another major turning point in my musical life. I know others who can say the same thing for the same reason. Led Zeppelin had released their first box set, a 4 CD collection of 54 essential tracks, remastered by Jimmy Page himself. This was the impetus I needed to finally take the Zeppelin plunge.

Prior to this, I had stayed away from Zeppelin.  I only knew a couple live videos from MuchMusic, which didn’t appeal to me at all.  A rock band wearing sandals?  The fuck was this?  I couldn’t wrap my head around the violin bow solo, nor the band.  I remember watching the old live “Dazed and Confused” video with my friend Bob.  “You can tell that guy’s on drugs,” he said of Jimmy Page.

That was in the 1980’s.  By the turn of the decade, I was starting to tire of plastic sounding pop rock bands. I was craving authenticity, and I know I wasn’t the only one. Bands like Warrant were wracked by controversy, when it was revealed that they employed two guitar teachers to write their guitar solos and teach the members how to play them. Too much fakery for me — at that point I decided to stop listening to them.  I sold my Warrant tapes.  Warrant in turn accused Poison, the band they were opening for, of using backing tapes live. All kinds of bands were accused of using backing tapes. Sebastian Bach was quoted as saying, “The only band out there that doesn’t use backing tapes live today is Metallica, and that’s a fact.”  (I am fairly certain Iron Maiden are above such tom foolery as well.)


The old “Dazed and Confused” video that Much used to play

I didn’t want backing tapes, I wanted authentic pure rock music. There was a bustle in my hedgerow. I wasn’t satisfied with the new releases coming out either. A lot of groups that I really liked released disappointing albums in 1990.  From Dio to Iron Maiden to Winger, there were too many bands that failed to impress that year.   A band like Zeppelin seemed to have not only authenticity, but solid consistently.  They were hailed as the greatest rock band of all time by just about every rock group I heard of!

I received the box set from my parents on Christmas day 1990. The following day, Boxing day, I had set aside to listen to the entire box set from start to finish – about five and a half hours of listening. I took a brief lunch break between discs 2 and 3. I emerged from my room that afternoon, dazed, but not confused at all. There were some songs that I didn’t care too much for – “Poor Tom”, “Wearing and Tearing”, “Ozone Baby” – mostly songs from Coda. They were vastly outnumbered by the songs that absolutely blew me away, even though I had never heard of them before: “Your Time Is Gonna Come”, “Immigrant Song”, “Ramble On”, “The Ocean”, “All My Love”…I could not believe the sheer quality of the music.

Sure, Led Zeppelin’s songs weren’t produced as slick as I was used to. They were a far cry from Whitesnake. Jimmy Page wasn’t a shredder like Steve Vai, but I felt a personal shift. I thought bands like Whitesnake and Cinderella had been exhibiting the epitome of integrity, with the ace players and incredible musicianship. Like athletes, musicians only seemed to achieve loftier heights over the decades with their playing. This was exemplified by a guy like Steve Vai who pushed guitar into entirely new frontiers. Cinderella, on the other hand, had even worked with Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who provided strings to their bluesy Heartbreak Station LP. I thought Cinderella were the blues! But now, my eyes were really opening.  It was like Obi-Wan Kenobi had prophesized:  “You’ve just taken your first step, in a larger world.”

IMG_20150114_182807Led Zeppelin (and also ZZ Top) were talking about blues artists I never heard of. Muddy Waters? Lightning Hopkins? Robert Johnson? Who were these people that were so influential that Zeppelin were known to lift entire songs from them?

I had a thought: “From this moment on, I will never be able to listen to rock bands the same way again. I used to think Cinderella were authentic blues. How can I ever go back to listening to Cinderella with the same feeling of passion? How can I play bands like Slaughter and Judas Priest, and think for a second that these guys are any better than the old guys like Zep?”

Fortunately I found that eventually Cinderella, Whitesnake and Led Zeppelin could co-exist in my collection. Liking one does not mean you can’t like the others. Even though Led Zeppelin raised the bar to extraordinary heights, I found it wasn’t too hard to “lower my standards” sometimes and enjoy a little “Slow An’ Easy” with David Coverdale. Zeppelin simply opened my eyes: that there was an entire history of blues that I hadn’t really been aware of before. My musical life journey was about to expand exponentially.

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VIDEO: Steve Earle – “Dominick Street” and “The Galway Girl”

STEVE EARLE – “Dominick Street” and “The Galway Girl”

My old friend Mike Lukas has shot and edited this cool video with his new GoPro camera.  I gotta get me one of these!  He edited the video on his Mac and voila — “The Galway Girl” live on stage with Steve Earle. This is my favourite song from Transcendental Blues.

Mike tells me that John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin is visible at the beginning of the video.  See if you can spot him.

REVIEW: Them Crooked Vultures – “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” (10″ single)

Welcome back to the WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  We’re looking at rare singles all week.

Monday: Dream Theater – “Lie” (CD single)
Tuesday: Jimi Hendrix – “Valleys of Neptune” (7″ single)

VULTURES

 

THEM CROOKED VULTURES – “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” (10″ single)

I love unique looking items and this sure qualifies. Enveloped in a transparent red sleeve is a 10″ picture disc; this is something to behold. It looks great and you’ll want to put it in some kind of protective sleeve right away to keep it pristine, which is what I did.

The A-side contains the album version of “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and a live cut of an unreleased song called “Hwy 1”. This  live track was recorded in January in Sydney, Australia. It’s an awesome tune, punctuated by some seriously dexterous playing from John Paul Jones. Those who have heard his solo album Zooma know exactly what I’m talking about. I really liked this song a lot, it gets into a great groove, locking in with Dave and Josh, and a melody that makes it a real standout. If it had been on the album it would have been one of the choicest cuts.

“Mind Eraser, No Chaser” itself was one of the better album tracks as well, making this side a great listen.  It’s a pretty succinct track that could be easily mistaken for a Queens of the Stone Age song.  No matter that John Paul Jones is 1/3 of the band, Them Crooked Vultures simply resembles QOTSA more than they don’t.

The B-side is an 11-minute interview conducted by film director Liam Lynch (Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny).  It’s actually quite a good interview, with all three members of the band.  Both Dave Grohl and Josh Homme went into the album without having played their “main” instruments in a long time (drums and guitar respectively).  John Paul expresses his disappointment that many metal bands are simply parodies of the genre; but that the Vultures are certainly not.  My favourite quote is Dave Grohl’s:

“I’m never nervous about hitting ‘record’, and I’m never worried that, ‘hmmm, I hope I come up with a riff’.  ‘Cause riffs…I don’t have a problem coming up with riffs.  It’s songs that are important.  I even said that to Josh after the first we time we jammed.  I said, ‘You know, you and I could fill the Grand Canyon with riffs.  But we need to write some songs’.  That’s the hard part.  And that’s where John comes in handy ’cause he’s the genius composer/arranger.”

This was an April 17 2010 Record Store Day exclusive, but even today you can find them all over the place.  Don’t pay more than you need to, because you don’t need to.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – Boxed Set 2 (1993)

LED ZEPPELIN – Boxed Set 2 (1993 Atlantic)

Take a trip back to September, 1993. Led Zeppelin had no greatest hits albums available and just three years previous, the monstrous Led Zeppelin box set was a smash hit. I believe it was the most successful box set ever at the time!

It was, however, just a sampling of Zeppelin’s catalogue. A generous sampling, but a sampling nevertheless.  31 album tracks were missing, as it was just a four disc set. The missing tracks are not throwaways though.  How could you say that about “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Living Loving Maid”, “Out On The Tiles”, “The Rover”?

So, predictably, three years later came Box Set 2 with all those tracks plus the recently discovered “Baby Come On Home”. The result is a complementary set; you really can’t have one without the other.  Having both sets is how I originally heard the Zeppelin catalogue, and I do have a certain nostalgia for these sets.

IMG_00001123Much like the first box, this set was lovingly sequenced and remastered by Jimmy Page himself. As such, the track order takes you on a journey of sorts. Unfortunately it’s just not as epic a journey as the first box. How can there be? With no “Kashmir” or “Stairway” available, it could never be as monumental. Still, it’s a pretty cool trip. Starting you off on disc one with “Good Times, Bad Times” and closing disc 2 with the melancholy “Tea For One”, this tracklist does what it was meant to do. Sandwiched between there are some of the best Zeppelin album cuts of all time.

I don’t think I need to go over highlights.  I do?  Alright.  “Down By the Seaside” is simply gorgeous, one of my personal favourite Zeppelin songs.  It’s in my top five for sure.  Although it’s a bit silly, I dig the country hoe-down of “Hot Dog”.  It’s certainly the heaviest country music I ever heard.  With John Bonham on drums, how could it not be?   “That’s the Way” is another beauty, acoustic and pretty.  It’s “Carouselambra” that throws me the most, a complex swirl of synthesizers and howling Plant vocals.

The sound quality was great for its time, but technology, tastes and standards change.  The songs have been remastered since, and will be again.  Personally I have no qualms with the sound and I still enjoy this box to this day, even though I own the massive 10-disc Complete Studio Recordings as well. Really, my only issue was the inclusion of just one previously unreleased song.  “Baby Come On Home” is a wonderful slice of soul, a young Plant belting about a cheating woman while Pagey plays some elegant notes behind him. Yet, as we saw later with the release of the BBC Sessions, there was more in the vaults. Why couldn’t “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair” or “Something Else” be included here much like “Traveling Riverside Blues” was included on the first box set?  We know Jimmy has dug up more rarities since.

It is what it is. Maybe it was a bit shameful to bait die-hard fans with one new song, but the remastering of the set was also considered a major selling feature.  The set, being only a 2 disc set, is physically much smaller than the original, and contains one new essay, by David Fricke. The packaging is quite beautiful, and everything from the cover art to the layout echoes the first box. Clearly, you are meant to have both.

4/5 stars

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.

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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

REVIEW: The Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967)

Thanks Aaron for hooking me up with this CD.

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THE ROLLING STONES – Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967 London/Decca)

It would be lazy for me to compare this album to contemporaries of the band. It would also be lazy to use the old outdated “psychedelic” adjective to describe this music. I can think of numerous other adjectives: challenging, rewarding, inventive, chaotic, grimy, majestic.

Andrew Loog Oldham had quit his post as the band’s producer and manager, leaving the Stones to their own devices.  It sounds as if they explored every possible indulgence (musically and otherwise).

Their Satanic Majesties Request takes some of the musical expeditions that The Rolling Stones had completed on Between The Buttons (think “Ruby Tuesday”), and turns that on its head. Mix in ample supplies of chemicals and a total fearlessness, and a belief that what they were doing was total brilliance, and what you get is Their Satanic Majesties Request. This album surely must have convinced parents that Satan himself was possessing the hi-fi.

Light on guitar, rhythm and blues, Their Satanic Majesties Request is still among the best Stones albums if you can penetrate its purple smokey haze. Doing so will reveal an album constructed in layers, and peeling back these layers will release melodies and instrumentation that will keep you enthralled for years, as you keep coming back to this album. Is that Mick asking, “Where’s that joint?”

I’m fond of the opening track, “Sing This All Together”, which sounds (at times) like a cross between the Beatles and a James Bond theme.  I’m sure some fans were wondering, “Where’s the guitars?”  They’re on there, used sparingly but effectively.  “Citadel” has guitars; grimy, dirty guitars, chugging out distorted chords under Mick’s dreamy melodies.  This one reminds me of early Alice Cooper, who I am sure was influenced by this album.

Bill Wyman sings lead on “In Another Land”, the watery vocal track sounding like it was recorded in another land.   “2000 Man” is as catchy as anything else the Stones produced, with neat lyrics that must have seemed so forward-thinking in 1967.  I love the guitar melody, and how it sounds like a completely different song on the choruses.  “She’s A Rainbow” is a perfect pop song, as brilliant as “Ruby Tuesday” if not moreso due to Charlie Watts’ relentlessness.  Meanwhile, “The Lantern” happily meanders along, amidst what sounds like out-of-tune guitars and horns.  Likewise “Gomper” wanders about, loads of sitar invading the eardrums, and lots of other stuff I can barely identify.

“2000 Light Years From Home” is a good one, loaded with Brian’s mellotron, again sounding perpetually out of tune.  Fortunately Charlie keeps the song moving forward, his timing always perfect.  Then, “On With the Show” brings us back in time to a simpler age, Mick affecting an accent for this fun retro piece.

While every song has melodies and instrumentation coming out the wazoo, it surely is “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” (not to be confused with “Sing This All Together”) that is the centrepiece of this bizarre journey into the unknown. 8 1/2 minutes long, and never really going anywhere, some might consider this a waste of vinyl. On the other hand, those that have studied free improvisation will get inspiration out of this bizarre arrangement.

Brian Jones continued to experiment with multiple instruments including sitar (hey, it was the 60’s). Guests include Lennon and McCartney, Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane, Nicky Hopkins, and future Led Zeppelin bassist / keyboardist / string arranger John Paul Jones.

The original LP featured a lenticular cover gimmick, as well as a maze inside that can never be solved.  How quaint!

Next time somebody comes up to you and says, “Yeah, this new band that I like, they sound really Stones-y,” then respond by playing “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)” and ask if this is what they meant. Watch the looks on their faces.

In the end, the Stones decided to return to their blues rock sound on Beggars Banquet, which was probably the best way to continue to have a viable career.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (promo, inc. Heartbreak Station)

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I’m going to be covering more of my rarities in 2013.  This is part 2 of today’s Cinderella feature.  For part 1, a more comprehensive review of the Heartbreak Station CD, click Tommy Morais’ review here!

This Cinderella compilation is a rare promo.  Don’t know what a promo CD is?  Watch the educational video below starring yours truly!

Record Store Tales Part 117:  Promos

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CINDERELLA – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (Promotional only, 1990 Polygram)

This is a really, really cool package.  Two discs:  Then… and Now…, showcasing the absolute best of Cinderella up to 1990, including two rare live bonus tracks.

Somewhat predictably, Then… is a greatest hits set from the first two records.  Five tunes from Night Songs, six from Long Cold Winter, which I rated 4.5/5 in a recent review.  Then, the aforementioned two bonus tracks:  “Shake Me” and “Night Songs”, performed live.  “Night Songs” was one that I owned previously on a rare Polygram compilation from ’92 called Welcome To The Jungle.  From what I can tell, these two tracks are originally from a 1987 European release called The Live EP, and it appears they’ve been recycled as bonus tracks on several items since, including a promo Kiss single for “Any Way You Slice It”!

Interestingly, the back cover states that the two bonus tracks are from a forthcoming EP also called Night Songs, an EP I’ve never seen or heard of before or since.

The tracks chosen are pretty much the tunes that anybody would have chosen given a compilation like this:  All the singles, and a selection of kickass album tracks such as “Night Songs”, “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams”, and “Push, Push”.  As a Cinderella collection of the early stuff, this is about as perfect a compilation as it gets.  As far as I’m concerned the only track it’s really missing is the awesome “Take Me Back” from Long Cold Winter, a great tune that would have made a perfect single.

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The second disc, Now… is the entire Heartbreak Station album (review here) from start to finish.  It even comes with the full booklet for Heartbreak Station, so this is how I chose to buy the album.  Heartbreak Station is another fantastic, underrated Cinderalla album.   It was clear from Long Cold Winter that the band was interested in exploring their underappreciated blues roots.   On Heartbreak Station, they ditched the glam and went full bore into those roots.

The opening track “The More Things Change” is aptly titled, but is actually the track most like their past work.  “Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time” is nothing but pure funky goodness, a completely unexpected twist.  The horn-laden “Shelter Me” was the first single (remember Little Richard in the video?), a really cool soul rock song.  The lyrics were totally on-trend in the wake of the fresh Judas Priest trial, a rant on Tipper Gore and the PMRC!

Tipper led the war against the record industry,
She said she saw the devil on her MTV

Sharp minded readers will remember that Tipper was prompted to start the PMRC when her kid was terrified by Tom Petty’s video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on MTV!

I love Little Richard.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, with strings by John Paul Jones.  The band were dissatisfied that they had to use synth on the previous album’s hit, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”.  John Paul Jones lent the band some serious credibility.  The song is a lush, sullen ballad with an incredible slide solo.  I remember some video channels played it under the wrong name back in ’91.  They were calling the song “The Last Train”.

Other winners:  The totally country-fied “One For Rock & Roll”, with loads of steel guitar, dobro, and 12 string.  The electrified “Love Gone Bad”, which also hearkens back to the Long Cold Winter sound in a powerful way.  “Dead Man’s Road”, which is a haunting, slow dark rocker with loads of acoustics.  Really, there are only a couple filler songs on the whole album.

This isn’t a cheap compilation to find today, but if you do happen upon it, pick it up.  It’s a collectible now, but not just that, it’s one you’ll actually play!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Long Cold Winter (1988)

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CINDERELLA  – Long Cold Winter (1988 Polygram Records)

I remember how excited I was upon hearing the first single, “Gypsy Road”, in the summer of ’88.  Cinderella had managed a bluesier, more “authentic” hard rock sound for their critical second LP.  Night Songs was OK, but Long Cold Winter was better in every way.  The cheese factor had been replaced by pedal steel guitars, pianos, and Hammond B3 organs.

Drummer Fred Coury was touring with Guns N’ Roses (Steven Adler had broken his hand punching a wall) during much of the making of Long Cold Winter.  It’s not clear how much of Long Cold Winter he played on, as the band pulled in two incredible session drummers for the project:  Denny Carmassi (of Heart and later Coverdale – Page), and the late great Cozy Powell!

From the bluesy opening of “Bad Seamstress Blues”, it was clear that the AC/DC clone Cinderella that featured Bon Jovi cameos in its videos had evolved.  Two incredible, throat wrenching rockers follow this:  “Fallin’ Apart at the Seams” and “Gypsy Road”.  Both songs easily stand up today as forgotten classics of the “hair metal” era.  But truthfully, Cinderella only made one “hair metal” album.  Long Cold Winter doesn’t really fit in with that scene, and their next album Heartbreak Station would leave it behind completely.

“Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”, the epic power ballad, is more Aerosmith than Poison, and still features a great guitar solo straight out of the Iommi blues notebook.  I’m not too keen on “The Last Mile”, a straightforward rocker, but it was still chosen as a single from this album.  Much better is the side-closing “Second Wind”, amped up and stuttering.

Side two opened with Cinderella’s “serious” blues, the title track.  It’s a bit too contrived for me, it has a vibe of, “Hey, let’s write our ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’!”.  Lots of repeated “baby baby baby” Plant-isms.  At the time it was released, this song was seen as a serious departure for the band, but in hindsight it’s really just a first step into a larger world.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of the rare occasions that Black Sabbath has attempted a slow blues (I’m thinking “Feels Good To Me”, also featuring Cozy Powell) mixed with Zeppelin.

“If You Don’t Like It” is another standard rocker, nothing special, but this is followed by no less than three great songs in a row.  First is the single “Coming Home”, not really a ballad, but a hybrid.  This was one of the most immediate songs that I fell for when I picked up the album.  You can tell that Cinderella wrote a lot of this album on the road, by the lyrics.  “Coming Home” is one such road song.

“Fire and Ice” is heavy, sort of a revisited “Second Wind”, another standout!  Then the album closes with the slide-laden “Take Me Back”, which strikes me as another road song.  Just as good as “Coming Home”, but heavier, it was a great album closer.  Personally if this album had spawned a fifth single, “Take Me Back” would have been my pick, hands down.  And I think this album could have justified five singles.

The band evolved further with album #3 (which featured strings by John Paul Jones!), but I think Long Cold Winter strikes the perfect balance between screeching rock and bitter blues.  From the classy album cover on down to the perfect production, I don’t think they’ve ever made a better album.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – self-titled box set (1990)

LED ZEPPELIN – self-titled box set (1990, retail price approx $60 CAD at press time)

It was the fall of 1990, and I was on the verge of graduating highschool and entering the “real” world. However, my musical development was way far behind — everybody’s was, in 1990. Poison, Whitesnake and Motley Crue ruled the charts: All bands, one way or another, influenced by Zeppelin, by the way. Yet, I had avoided actually hearing a Zeppelin studio recording. MuchMusic’s endless showing of The Song Remains The Same had cooled any interest I might have had in this great band. I really didn’t like that concert, and I still don’t listen to it.

In 1990, pop rock was showing its first signs of death and I was becoming interested in bluesier, more authetic sounds. I was beginning to listen to FM radio and I heard a song called “Travelling Riverside Blues”. The slide guitar was eloquent and infectious. Immediately, I wondered what I was missing.

A friend, Danesh, who also had never owned a Zeppelin album in his life, picked up the box set released that fall. I asked him how it was. Cryptically, he responded, “It’s good.” It went on my Christmas list and I anxiously opened it on December 25, 1990.

I didn’t get to start plowing through the thing until the next day, after the turkey and Christmas guests were gone.  On the 26th, I woke up early.  I read the liner notes and I listened to the whole thing in one marathon almost-5-hour-session. Today, this is the running order that I associate these Zeppelin songs in, not the original studio album order.  I listened to the box set in these marathon sessions 3 times during the Christmas break!

This was actually the first box set I ever owned.  Not too many bands I liked had one, back then.  In fact I think the only other box on the market at the time that even slightly interested was The Ultimate by Tommy Bolin.

I loved the cover art.  I was obsessed with the crop circle phenomenon.  I bought a T-shirt with this design on it a few weeks later.  upon seeing the cover, my friend and fellow Zeppelin fan Andreas said “Figures, Zeppelin created everything else in rock, why not crop circles too?”

For the record, this is still no substitute for owning all the Zeppelin studio albums. They have a life all their own. However, Jimmy Page carefully assembled this running order to breathe new life into these tracks, and breathe they do.

I can’t imagine a better opener than “Whole Lotta Love”. It is a one-two punch followed by “Heartbreaker”, and then “Communication Breakdown” takes things to an out-of-control pace. Geniously, Page followed this with “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”.  Total switch of pace, and another brilliant side to the band.  But yet even on this, Plant refused to tame down his vocals, straining at the leash to let hell loose.  I was hooked. I couldn’t even fathom a set of songs better than these. Better late than never, right?

I was entranced by the swirling “Kashmir”, a song I will never tire from.  I could not believe the power of “What Is and What Should Never Be”.  The Rush-like complexity of “Achilles Last Stand”.  The tender acoustics of “Going to California”.  The muddy, churning synth of “In The Evening”.  The dark, foreboding blues of “When the Levee Breaks”.  The fun, upbeat reggae of “D’Yer Mak’er” (still don’t really know what that means).  The tropical heat of “Fool In the Rain”.  The ominous “No Quarter”.  Song after song, hour after hour, Led Zeppelin continued to reveal new layers of this band to me.

The only songs that I didn’t care much for, and still consider also-rans, are a lot of the tracks from Coda, their posthumous outtakes release.  I felt stuff like the punk rock of “Wearing and Tearing” and the folky “Poor Tom” were not as great as the A-listers.  While they are not without their merits, I don’t believe that today they can stand up against “The Immigrant Song” or “Tangerine”.

We kids didn’t really get the lyrics, or why Robert was singing about wearing flowers in your hair.  We found the lyrics amusing, quaint.

Today I own all the individual Zeppelin albums in box set form (The Complete Studio Recordings), but I still listen to this box and its sequel, 1993’s Box Set 2. When I have 5 hours at home, this is the way I prefer to go. This box set creates a journey. Each disc is a journey with a distinct opening and a distinct end, but the entire running order is like that as well.   There are distinct sections, moods, and movements in the box set.  Witness “All My Love” as the final track. I couldn’t imagine a better way to end a five hour journey than that hopeful fade out.

Then Bonzo died and the hope was gone.

Interestingly, even though the unreleased/rare tracks here were later reissued on the Complete Studio Recordings (they were “Traveling Riverside Blues”, “White Summer/Black Mountainside”, and “Hey Hey What Can I Do”), one slipped through the cracks and to the best of my knowledge is only available on this set:  Moby Dick/Bonzo’s Montreaux”, an interesting remix (today we would call this a “mash-up”) of Bonzo’s two drum solos intertwined.  It is not on the Complete Studio box. It’s not because it’s inferior or redundant, in my opinion. Jimmy lovingly put this track together as a tribute to his friend 10 years after his death, and it works brilliantly.  It neither replaces the originals, nor gets in their way, because it’s more a cool showcase of Pagey’s mixing skill, if you asked me.

10 years gone? It was hard for me to believe that Zeppelin had been gone for only 10 years at that time. It seemed to me like they were part of pre-history, something that predated everything I’d known. Yet all the bands I knew cited Zeppelin as an influence, from Kiss on down to the newest groups, like Cinderella (who worked with John Paul Jones). They were a part of my rock and roll soul without me even knowing it. Hearing this box for the first time was like discovering a part of myself!

Liner notes are excellent, and until reading The Hammer of the Gods, was pretty much my sole source of Led Zeppelin information and photographs.   They are ample, and include an essay by Cameron Crowe.

Interestingly, even though this set has theoretically been supplanted by newer, superior sounding collections, it remains in print and reasonably priced.  There must be something to it, I guess!

5/5 stars