The Song Remains the Same Part 1: An Album Review

I don't know about the rest of you, but for me, one of the most exciting album releases in 2007 was definitely the expanded version of Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same. This re-master and re-release was for both the original film on DVD and the soundtrack and was timed perfectly to coincide with a little reunion show the band was planning.

I already owned the soundtrack on CD, but the additional material made me add the new version to my holiday wish list, along with the DVD's because I had actually never even seen anything but clips of the film before (shocking I know... how dare I call myself a Zeppelin fan). Well, I was lucky enough to receive said album and DVD set for the holidays and I've been pouring over them ever since. I thought I'd do a two part review of these new additions to the Zeppelin catalog with this being part one: a look at the re-release of the soundtrack.

Like I said, I already had another copy of this album on CD and so the first thing I noticed was the additional material, as well as a slight change in the order of the tracks.

Here's the original release' track listing:

Disk 1:
1 - Rock and Roll
2 - Celebration Day
3 - The Song Remains the Same
4 - The Rain Song
4 - Dazed and Confused

Disk 2:
1 - No Quarter
2 - Stairway to Heaven
3 - Moby Dick
4 - Whole Lotta Love

And here's the re-release track listing.

Disk 1:
1 - Rock and Roll
2 - Celebration Day
3 - Black Dog (Opening with Bring it On Home riff)
4 - Over the Hills and Far Away
5 - Misty Mountain Hop
6 - Since I've Been Loving You
7 - No Quarter (a different version?)
8 - The Song Remains the Same
9 - The Rain Song
10 - The Ocean

Disk 2:
1 - Dazed and Confused
2 - Stairway to Heaven
3 - Moby Dick
4 - Heartbreaker
5 - Whole Lotta Love

Of course there is all the additional songs, but what struck me is that "No Quarter" is in a different spot in the order (neither are actually in the order of the film either). The only explanation I can think of for this is that on the original album the tracks had to be rearranged to fit on vinyl records and the CD release stuck with that track listing. This new release is then back to the original recorded order I assume. I haven't confirmed this to be the case, but it seems like a pretty logical assumption.

As for the additional tracks, personally I think more live Zeppelin is a good thing, but these are welcome additions for more reasons than just that. This version of "Black Dog" is actually in the original film, so it makes sense to have it here as well, plus the band opens it up with the riff from "Bring it on Home" distinguishing it from other live takes. The scorchingly heart wrenching version of "Since I've Been Loving You" also appears in the film and is also a welcome addition especially because it is different than other live takes as well. "The Ocean" and "Misty Mountain Hop" are nice to have too, partially because the corresponding videos appears on the DVD set now as well and partially because they're interesting listens. The two major standout new songs though are very loose version of "Over the Hills and Far Away", and a version of "Heartbreaker" that the band blends seamlessly into "Whole Lotta Love". Although the first maintains the same riff and structure, it seems to take on a completely different character, especially during the solo, where Jimmy Page seems to add the slightest menacing edge with his guitar lines. Plant's vocals follow a different melody and rhythmic pattern creating a different feel and the back beat sounds just a touch funkier than other versions too. Although the original is great, I really like this version a lot and think it's a great addition to the Zeppelin palette. "Heartbreaker" also has a touch of a different feel with a different opening and extended solo section. What I like about this one though, is how they take take the improvisation and just transition into "Whole Lotta Love" directly, sounding quite natural.

As I mentioned briefly above, there is also a different version of "No Quarter" on this new release... or at least I'm almost positive it's a different version. I had to listen to them back to back to pick up on it, but they are definitely different... the solos are completely unique... begging the question as to which is in the original film and whether the entire songs are different or just the solos. Which is better is probably a matter of taste, even with the superior sound of expanded re-release as there are moments in each that I really like. I really like this song in general though so multiple live takes are most likely not going to rub me the wrong way.

Overall, I think even had all the additional songs not been included this re-release would have been worth picking up purely because of the improved sound. The sound of the original album was always considered sub par. That's not really a fair judgment as it is a good recording, but doesn't do a band as massively bombastic as Led Zeppelin credit. When comparing it to this latest release and other modern live Zeppelin releases like How the West was Won there is simply no comparison. The original sounds anemic and there's some serious lack of bass (both the instrument and the bass frequencies of the guitar), to the point where you can barely even hear the bass at all. This new release doesn't suffer from those shortcomings. As a whole it also seems to be mixed quite louder, which could be seen as both a good and a bad thing. I don't think it's quite as good as How the West was Won in terms of quality of the mix and mastering, but it's really close, and definitely an enormous improvement over the original CD release.

It's a bit of a shame that this album is a Led Zeppelin album as I think had any other band put on a live performance like this it would have been seen as a good night, but with Zeppelin, their potential to be absolutely mind blowing was already established and so this performance does fall a little short, especially when compared to How the West was Won and the BBC Sessions. There is the epic length of some songs that can seem a little pretentious, self indulgent and difficult to get through, but there are also moments where it's obvious the band is a little more tired and not as vibrant and tight as on other recordings. It seems far more obvious on the previous release though, which is a good thing. I hear it the most is on the more straight forward rockers like "Rock and Roll" and "Whole Lotta Love" and I think the more grandiose numbers like "The Rain Song" and "No Quarter" sound really powerful and like the band is really into it. The new re-mastering has certainly made this seem more like a Led Zeppelin live album should... more bombastic, more epic and more muscular... but the reasons that another live album was needed are still apparent, just not as blatantly obvious.

Although How the West was Won and the associated DVD set are probably the best document of the band live, I think this album is a necessary part of the Led Zeppelin catalog in any format. This remastered and expanded version has provided a far better sonic quality along with more music though, so if you have to choose... go with this new version.

Most Led Zeppelin fans probably picked this album up at one time or another, but if you never did, don't think that all the negative aspects mean you should skip it and go to How the West was Won as your only live album. I think the live versions of "Misty Mountain Hop", "No Quarter", "The Song Remains the Same", "Celebration Day" and especially "The Rain Song" (which I think is incredible), all of which cannot be found on the other live releases, make it worth picking up. I also think that the expanded version is worth getting even if you already own another copy purely for the superior sound, but the additional tracks are an added bonus.

It seems that the song does remain the same, but with a little digital help it can sound a heck of a lot better. I give this re-release of The Song Remains the Same a definite thumbs up and recommend that all you Led Zeppelin fanatics check it out when you can.

Check back tomorrow as I continue this two part review with a look at the latest DVD set version of the film with additional bonus features. UPDATE: You can read part two here: The Song Remains the Same Part 2: A DVD Set Review

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