Led Zeppelin: The Remasters

Led Zeppelin: The Remasters

For the first time ever the fabled back catalog of Led Zeppelin is now available for lossless streaming.

Called “the heaviest band of all time,” Led Zeppelin stands as one of the capstone acts in rock & roll history, and the TIDAL music servers have seldom seen a more powerful addition.

Beginning with their behemoth self-titled debut, the team of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham swiftly conquered the unprepared masses with their innovative brand of blues-rooted rock.

“It was pretty much unlike anything else,” Rolling Stone would later write of Led’s appearance on the scene. “The arrangements were more sculpted than those of Cream or Jimi Hendrix, and the musicianship wasn’t cumbersome like Iron Butterfly’s or bombastic like Vanilla Fudge’s. The closest comparisons might be to MC5 or the Stooges…yet neither had the polish or prowess of Led Zeppelin, nor did Led Zeppelin have their political, social or die-hard sensibility. What they did have, though, was the potential for a mass audience.”

Out of nine studio albums, six reached the number one spot in the Billboard charts. With RIAA-certified sales of 111.5 million units, they are the second-best-selling band in the United States.

Their pioneering music surely makes Led Zeppelin one of the most influential bands of the past 50 years.

The guitar work of Jimmy Page and the vocal style of Robert Plant are still some of the most imitated in the rock and roll playbook. Without Led Zeppelin there would presumably be no Black Sabbath, no Ramones, no Queen, no Nirvana and no White Stripes. Their contributions to pop culture, in attitude and style, can be felt well beyond the confines of rock music.

Led Zeppelin is so essential to our cultural fabric that hearing it for the first time is a right of passage that continues to inspire subsequent generations of rockers and music lovers alike.

Led Zeppelin’s arrival on TIDAL coincides with the ongoing project remastering their entire catalogue, and more specifically with the 40th anniversary of that series’ latest addition, Physical Graffiti.

Here we give a brief history of the band, as told through the first six albums that have been given the remastering treatment thus far. And, for TIDAL subscribers only, make sure not to miss our exclusive interview with producer and legendary guitarist Jimmy Page.

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Led Zeppelin I

Following the dissolution of his previous band, the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page was given permission to put together a new band to fulfill standing tour obligations in Scandinavia. Performing briefly as the New Yardbirds, the definitive lineup of Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones first performed together in a teen club in municipal Denmark.

Following the shows, the foursome was so enthused with their chemistry they scrambled to get into a studio within a month. The resulting album’s tracklist was largely based on their tour set, with the recordings done in a live format.

Several songs, including centerpiece “Dazed and Confused,” were originally Yardbird tunes. “Communication Breakdown,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “How Many More Times” were newly written by the band, while “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” were based on Willie Dixon-penned blues standards.

Released in January 1969, nothing had quite preceded Led Zeppelin’s sound in terms of power, speed, or texture. Though reviews were initially unflattering, the album quickly snowballed into a massive success, especially after reaching America around the same time of as the band’s first U.S. tour.

The album’s artwork, depicting the Hindenburg airship moments after catching fire, coincided with the band’s choice of new name, after Who drummer Keith Moon allegedly hypothesized the group would go over like a “lead balloon.”

Greg Kot later wrote in Rolling Stone, “The cover of Led Zeppelin… shows the Hindenburg airship, in all its phallic glory, going down in flames. The image did a pretty good job of encapsulating the music inside: sex, catastrophe and things blowing up.”

 

Led Zeppelin II

The second Zeppelin album, released just a couple of months after their debut, was recorded off and on during their first major American tour. Though very much defined by the same blues-rooted rock they constructed on the first record, II has an even heavier feel than it predecessor, and arguably heavier than any of the albums to come.

Aided by some of Jimmy Page’s mightiest riffs ever, along with Bonham and John Paul Jones’ ferocious rhythm section, it’s often hailed as a blueprint for the emerging heavy metal wave, and it is widely considered as one of their more influential albums.

Rolling Stone wrote in a colorful review in 1969, “This is one fucking heavyweight of the album! OK – I’ll concede that until you’ve listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it’s just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides…”

Led Zeppelin II is one hell of a hard rockin’ journey, and with some blazing standout tracks.

Most notably, their ‘stolen’ top 5 hit single “Whole Lotta Love,” which is again based on a Willie Dixon tune first recorded by Muddy Waters, called “You Need Love.” That said, “Whole Lotta Love” is pure Zeppelin. It would become one of their signature songs, with its raw and direct approach setting a standard for the album as whole.

Other highlights from II include “Moby Dick,” with a drum solo that John Bonham would significantly extend in live versions, the great “Heartbreaker,” and ballads like “Thank You” and “Ramble On.”

 

Bron-Yr-Aur Cottage, Wales (Photo: Andy/Geograph; changes made)

Led Zeppelin III

After two albums of reworking and rediscovering classic blues and rock, Led Zeppelin started on a journey that would widen their orbit further out into the sonic cosmos.

At this point, Led was already one of the biggest bands in the world, with a huge sense of anticipation looming over their next album. They solved the pressure by escaping the fame in turn for the countryside. Largely written in a small, remote cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur – which inspired more than one song for the band – III is adds some natural flavors of British folk rock and progressive traditions into the mix of blues and heavy rock.

It is an album that, at the time, both pleased and confused fans and critics. Leaning in on focused songwriting, the band creates more space for an introspective, acoustic sound, thus resulting in a more varied and laid back affair than I and II.

Picked from another real-time review, Lester Bangs wrote, “The Zep, of all bands surviving, are today – their music is as ephemeral as Marvel comix, and as vivid as an old Technicolor cartoon. It doesn’t challenge anybody’s intelligence or sensibilities, relying instead on a pat visceral impact that will insure absolute stardom for many moons to come.”

From catchy proto-metal in the opening riffs of “Immigrant Song” to the sheer beauty of “That’s the Way,” III is an album that chose to be different, stood its test of time, and is now ranks among their most precious ones.

 

Led Zeppelin IV

Known by many nicknames, including Untitled, ZoSo, Runes, Four Symbols, Fourth Album and Led Zeppelin IV, the band decided to leave their fourth LP untitled following the comparatively restrained reception of Led Zeppelin III.

Record executives panicked they were committing commercial suicide by electing to omit the band’s name from appearing anywhere on the sleeve, but the band was clearly more aware of the reach they had. IV would become Led’s quintessential album, not to mention a defining masterpiece for rock and roll canon.

Containing some of the band’s greatest songs, including the instantly recognizable “Black Dog” and the quintessential 12-bar blues of “Rock and Roll.” The folky departure of “Going to California” was allegedly written about singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, who both Plant and Page were infatuated with at the time. Album closer “When The Levee Breaks” is something of a return to Led’s penchant for reinterpreting the blues, originally written in 1929 in reaction to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Of course the crown jewel comes in the form of “Stairway to Heaven.” Besides becoming their most singular track, and the most requested song on 1970s radio waves, the 10-minute epic finds the band perfecting the “light and shade” approach they started developing on Led Zeppelin III, balancing heavy rock bombasity with gentler acoustic elements.

It remains the second best selling album in U.S. history, not terribly far behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

 

Houses of the Holy

Hailed as their most ambitious and experimental album to date – and yielding their most provocative cover art – Houses Of The Holy certainly marked a change for Led Zeppelin.

This is evident from the first superbly plucked notes from Jimmy Page that introduce – with coolness and ease – opener and stone-cold classic “The Song Remains The Same.” From this point on, all bets are off.

Instead of going back to the blues rock and heavy metal that made them one of the world’s most praised rock bands, Led Zeppelin was on a death march to scorch down new territory.

“The Rain Song” is progressive rock at it’s finest and undoubtedly one of the most adventurous and eclectic songs in the Zeppelin arsenal. “The Crunge” is a riveting James Brown-inspired funk pastiche, while “Dancing Days” is a catchy and rather traditional rock song dominated by a single guitar riff.

And then it get’s weird. “D’Yer Mak’er” is a reggae song, clearly inspired by Bob Marley and the popularization of the island sound, but it’s also where the band’s experimentation – at least according to some fans – goes too far. One critic even called it, “…a pathetic stab at reggae that would probably get the Zep laughed off the island if they bothered playing it in Jamaica.”

At least there’s no debate that the album ends well. “The Ocean” is a rocking closer that contains yet another classic guitar line from Jimmy Page. The song serves to remind us why Led Zeppelin were, and still are, well regarded as an untouchable force of nature.

 

Physical Graffiti

A personal favorite of both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Physical Graffiti shows the band at the peak of their powers. From start to finish the sprawling double album is crammed with adventurous, flamboyant and straight-up rocking ideas.

As Page told us in our interview, “We wanted to put out an album that was going to knock everybody’s socks off.”

The record contains both the longest and shortest studio recordings by Zeppelin: “In My Time of Dying” clocks in at 11 minutes, and “Bron-Yr-Aur” barely surpasses the two minute mark. This just to show how diverse and varied an album Physical Graffiti is.

Eight-and-a-half minute exotic rocker, “Kashmir,” is undoubtedly a stand-out and includes one of the bands most iconic riffs, later appropriated by the rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine on their song “Wake Up.” For his part, Plant has described “Kashmir” as “the definitive Zeppelin song.”

The bouncy and groovy “Trampled Underfoot” might be the closest thing to a dance tune the band ever created. By contrast the ramshackle foot-stomper, “Black Country Woman,” is an acoustic blues song that wouldn’t feel out of place on an album touched by Jack White.

Though the album does have its fillers – perhaps an inevitability when the total running length exceeds 80 minutes – Physical Graffiti remains a Zeppelin touchstone.

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