While the vicissitudes of time may make Led Zeppelin's eponymous debut seem somewhat timid when compared to the plethora of faceless, interchangeable nu-metal outfits who currently congest the sales charts, there's no question that for its time this proto-metallic masterpiece was a daring, unique product, one of the first hard rock outings and thus an extremely influential, revolutionary album.
Truth be told, even if it technically isn't as heavy as subsequent metal groups' output the album still rocks quite convincingly, and furthermore whereas myriad contemporary bands think it's sufficient to rock hard irrespective of songwriting quality this LP is never heavy at the expense of strong melodies.
Led Zeppelin's debut isn't the first hard rock album, as preceding LPs like Jeff Beck's first outing Truth could make that claim, but nonetheless Page and Plant's work goes much further, and the track Dazed And Confused was likely the heaviest song to date upon its release.
The band doesn't limit itself to proto-metal exercises, as the album's content ranges from pop rock (the opener Good Times Bad Times) to folk (like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You) to blues (like You Shook Me) to the seeds of heavy metal (like the aforementioned Dazed And Confused). The LP's hardly as diverse as subsequent outings like Houses Of The Holy, but it varies its style enough to prevent the album from ever growing monotonous.
The caliber of the tracks is uniformly strong, and while there are no epochal epics like Stairway To Heaven around classics still abound on the album. Good Times Bad Times is a catchy if generic tune that fails to betray the hard rock elements that follow it, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You alternates between beautiful folk and a heavy instrumental break, You Shook Me contains a superb jam and an entertaining section where Page emulates Plant's vocal intonations on his guitar, Dazed And Confused is an excellent proto-metal tune that crushes the listener with its heavy guitar tone and experimental bowed guitars, Communication Breakdown is a great fast hard rocker that provides a welcome adrenaline rush and How Many More Times sports the best guitar riff on the album.
Plant's vocals are more restrained on this album than they'd subsequently become (as in time he'd go overboard with his overly theatrical singing), while Page, fresh out of the Yardbirds, is in peak form as a guitarist with excellent solos and riffage throughout. Bonham distinguishes himself as one of the first hard rock drummers, thus providing the blueprints for many to come, while Jones is in particularly strong form during his organ solo on You Shook Me.
Overall Led Zeppelin's debut is an excellent album; the band had already developed a unique, heavy sound that differentiated them from their contemporaries, and they knew just how to apply it to achieve the maximum effect. Their selection of covers, like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and You Shook Me, was quite wise, as they function as great forums for their instrumental and vocal skills, while originals like Dazed And Confused helped breed a new form of rock with an unprecedented level of darkness and heaviness.
While the band hadn't yet truly mastered the art of songwriting, they'd certainly perfected the caliber of their performances and arrangements, and it was this rather than their knack for conjuring strong melodies that truly separated them from their contemporaries and constituted a rock and roll revolution. They would subsequently improve in the songwriting department, but it would always be their tight, heavy performances that would define them and truly make them one of the most influential groups in the history of rock.
While their debut contains a plethora of successful elements, it was the extreme (for the time, at any rate) heaviness of tracks like Dazed And Confused that garnered the most attention. Ergo it's unsurprising that the focus of their sophomore effort resides squarely on the hard rock side of the band, complete with a raw, heavier accent on the production end of things.
Another major change is that Jimmy Page is credited at least in part for every composition on the album, with no traditional folk ballads like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You or hardcore blues workouts ala You Shook Me. While it's been said that this song attribution is a misnomer, as Page allegedly stole myriad preexisting components from the work of other rock and blues artists, the fact of the matter is that Page was still far more active in the songwriting process than on the debut, enabling the band to further develop their own identity.
Page's songwriting largely manifests itself in the form of a plethora of great guitar riffs. While tracks on the debut like How Many More Times sported catchy riffs, they're far more prevalent on this go around, greatly augmenting tracks like Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker and Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman) amongst others (as a matter of fact the only redeeming aspect of the interminable drum solo Moby Dick is the presence of a strong Page riff).
The album contains a multitude of classics, from the raunchy riff rocker Whole Lotta Love (complete with an orgasm-imitating segment) to the irresistible, primitive yet hyper catchy Heartbreaker to What Is And What Should Never Be which, like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, makes good use of the contrast between pretty folk passages and hard rock interludes. The Lemon Song is a great fusion of elements from an abundance of disparate blues tracks, while Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman) is yet another great riff rocker.
The album can be erratic at times, hence the presence of the insipid Thank You which boasts utterly abysmal, embarrassing lyrics, along with the decent but ultimately forgettable Ramble On. Bring It On Home starts with an inane mumbling vocal approach, but is subsequently redeemed by another great riff, while Moby Dick, strong riff aside, is an inferior emulation of the already tedious Toad by Ginger Baker.
Thus while far from perfect, Led Zeppelin II is a great album, a collection of stellar riffs, great jams and memorable hard rock melodies. The heaviest album of its time, it features the correct way to do hard rock, namely always ground each track with a solid melodic foundation. The tracks are never bland, as they always have something, be it a catchy riff or an infectious vocal melody, to offer, and thus the final product is an enduring hard rock classic.
Whereas their previous outing predominantly focused on the hard rock tendencies exhibited on tracks like Dazed And Confused, Led Zeppelin III emphasizes the folk aesthetics displayed on Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, largely neglecting the band's usual metallic undercurrent in favor of a more gentle style.
This isn't to say that the group wholly eschews the trappings of hard rock; tracks like the stellar riff rocker Immigrant Song which functions as the album's opener and the heavy blues number Since I've Been Loving You (which contains some terrific guitarwork from Page) provide the obligatory dose of metal that fans had come to expect from the band. Nevertheless, while these are two of the best tracks on the album, this side of Led Zeppelin is radically deemphasized in favor of acoustic ballads, resulting in a final product that's scarcely reminiscent of its immediate predecessor.
Page had heavily relied on catchy riffage to animate his tracks on Led Zeppelin II, and with the metallic side of the band subsumed by folk stylistics he's forced to concoct more memorable melodies, a feat that he'd failed to perform with any regularity on his previous releases. Fortunately he's up to the task, demonstrating songwriting skills well above what one would expect from him in this context. There are certainly still some clever riffs present, but without these as a crutch to fall back on he conjures some memorable hooks and rewarding vocal melodies, something that had never been his forte on the group's previous outings.
Tracks like Tangerine in particular are very pretty, as Page demonstrates his mastery of the acoustic guitar. Plant's singing on the album leaves much to be desired, as folk songs are hardly the ideal environment for his brand of exaggerated vocals, but this doesn't spoil the effect or dispel the tracks' innate charms, as numbers such as Tangerine and That's The Way are well arranged and melodically strong.
The album isn't bereft of misfires; tracks like the closer Hats Off To (Roy) Harper are simply mediocre (and that particular number's unfortunate placement may leave the listener with a bad taste in their mouth), but the majority of the songs are quite good, meticulously crafted with inspired music and lyrics.
Ultimately Led Zeppelin III is a very good offering from the band, differentiating itself from the group's past work with a pervading folk motif that extends through most of the album. The group proves that they're just as adept at performing folk as they are hard rock, evading being pigeonholed as exclusive purveyors of the latter through the versatility they display here. While it would have been a grave mistake for the band to permanently reinvent themselves as a folk outfit, as an experiment for one album it works exceedingly well, providing a charming, welcome change of pace for the group, complete with great performances and impressive songwriting.
While it may be a cliché to say so, Led Zeppelin IV (or Zoso, or Untitled, or whatever you choose to refer to it as, as there's no title on the album) is the group's crowning achievement, the absolute pinnacle of their skills as songwriters and performers.
The album's main claim to fame is the presence of the epic Stairway To Heaven, one of the most beloved songs in the history of rock; while it is indeed the best song on the LP, it shouldn't overshadow the other tracks, as the record is highly consistent, with nary a misfire in its eight numbers.
Whereas their debut depicted the band more as performers than composers, building off the works of others, and the subsequent two albums each focused on a single facet of the band, Led Zeppelin IV is the first LP to truly exhibit the band's unique identity, deriving its personality from the variety of styles explored and the idiosyncratic songwriting on display.
The material ranges from cock rock to blues to heavy metal to balladry to multi part epics, with each genre being adapted to the group's own style and songwriting methods. Thus for the first time the group is displayed in their multi-faceted glory, having made the transition from imitators to creators.
Which isn't to say that the album is bereft of imitation. The opening acoustic section of Stairway To Heaven is blatantly 'borrowed' from Spirit's instrumental Taurus; this is a case of outright, transparent theft, as Spirit often opened for Led Zeppelin and Page had even expressed his fondness for that particular number.
Fortunately there's much more to Stairway To Heaven than this acoustic portion, and the rest of the song is representative of Page's peak output as a songwriter. While eight minutes long the track breezes by, as each segment is given just enough time to develop without ever growing tedious, and the segue into the heavy metal jam is seamless and brilliant. The lyrics, while exceedingly pretentious, are still amongst Plant's best, and certainly preferable to his customary incessant allusions to Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
As I'd stated, however, there is much more to the album than Stairway To Heaven. The album wisely opens with an energetic rocker, just as its three predecessors had; in this case the task falls to Black Dog, a raunchy cock rocker with a primitive but consummately catchy riff.
Black Dog is followed by the second most famous track on the album, the classic Rock And Roll, complete with an incredible drive and a thrash-like speed paired with the archetypal lyrics about rock that invariably surface in songs of this nature.
The Battle Of Evermore, while sporting inane Tolkien inspired imagery, is still a solid track, greatly ameliorated by a duet with folk outfit Fairport Convention's Sandy Denny. The melody is very pretty and catchy, easily eclipsing the colossally insipid, dated lyrics.
Misty Mountain Hop features a great riff and a strong melody (though admittedly Plant's vocals on it are an acquired taste), Four Sticks is a solid tune that sure enough has Bonham employing four sticks, Going To California is a beautiful ballad that they unfortunately felt compelled to end with more Tolkien mysticism, and When The Levee Breaks is an absolutely incredible jam, easily the best blues cover they ever performed complete with a dark, edgy atmosphere and several exceptional riffs.
Thus Led Zeppelin IV is the band's masterpiece, an excellent album sporting myriad classics and devoid of any filler to mar the experience. Each song is highly well written (or, in the case of When The Levee Breaks, brilliantly arranged) and expertly performed, the product of a group that had finally fully established their own unique identity.
Houses Of The Holy is akin to Led Zeppelin's White Album, an LP that prides itself on its extreme diversity, offering a dizzying array of genres and styles. Tackling everything from hard rock to funk to reggae, the album enters territory previously unexplored by the group, and while on their subsequent release they'd already fully reverted to their old selves the record makes for a greatly entertaining experience, an enjoyable departure from the band's norm for one brief moment.
While not known for their diversity, Led Zeppelin, for the most part, implement these new styles quite well, proving that they're capable of more than metal anthems and hardcore blues covers.
The Song Remains The Same eschews catchiness and memorability in favor of progressive rock-like complexity, but sounds sufficiently engaging while it's on to constitute an enjoyable listening experience, while The Rain Song is a strikingly beautiful ballad that makes great use of a mellotron.
Over The Hills And Far Away opens with a gentle acoustic passage that segues into a conventional Led Zeppelin rocker, while The Crunge and D'yer Mak'er are pitiful attempts as funk and reggae respectively, but they're so utterly preposterous that they can be enjoyed to some extent for their inadvertent comedic value.
Dancing Days sports an infectious melody and The Ocean is a standard but effective riff rocker with some well executed a cappella sections, while the album's best track, the Norse rocker No Quarter, boasts a haunting atmosphere achieved through moody synths and a spectacular riff.
Houses Of The Holy is undeniably a highly experimental affair, and while several of these experiments are far from successful, with the most egregious examples of this being The Crunge and D'yer Mak'er, the overall album works quite well, with generally strong songwriting and a welcome dose of diversity from a band that's often condemned for being too narrow in their scope.
Offering a sampler of disparate styles the album is unlike anything Led Zeppelin would do before or since, casting it as a very unique entry in the band's discography. Even the misfires provide at least a modicum of entertainment by virtue of being so far removed from the group's usual fare.
Thus the album, despite its myriad flaws, is ultimately a success, one of the most purely enjoyable outings in the band's catalogue. Tracks like No Quarter rank amongst the group's very best offerings, and the level of diversity ensures that the album never grows monotonous. The band's attempt to do something different is highly commendable, and the fact that they pull it off so well is a testament to the group's abilities.
Rather than continue experimenting with disparate alien genres, in the wake of Houses Of The Holy Led Zeppelin opted to return to their roots, so to speak, with an album that focuses on the band's chief strengths, resulting in a collection of metallic rockers.
This isn't to say that Physical Graffiti is bereft of diversity; there are the occasional respites from the relentless onslaught of hard rock songs, manifesting themselves in the forms of tracks like Bron-Yr-Aur (a pretty acoustic instrumental courtesy of Page) and Black Country Woman (a rather incongruous country song). Nonetheless the emphasis is placed squarely on the band's particular brand of heavy metal, and thus the album is firmly entrenched in the realm of riff rockers and metallic jams.
The relative dearth of variety when contrasted against Houses Of The Holy isn't really a problem, as the band had refined their hard rock modality to perfection, tackling the heavy numbers with palpable energy and masterful precision.
Moreover Page has outdone himself as a songwriter, conjuring a plethora of stellar riffs for nearly every track. These riffs are creative and distinctive, not to mention extremely catchy and well suited to their respective tracks.
The album is filled with moments of sonic brilliance, from the slide guitar passages at the beginning of the band's cover of In My Time Of Dying to the incredible violin arrangements on the epic Kashmir to the irresistible funk rock on Trampled Under Foot.
The songs are nearly all strong, with each track having something to offer, be it a clever riff or memorable vocal melody. The band simply excels at this kind of material; whereas they were out of their element with much of the content on Houses Of The Holy, understandably somewhat lost and uncomfortable when dealing with largely incompatible genres like reggae in which they were novices, the group had attained a total mastery over the stylistics of hard rock, performing the tracks with fury and passion, while composing them with a keen understanding of the fundamentals of the genre, from appropriate structures to concocting memorable riffs and hooks.
The album's best cut is the much lauded Kashmir, complete with a brilliant ascending violin line around which the track is structured and a compelling mystical aura that permeates the song.
Other highlights include the hyper catchy funk rocker Trampled Under Foot, the heavy pop song Houses Of The Holy (why it was omitted from its namesake album mystifies me, as it's an eminently worthy track) and In The Light, with a riff parade sandwiched between two unsettling instrumental sections.
Given that Physical Graffiti is a double album these are but a few highlights, as the LP is extremely consistent, with only a modicum of filler to drag it down. There's definitely enough strong material to fully justify its two disc status, as it functions as a showcase for hard rock in all its disparate forms.
Ultimately the album is a true classic. Like their debut, this record presents the group performing material that they've fully mastered, leading to extremely tight playing and confident, creative arrangements. The difference is that their debut depicted the band operating as imitators (exceptionally gifted imitators, but imitators nonetheless), whereas on Physical Graffiti they're functioning in a context of their own devise, working in the confines of a genre that they themselves had helped to create and define. They're predominantly performing their own material, all based around a style in which they had been pioneers, cofounders who were critical in establishing the nuances and conventions of the genre.
Thus Physical Graffiti presents Led Zeppelin doing what Led Zeppelin does best, a quintessential outing in which they admittedly break little new ground, opting instead to simply revel in the glory that they themselves were responsible for. While it may not be imaginative, it's infused with the group's essence, providing the listener with an exhibition of everything the band was and had to offer, a microcosm of their rock and roll identity.
Whereas each previous Led Zeppelin outing had had a distinctive trait to differentiate itself from its brethren, be it the ubiquitous folk overtones on Led Zeppelin III or the extreme diversity on Houses Of The Holy, Presence is the band's first true rehash, covering exactly the same territory as its immediate predecessor, Physical Graffiti.
Thus Presence is yet another collection of cock rock and heavy metal, cultivating the same atmosphere and conveying the same sound as Physical Graffiti. Many of the tracks sound conspicuously reminiscent of material from its predecessor, and nearly every track would have fit in perfectly on that album (from a stylistic, if not qualitative perspective).
The primary difference, unfortunately, is that the content on Presence is vastly inferior to the material on Physical Graffiti; this appears to be a repercussion of myriad factors, from Page's rampant heroin addiction to Plant's crippling injury that relegated him to a wheelchair to a simple lack of inspiration and motivation to try something even remotely new.
While Physical Graffiti had been the embodiment of the band's identity, it left little room to build upon, and thus any retread would inevitably end up sounding weak and derivative by comparison. Combine this with the group's eroding songwriting capabilities and you have a severe disappointment, and easily the band's worst album to date.
This in not to say that the album is bereft of merit, however; it still receives a 'good' rating, and there's certainly a reason for this. The album contains a handful of classics, from the anthemic riff rocker Achilles Last Stand, the band's final great epic, to the heavy blues of Tea For One, a track in a similar vein with Led Zeppelin III's Since I've Been Loving You but sufficiently different that it succeeds on its own merits. These two numbers are the lengthiest songs on the album, and thus eclipse many of its deficiencies, and due to their sagacious placement on the LP as the opener and closer they ensure that the listener's initial and final impressions of the record are profoundly positive ones.
There are certainly misfires; songs like Candy Store Rock and Hots On For Nowhere are rather poor, and certainly detract from the overall experience. Furthermore, as the album's a mere seven tracks long the presence of multiple instances of sonic mediocrity is a grave defect, one that's difficult to overcome.
Ergo Presence is an erratic affair, alternating between some of the band's best and worst fare. While it contains enough highlights to render it a worthwhile listen, its weaknesses prevent it from reaching the heights of its predecessors, resulting in a somewhat middling aural experience. It's a pretty good album, worth a purchase for Achilles Last Stand alone, but it fails to meet the standards set by the band's past outings, and ultimately comes off as a derivative, inadequate clone of Physical Graffiti, an LP it can't hope to equal in scope or quality.
Groups often disbanded due to their declining abilities as songwriters and performers, and this fact has bred a plethora of poor, unrepresentative swansongs. While Led Zeppelin may very well have kept going after this album were it not for Bonham perishing the subsequent year, there's no doubt that In Through The Out Door depicts a deteriorating band on its very last legs, and thus their dissolution seems imminent throughout this LP.
Ergo In Through The Out Door isn't a very charitable portrayal of the group, making for a rather unfortunate, misleading swansong for the band. Nonetheless it could have been far worse had the group proceeded, as they inevitably would have degenerated into self-parody, a fate that had claimed myriad rock 'dinosaurs' who attempted to hone their craft in the new era.
In Through The Out Door differs greatly from any of the band's previous work; while I'd called for some measure of progression to evade artistic stagnation and chronic rehashes, they had to select a sound that actually suited them, rather than hastily embracing an incompatible style.
It's easy to ascertain what their major change can be attributed to, however; their new style emphasizes keyboards, even devolving into synth pop on occasion, and this paradigm shift coincides with Jones assuming the bulk of the songwriting responsibility. Page was still combating his narcotics addiction while Plant had been recently devastated by his son's untimely demise, leaving Jones to guide the rapidly eroding group through another album.
Jones taking control of the band is akin to Manzarek becoming the leader of the Doors; while Manzarek was a phenomenal musician and an integral part of the Doors' sound, he was unequipped to actually lead the group, lacking the necessary songwriting acumen to succeed as the band's chief composer. Such is the case with Jones; the songwriting on In Through The Out Door suffers accordingly, while the ubiquitous synths grow grating with stunning rapidity.
Thus Led Zeppelin's swansong is a rather feeble outing for the band, with Jones sounding like the only motivated member. Page and Plant co-write most of the songs with Jones, but they seem apathetic at best, which also manifests itself with regards to Page's guitarwork. Perhaps he had been afflicted with a Clapton-like guitar hero complex, but at any rate he eschews most of his signature soloing, focusing nearly exclusively on punching out guitar riffs.
Most of the album is weak; the opener In The Evening has a strong riff, but that's about all that can be said for it, while most of the other numbers are even worse. This leaves All My Love as the lone classic; dedicated to Plant's deceased son it's actually quite moving, with understandably emotional vocals and the best use of synths on the entire album.
Other tracks like I'm Gonna Crawl are decent, if unexceptional, and regrettably most of the filler is of the particularly self-indulgent kind, leading to ten minute behemoths of middling quality like Carouselambra.
Ultimately In Through The Out Door is a grave disappointment, and a poor indicator of what the band was capable of. The group was in a creative rut, the two primary members were both preoccupied with more pressing issues and Jones was not the man to salvage this disaster. The entire album makes it apparent that the group was ostensibly finished, making their subsequent official disbanding a mere formality.
There's little doubt that Led Zeppelin are firmly entrenched in the upper echelons of rock and roll mythos, but there's one conspicuous void in their canon, a rite of passage that was bypassed on the road to superstardom.
Nearly every top tier rock group has released a classic live album to cement its legacy. These albums aren't mere status symbols, but rather testaments to the skill and precision of the bands in question. A live masterpiece proves that an artist can forge a connection with his audience in a more personal environment. This goes beyond the caliber of the group's performance, as even seemingly superficial elements like stage banter have an effect on the overall product.
The Stones had Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out. The Who had Live At Leeds. The Beatles may have lacked any impressive live documents, but this is understandable, as live albums tend to be more in the domain of groups for whom 'rocking' is one of the first priorities.
Sadly, Led Zeppelin, despite having a reputation for strong concerts, fell short in the live department. There were certainly attempts, but The Song Remains The Same has long been held in disdain by fans and critics alike, while most lament that regardless of quality The BBC Sessions fails to capture the concert experience.
Now, decades after Led Zeppelin's dissolution, Jimmy Page has decided to rectify this situation. After scouring the vaults, Page has come up with How The West Was Won, a massive triple album that compiles the best cuts from two performances in 1972.
This album is far more than a nostalgia cash-in or a tool for fan-exploitation; rather, it's meant to be the definitive proof that Led Zeppelin can stand side by side with rock's greatest icons, matching live chops with the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who.
Thus there's only one question that matters: does How The West Was One establish Led Zeppelin as live greats? While I would say yes, it's certainly a very qualified yes. Led Zeppelin aren't The Who; they don't reinvent themselves on the stage a la Townshend and company. Led Zeppelin live and Led Zeppelin in the studio don't provide markedly different listening experiences. Part of this can be attributed to the production acumen of Page and John Paul Jones, who manage to preserve a raw feel even in the confines of a recording booth; another part of this stems from the fact that Led Zeppelin never held back in the studio, unleashing their full fury on every take. These are both assets, but they do serve to dampen one's enthusiasm over finally having a new live album.
Nevertheless, resemblances aside I wouldn't call the band's live and studio sides interchangeable. There is a certain excitement that can only be cultivated onstage, and Led Zeppelin do try out certain ideas that they might have hesitated to put on a commercial product.
Furthermore, Jimmy Page is in top form on the album, providing countless fluid solos and delivering thunderous riffage in a way that only he can. No longer the lesser of three Yardbirds, Page emerges as a guitar virtuoso, and How The West Was Won is a brilliant showcase of his ever-evolving abilities.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Robert Plant. In a live environment Plant embraces some of his worst excesses, from the grating and gratuitous repetition of words like 'baby' to the obnoxious intonations he brings to many of his vocals. With time one can grow desensitized to these irritations, and in the long run they don't dramatically mar the experience.
For the most part, the track selection is impeccable. On the first disc the band cuts loose with a parade of savage rockers. Immigrant Song has never sounded better, and while Heartbreaker is heavily protracted it never loses its momentum. Compromises had to be made on Black Dog, including losing some of the vocals, but Page compensates for this with his onslaught of crunchy riffage.
Since hard rock concerts have become nearly synonymous with 'rocking,' it's very heartening that Led Zeppelin buck this trend by including an acoustic set for variety. Better still, they devote just as much care and attention to their softer numbers, which include a fabulous rendition of Going To California.
Inevitably, however, the centerpiece of disc one is an excellent cut of Stairway To Heaven. The performance is simply flawless. Page's solo easily ranks amongst his best work ever, and it's certainly vastly superior to his already terrific guitarwork on the original. For once Plant eschews invidious over-emoting and delivers a stunning performance on par with the studio version. Everything comes together to create a virtually immaculate listening experience.
Disc three provides more superb performances. Whole Lotta Love may appear daunting at 23 minutes in length, but unlike most self-indulgent behemoths it uses its time constructively the whole way through. Instead of degenerating into desultory jamming, it runs through several retro rock numbers, handling each with charm and affection.
Rock And Roll may very well be the definitive version of the song, surpassing even the studio original. The track rocks furiously, and once again Page steals the spotlight with his finger-flashing guitarwork.
The Ocean, always an underrated song in my opinion, finally receives the respect it deserves thanks to an impeccable rendition, and while it's a cappella section may not fare all that well in a live environment its catchy riffage is ideal for a concert setting.
The third disc ends with a splendid cover of Willie Dixon's Bring It On Home. While it might sound like a questionable choice for an album closer, it fits in well with Led Zeppelin's repertoire, and ends How The West Was Won on the perfect note.
When looking at these two discs, How The West Was Won seems like a flawless live experience, guaranteed to earn Page, Plant and company the live reputation they deserve. This assessment, however, fails to take the second disc into account, an oversight that may be charitable but is nonetheless impossible for either a critic or a casual listener to make.
Disc two is by no means bereft of merit, as it includes solid run-throughs of fan favorites What Is And What Should Never Be and Dancing Days. Furthermore, there are only two other songs on the disc. Unfortunately, their combined length is over 45 minutes.
Dazed And Confused is one of the most colossally frustrating songs in existence. The original was an exceptional composition and one of the best in the band's catalogue, and while the version on How The West Was Won demonstrates spurts of brilliance the final product is a violation of good taste on almost every conceivable level.
Even those who have developed a high tolerance for Plant's irksome singing will doubtless want to slowly strangle him to death after his vocals on Dazed And Confused, a performance that can best be compared to a throat-singer with Tourette's syndrome. Page doesn't help matters by over-abusing the bowed-guitars gimmick, resulting in many interminable passages that can scarcely be called music. It's a bad sign when one of the highlights of a song is a lengthy section culled from The Crunge, a portion that thankfully lacks vocals.
Worse still, however, is Moby Dick. Drum solos have always been anathema to me, and while I'm sure that John Bonham invested a tremendous amount of skill and effort into his performance it doesn't change the fact that, for me, the solo is a fifteen minute ordeal. Sadly, as was the case with the original, Page's catchy riff is wasted on a track that I'll never want to listen to again for the rest of my life.
While the second disc is consummately flawed, and impacts the album's rating accordingly, one need merely discard the offending item and have one of the best two-CD live albums of all time. Led Zeppelin were a great live band, and while they may have never had a Live At Leeds, How The West Was Won is by no means anything to scoff at. While Page is indeed the star here the band worked well as a unit, and much as I complain about Plant there are many instances on the album where he acquits himself quite admirably.
Thus How The West Was Won receives a strong recommendation, albeit one that doesn't apply to an entire third of the overall package.