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LED ZEPPELIN - BBC SESSIONS

Precious few broadcast documents of Led Zeppelin can be found, and until recently, none of them in an official release.

These BBC sessions capture the essence of early Led Zeppelin at its rawest and freshest.

For a pefection-obsessed studio group like Zeppelin, the concept of broadcasting 'just so' performances, improvised and mostly withou overdubs, seemed like an extreme challenge. But in reality, it was the kind of challenge that early fans of Zeppelin could expect from the band ... they were in league with those few performing artists who could do ten versions of the same song, roughly the same time length, and all of them still sounding radically different.

Led Zeppelin were essentially an improvisational band. The thrill for any attendant to their concerts was to get into a trip where nobody really knew where or how far they would be taken ...

Because of their concert reputation, Zeppelin were always wary of how the media would package their image. The sixties radio broadcasts treated the artists as two-minute hit commodities. Led Zeppelin were there to break and transcend the traditional media treatment of those ages. None of the material released in this set was meant to go beyond the boundaries of the radio. Ironically, the studio and broadcast constraints actually concentrated the intensity of the Live Led Zeppelin Experience.

But first, let's understand these performances in their historical context. Led Zeppelin selected the highly reputable John Peel's 'top Gear', Chris Grant's 'tasty Pop Sundae' and Radio One's 'In Concert' series for their British radio appearances.

The earliest Top Gear selection of sessions included in this set was recorded on March 3, 1969 and broadcast March 23. They had just finished the successful first US tour and were about to embark on a second Scandinavian tour. You Shook Me, I Can't Quit You and Dazed And Confused are deliberately slow, minimalistic, compact and adventurous ... pure blues pastiche. So much so that the inexhaustible blues baggage inside Plant's head lets him rework the songs using Nineteen Years Old from Muddy Waters as part of I Can't Quit You and create new lyrics for Dazed And Confused. This was the first British broadcast test for Led Zeppelin ... short but intense.

Chris Grant's Tasty pop Sundae sessions were recorded on June 16, 1969 (broadcast June 22) - only three months later than the previous sessions - but there is a world of difference. They had started working on Led Zeppelin II and were about to start the third American tour. Adamant and more devastating than the March sessions, these are also benefited from the use of overdubs. The Girl I Love, with its infectious riff and allusions to Sleepy John Estes (underlined by the heavy hammer of John Bonham and a fine Jimmy Page solo) was never officially released. Nor was a fiery Somethin' Else, Communication Breakdown has a slow and provocative Just A Little Bit funky interlude.

The second John Peel's Top Gear (recorded June 24, 1969, broadcast June 29) finds Led Zeppelin embarking on their most ambitious set ever, this time including two songs from the future second album and an unreleased track. What Is And What Should Never Be is heavily treated with echoing slide guitar and John Paul Jones' most intricate bass lines, and also includes John Bonham's broadcast gong debut. Travelling Riverside Blues is a Robert Johnson blues pastiche ... Plant squeezes the lemon wrapped inside a rollercoaster of slide guitar workouts. But it is the first broadcast of Whole Lotta Love that really sweeps us into a tidal wave of sound. A radically different, perhaps even superior version compared to the second album release: Page gets straight into pure muscular riffing, while the pristine voice of Plant creeps over it, waiting for the rest of the group to set the stage on fire. The Theremin section leads to a uniquely dynamic wah-wah solo guitar break (extended two bars). A vocal-instrumental race finishes the piece.

After these extremely strong sessions, the group was ready to take a risk: the recreation of a typical June '69 Led Zeppelin concert in a radio broadcast and in front of a live audience ... The Playhouse Theatre performance for the BBC Rock Hour (June 27, 1969) was a landmark that set standards for the presentation of Rock Music in the radio. And they were on top form. The dual introduction of Communication Breakdown and I Can't Quit You contrasts with the slow mayhem of You Shook Me (highlighted this time by an extraordinary, moody organ solo by Jones). The apotheosis of How Many More Times has changed compared to early 1969 versions: no violin bow psycho-interlude here anymore ... instead there is the 'Bolero' guitar solo, and by this time, if you listen attentively, in the middle of the non-stop instrumental rollercoaster, Plant recognises that he doesn't know what he's saying but he's having a good time ... a sharp and eloquent 'squeeze My Lemon' (Robert Plant's self-parody of the sarcastic, sour blues crying of the legendary Robert Johnson) caps the frenzy to keep the balance.

One of the fascinating aspects of Led Zeppelin is that in those days they performed as if every concert would be the last. And this is the reason why these sessions have aged so well ... they sound as if recorded yesterday.

For the last sessions we will have to travel two years in time to John Peel's BBC Rock Hour which takes place at the Paris Studios in London, April 1, 1971 (broadcast 4 April). This is probably the most famous of the group's radio appearances, bootlegged a myriad of times and released in every conceivable form (including being spliced and edited together with fragments of the 1969 sessions!) It is a typical early '71 concert, precisely in the middle of the British 'Return To The Clubs' polemic tour.

Highlights include previews of the Fourth album (eight months before its release) like Black Dog (including Bonham's Out On The Tiles introduction), Going To California and the first ever broadcast of Stairway To Heaven. No applause greets the opening bars, just expectation from the very quiet studio audience. In this primtive version you can almost 'see' Page changing fret boards of the new double-necked guitar. There's tension in the air in contrast to the distended frenzy of 1969. The magic moments are less visceral and more cerebral. Page's Dazed And Confused has everybody flying high in a specially spaced-out finale. An almost accidental, precise full stop after the psycho-Theremin frenzy of Whole Lotta Love is pure tight-but-loose.

The famed side of Led Zeppelin as cover group is well represented here: the medley of classics flows, starting with the group's version of John Lee Hooker's Boogie Chillun'; Truckin' Little Mama; Fixin' To Die; That's Alright Mama; and A Mess Of Blues enhanced with an excellent Jimmy Page guitar solo. The organ of John Paul Jones introduces Thank You, finishing a tight and compact (even if nervous at times) performace.

This double CD set is much more than just a compilation from the BBC Broadcasts. It captures the group in its heyday and it is an historical document and a tribute to music and to Led Zeppelin's integrity as musicians. Perhaps the sound quality of these recordings is not at the level of Zeppelin's original releases ... for some, this is Led Zeppelin warts an' all. But technocratic perfection isn't what really counts for us; we demand creativity and risk.

A captured moment of spontaneous creativity is worth more than a thousand hours of computerised perfection. And anyone can still find that creativity in these Led Zeppelin performances.
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

October xx, 1968 - Led Zeppelin is recorded
October 19, 1968 - Final performance as the New Yardbirds
October 31, 1969 - Led Zeppelin II is released in the US
October 17, 1969 - Bonham is thrilled to play Carnegie Hall where Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa have performed
October 23, 1970 - Led Zeppelin III is released in the US
October xx, 1970 - The press lash out at the band over the Led Zeppelin III acoustic content
October xx, 1971 - Page and Plant venture around Thailand and India after the Japan tour
October 18, 1972 - Zeppelin rehearse at the Rainbow Theater for a UK tour
October xx, 1973 - Each member performs an individual film sequence for their concept film
October 31, 1974 - Swan Song hosts a party for the launch of its UK division
October xx, 1975 - Led Zeppelin decide not to tour and concentrate on recording new material
October 20, 1976 - The Song Remains The Same premieres at New York’s Cinema One
October xx, 1977 - Jimmy starts assembling a Led Zeppelin live album from recordings as far back as 1969
October xx, 1978 - Jones and Bonham record with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios
October xx, 1978 - Rehearsals for In Through The Out Door in London
October xx, 1979 - All nine Led Zeppelin albums enter the Billboards Top 200 -- no other band has ever achieved this
October 10, 1980 - A private funeral is held for John Bonham at Rushock church in Worcestershire
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