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BBC Sessions Liner Notes


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.

Candy Store Rock Gifts

Novel gifts for the consummate Led Zeppelin fan, as well as the best selection of quality gifts and accessories for musicians.

This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

February 7, 1962 - Deborah Bonham, sister to John, was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, England
February 23, 1966 - Warren Grant, son of Peter, was born.
February xx, 1969 - Led Zeppelin enters the Billboard Top 40
February 16, 1969 - Led Zeppelin wrap up their first American tour in Baltimore, MD.
February 07, 1970 - Edinburgh gig cancelled after Plant receives facial injuries in a car accident
February 28, 1970 - The band performs as "The Nobs" in Copenhagen after threat of legal action from Countess Von Zeppelin
February xx, 1971 - John Paul Jones involved in legal issues regarding a musician who shares the same name
February xx, 1971 - Overdubs for the fourth album are recorded at Island Studios
February 14, 1972 - The band is refused admission into Singapore due to their long hair
February 16, 1972 - The Australian tour begins in Perth
February 21, 1972 - Led Zeppelin: Rock and Roll b/w Four Sticks (Atlantic 45-2865) 45 single is released in the US.
February xx, 1973 - The band makes final preparations for the European tour
February 16, 1973 - The release date for Houses Of The Holy is pushed back due to some sleeve problems
February xx, 1974 - Sessions for Physical Graffiti continue
February 14, 1974 - Page, Plant and Bonham attend a Roy Harper concert
February 04, 1975 - Zeppelin perform a last minute show at Nassau Coliseum to accomodate fans after being banned in Boston
February 24, 1975 - Physical Graffiti finally issued worldwide to phenomenal sales
February xx, 1976 - Media reports that Zeppelin are due to release an album entitled Obelisk
February xx, 1977 - Robert contracts a bout of tonsillitis postponing the American tour
February xx, 1978 - Robert Plant helps produce a record for punk band Dansette Damage
February 16, 1978 - The cases against Bonham, Cole & Grant stemming from the Oakland incident are heard and all receive suspended prison sentences and fines
February xx, 1979 - Although absent from the US stage or market, Led Zeppelin rank best in many music magazine categories
February xx, 1979 - Mixing sessions for In Through The Out Door take place at Polar Studios. Rumors fly of a European tour
February 03, 1980 - Robert joins Dave Edmund’s Rockpile at the Birmingham Top Rank
February 13, 2005 - Led Zeppelin receives a Grammy for Lifetime Achievment.
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