With vastly improved sound, which makes these classic albums sound more vibrant and alive than they have in decades, the first batch of Led Zeppelin reissues — 1969’s eponymous debut, 1969’s II, and 1970’s III — are clearly worth the upgrade. But when deciding whether to get the regular, single-disc versions or the two-disc deluxe editions, things get a little more murky.
The easiest choice comes with the deluxe edition of the first album, the second disc of which presents Led Zeppelin’s October 10, 1969 show at the Olympia in Paris, France. A blistering concert, this seventy-minutes-plus-long show has the band tearing through such tracks as “Dazed And Confused,” “How Many More Times,” and the one-two punch of “Good Times Bad Times” into “Communication Breakdown.” It even has them playing “Heartbreaker” and “Moby Dick,” songs from II, which came out less than two week later. While the band may have played longer shows back then, they didn’t play many that were better.
the second discs of both the II and III deluxe edition are far less impressive.
Instead of a live show, the deluxe edition of Led Zeppelin’s II presents a half hour of outtakes, most of which are just alternate versions of songs from this second album. But while the slightly different “Rough Mix With Vocal” version of “Whole Lotta Love” is interesting enough that you’ll actually want to listen to it more than once, the same can’t be said for most of the other songs. The “Rough Mix With Vocal” versions of “Heartbreaker,” “Ramble On” and “What Is What Should Never Be” are, as advertised, are basically rougher-sounding versions of these songs, while the “Backing Track” versions of “Thank You,” and “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)” just sound like the originals with Robert Plant’s vocal stripped out.
Even less interesting? The “Backing Track” version of “Moby Dick,” which is just the beginning and the ending of the song, and has none of John Bonham’s impressive drumming. In fact, the only truly new bit of music on the deluxe edition of Led Zeppelin’s II is “La La,” an instrumental that actually doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin at all. Which means that, aside from the alt take on “Whole Lotta Love,” the deluxe edition of II is as waste of time.
Things are a little better…
on the second disc of Led Zeppelin’s III’s deluxe edition, though really not until the end with the instrumental “Jennings Farm Blues,” which includes elements of “That’s The Way,” and a jam on the blues classics “Key To The Highway” and “Trouble In Mind.” Sadly, though, the rest of the second disc isn’t as impressive. Again, the lack of vocals on the “Track (No Vocal)” versions of “Friends” renders it useless, while the “Alternate Mix” editions of “Immigrant Song” (called “The Immigrant Song”) and “Celebration Day,” and the “Rough Mix” of “Gallows Pole” (save for some guitar strumming at the end), don’t make them different enough to be of interest.
Only the “Rough Mix” of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (which has a totally different vocal track and guitar solo, among other things), and the “Rough Mix With Dulcimer & Backwards Echo” edition of “That’s The Way” are really all that different, as is “Bathroom Sound,” which is basically “Out On The Tiles” reworked into an instrumental. And even you may not think they’re different enough to warrant keeping.
What’s annoying is that there are other tracks that have been floating around collector’s circles for years that are more interesting than what’s included here. Stuff like the acoustic blues jam that had them going from “Feel So Bad” into “Fixin’ To Die” into “That’s Alright,” which was supposedly recorded around the time of III. Or one of the many live versions of The Yarbirds’ “Train Kept A Rollin’” that Led Zeppelin played a lot in the early days.
There’s also a lot of stuff that’s already been released, though it’s still relevant. Coda, Led Zeppelin’s 1982 posthumous collection of outtakes, included an unused track from the III sessions called “Poor Tom,” and if you also include unique songs only played live, you could add “We’re Gonna Grove,” “C’Mon Everybody,” and “Something Else” from the Albert Hall show part of the Led Zeppelin DVD, as well as the songs “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else” from 1997’s BBC Sessions.
Then there’s the question mark that is 1975’s Physical Graffiti. Nearly half of that album’s fifteen tracks were originally recorded for other albums, including “Bron-Yr-Aur” during sessions for III. What isn’t known — at least by me — is whether the versions on Physical Graffiti are the originals, or were reworked for that album, and if the latter, how different were those original tracks? Because if they were different, it would be cool to hear the original version of “Bron-Yr-Aur.”
But perhaps the biggest annoyance about the deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s II and III is that they don’t come with great live shows from their relevant tours like the first one does. Heck, they could’ve just put an audio version of the Royal Albert Hall show onto the II collection, especially if they restored it to its original running order.
Though I do appreciate that Led Zeppelin didn’t tack the extra tracks onto the same disc as the albums, even though there is room on the CD. While it might’ve made them slightly cheaper, it’s better that they preserved the sanctity of these albums.
if we’re judging these collections on what they are, instead of what they’re not, the deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s II and III still fall short, if only because most of the stuff on their respective second discs aren’t much more than curiosities, interesting artifacts you’d only listen to once, not new songs or radically different versions of old classics. Let’s hope the deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s other albums do a better job.
Led Zeppelin: 9.5/10
Led Zeppelin (deluxe edition): 9.5/10
II (regular edition): 9.5/10
II (deluxe edition): 6.0/10
III (regular edition): 9.5/10
III (deluxe edition): 7.5/10
To read my review of Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album and Houses Of The Holy, click here.