As anyone who got the recent deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut, second album, or III can tell you, while the remastered versions were great, the second discs didn’t always make these special editions worthwhile. Now we have the next batch — Led Zeppelin’s symbolically-titled 1971 fourth album (available in regular, deluxe, vinyl, and digital editions) and 1973’s House Of The Holy (also regular, deluxe, vinyl, and digital editions) — and, sad to say, they’re somewhat less impressive than the first.
Like the regular editions of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums, the remastered versions of IV (for lack of a better name) and House Of The Holy both sound amazing. Brighter, clearer, and cleaner than they ever have before. Granted, it’s not as dramatic an upgrade as when guitarist Jimmy Page remastered them the first time for CD years ago, but it’s still enough of an improvement that even casual fans should pick both up.
And if there were any Led Zeppelin albums that even casual fans would want, it would probably be these two (and, well, II and Physical Graffiti). While IV has such rock classics as “Rock & Roll” and “Black Dog,” House Of The Holy has such iconic tracks as “The Rain Song” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.”
More importantly, it has three of Led Zeppelin’s best songs (in my humble opinion): “Stairway To Heaven,” “When The Levee Breaks” (IV) and “No Quarter” (Houses Of The Holy).
But while the regular versions are great, the second discs of the deluxe editions aren’t worth the extra scratch unless you’re a super duper fan. Or really curious and don’t have anyone you can borrow them from for a night.
For the deluxe edition of IV, the second disc has alternate versions the regular album’s eight tracks. It’s just too bad almost none of them are all that alternative. While “Rock And Roll (Alternate Mix)” and “Stairway To Heaven (Sunset Sound Mix)” are worth checking out for curiosity’s sake only, since they’re not radically different than the released versions, the tracks “Misty Mountain Hop (Alternate Mix),” “Four Sticks (Alternate Mix),” and “When The Levee Breaks (Alternate U.K. Mix)” are a bit different sounding, but only because they sound like the regular versions if you used a cheap tape recorder to tape them off the radio. Like anyone would ever do that.
But the worst track, by far, is the “Black Dog (Basic Track With Guitar Overdubs),” which mostly sounds like the original, but at times has bits of Robert Plant singing that make it sound like he’s singing along to his own song in the car.
As for the deluxe edition of Houses Of The Holy, it has alternate versions of seven of the album’s eight songs; it skips “D’yer Mak’er.” But again, sadly, most aren’t worth listening to more than once. While the “The Songs Remains The Same (Guitar Overdub Reference Mix)” and “Over The Hills And Far Away (Guitar Mix Backing Track,” are basically just instrumental versions with some slightly different guitars, the “Dancing Days (Rough Mix With Vocals),” “The Rain Song (Mix Minus Piano),” “The Crunge (Rough Mix, Keys Up),” and “The Ocean (Working Mix)” aren’t radically different in any meaningful ways.
Then there’s the close-but-no-cigar “No Quarter (Rough Mix With JPJ Keyboard Overdubs, No Vocals),” which has some really different and interesting piano and organ parts. But it also has no vocals, which reduces it to just another curiosity, not something you’d want to put on that “Led Zeppelin Rarities” mixed tape you’re putting together of all the best deluxe edition tracks.
In fact, the only tracks from these discs that you might include on that collection are “The Battle Of Evermore (Mandolin/Guitar Mix From Headley Grange)” and “Going To California (Mandolin/Guitar Mix),” which aren’t radically different, yet still manage to work as instrumentals, and don’t sound like songs with the vocal tracks missing.
As bad as it is that the deluxe editions of IV and Houses Of The Holy aren’t great — and yes, I get that Page didn’t intend for them to be, he meant them to be more of an insight into how these albums were made, but whatever — there’s the fact that there are outtakes from these albums that have been released (or bootlegged, as the case may be) over the years. Granted, the best ones — “The Rover,” “Houses Of The Holy,” “Down By The Seaside,” “Night Flight,” “Boogie With Stu,” and “Black Country Woman” — were all resurrected for their 1975 double album Physical Graffiti, but it’s hard not to think there’s more somewhere. Y’know, like the versions of ‘Friends” and “Four Sticks” that they recorded with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra in 1972.
And don’t even get me started on the crappy gatefold cardboard sleeves these things came in. I hadn’t even taken the shrink wrap off IV and it was already beat up. Thankfully, Amoeba Records in L.A., where I bought both CDs, also carry CD jewel cases for just such an emergency.
In the end, while the remastered versions of Led Zeppelin fourth album and Houses Of The Holy are worth getting, the deluxe editions leave a lot to be desired. Sure, the instrumental versions of “The Battle Of Evermore” and “Going To California” are keepers, but two cool tunes out of sixteen isn’t great.
IV (deluxe edition): 6.5/10
Houses Of The Holy: 8.5/10
Houses Of The Holy (deluxe edition): 6.0/10
To read my review of Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III, click here.