Not Just the Same Old Song

On new reissue, Led Zeppelin’s classic concert document actually improves with age

The Song Remains The Same, Swan Song 1976

Led Zeppelin was rarely captured in concert, and indeed, aside from the postscript recordings comprising BBC recordings and the hastily assembled How the West Was Won, The Song Remains the Same — the soundtrack to the film of the same name — remains the only official document of Zep in their prime (though a cursory hunt for “Zeppelin” and “soundboard” will unearth some quality black market treasures!)

Where the movie combined concert footage that was filmed at the band’s three-night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973, much of the rest of it consisted of behind-the-scenes footage and odd but intimate scenes devoted to Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones individually. It was a mishmash at best, but it made the concert video all the more enticing.

The Song Remains The Same is not a great film, but there’s no point in making excuses,” Page was quoted as saying at the time. “It’s just a reasonably honest statement of where we were at that particular time. It’s very difficult for me to watch it now, but I’d like to see it in a year’s time just to see how it stands up.”

The fantasy sequences and the excess additives didn’t work in its favor, and still don’t more than four decades after its October 1976 release. However, the soundtrack has come under increased scrutiny in the past decade. At first, the band publicly stated their disdain for the recording, but a 2007 reissue not only found the material given a vastly improved remix, but also added songs that had been included in the film but omitted from the album — “Black Dog,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” The Ocean ,” and “Heartbreaker.”

Still, in keeping with Jimmy Page’s efforts to remaster all the albums in the Zeppelin catalog, a new version of the 2 CD set offers even better sound quality than before. The vocals and instrumentation sound as sharp and as present as any studio recording, a vast improvement over the muddled and muddy quality of the initial release. It’s breathtakingly intense and consistently compelling as well. Happily too, the reissue retains Cameron Crowe’s 2007 liner notes and adds an embossed cover, which makes the packaging look far more spiffy than before.

Given the aural upgrade, The Song Remains The Same rightfully takes its place with some of the most significant live albums ever made — Get Your Ya Yas Out, Frampton Comes Alive, Cheap Thrills, Cheap Trick Live at Budokan and Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison. Where once it might have made the list simply due to Zeppelin’s revered godlike stature, it now deserves the kudos simply for its content alone.

Of course, concert recordings serve one of two purposes — to revisit an artist’s catalog or to remind the masses of all these artists previously offered, in case the masses weren’t aware already. In the case of Cheap Trick, Big Brother and Frampton, live albums accelerated their careers, taking them from a tentative start with a grand gesture that put them over the top.

In Zeppelin’s case of course, the band had reached its apex, making The Song Remains The Same almost a postscript of sorts. It followed Presence by six months and, aside from In Through the Out Door which was released two years later, it became the final representation in the band in seminal form. Save the greatest hits collections that would come later, it’s the single document that best represents the band at its peak of performance. And given Led Zeppelin’s accreditation as one of the most potent supergroups of all time, The Song Remains The Same boasts a stature that keeps its consistent with the great rock and roll documents of all time.

Happily then, some things are indeed able to stay the same.

 

 

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