Simone is an Italian guy who is very passionate about music. He writes classic rock album reviews.
After having talked about Led Zeppelin's studio discography in my previous article, it only seemed right to go and have a look at their live releases, to really get a full picture of their entire career. In this case, I included every kind of live release available, so not only the main albums, but also a bonus CD from a reissue, and their 2003 DVD, as they are also worthy of consideration.
The ranking here is actually kind of a formality, as even the "worst" release is very good, so the order here is based more on how much a specific release would be the right starting point for a new fan to have an idea about how Led Zeppelin were in concert.
6. Live At The Olympia, Paris, France: October 10, 1969 (2014)
In 2014 Jimmy Page started a long series of re-releases of the whole Led Zeppelin discography, with every album remastered and also available in an extended version, with bonus material added. While with most albums we got a second CD of rough mixes and demos of songs from the main album, with Led Zeppelin I actually came an almost full recording of a concert.
Recorded by the BBC in October 1969 in Paris, a few days before the release of their second album, and broadcast on radio, this concert was already available as a bootleg for a long time. The sound is slightly better than the old bootleg, but sadly, the recording is cut to fit on a single CD.
Most of the spoken parts in between songs are not present, Bonham's "Moby Dick" is completely absent, and almost half of "How Many More Times" is cut. Still, it's an hour and ten minutes of early Led Zeppelin playing material from their first album, a very early version of "Heartbreaker," and probably the most unique part, an instrumental snippet of "Good Times Bad Times" leading into "Communication Breakdown" at the beginning of the concert.
A high energy show with a bit of a messy sound due to the original recording quality, but still an enjoyable listening experience. Of course, the bootleg is still out there if you want to listen to the missing bits...
5. Celebration Day (2012)
The legendary 2007 reunion concert at the O2 Arena in London, with Jason Bonham—John's son—on drums. It took five years to be officially released on both CD and DVD. There were multiple editions, one of which included a full rehearsal, but the main thing, of course, was the concert itself. It was a real celebration, after a series of not so good reunions from the past (Live Aid 1985, Atlantic concert in 1988, etc.).
The show has wonderful sound and professional camera work, and the band's performance, while subdued compared to their younger selves (understandably so), is still incredibly solid. Highlights include one of the best versions ever of "Kashmir," rarely played songs like "Good Times Bad Times," "Ramble On," and "For Your Life," and a whole bunch of classics with very little jamming. This is probably the only occasion in which Page plays an almost note-for-note version of the "Stairway to Heaven" solo.
Sure, some songs are played in a lower tonality to accommodate Plant's more mature voice (which sounds amazing), but the magic is still there, and Jason does an excellent job on drums. This is a legendary reunion, and there is not much to add to that.
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4. BBC Sessions (1997)
The BBC is a great source of interesting live recordings by many classic bands from the 60's and 70s, and Led Zeppelin are no exception to this. The 1997 version of this album came out as a double CD, with the first disc being a collection of tracks recorded throughout 1969.
The downside to Disc 1 are a lot of repeat tracks. However, the upside are several tracks not available elsewhere, like "The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair," and very nice covers of "Travelling Riverside Blues" by Robert Johnson and "Somethin' Else by Eddie Cochran." You can hear Zeppelin's development as a live band, from the early recording in March 1969 through the later recording in August (with great versions of "You Shook Me" and "How Many More Times").
Disc 2 is probably more interesting, with an almost-complete recording of a show from April 1971, which sees the band relaxed relative to other recordings of that era), and most interestingly, they play songs that at the time were unreleased, such as "Black Dog" and "Stairway To Heaven!" There's also a very powerful version of "Since I've Been Loving You," a rare and longer version of "Thank You," and also a fun medley of covers during "Whole Lotta Love" (sadly incomplete).
In 2016, as part of the reissue campaign, this album was remastered and expanded, including a third disc with more songs from 1969, and a couple from the 1971 show that were cut ("What Is And What Should Never Be" and "Communication Breakdown"). Needless to say, this is the version to get, even if those songs are out of order, as they didn't put them in their respective shows, but rather just dumped them on an additional disc.
Although it's fragmentary, the BBC Sessions are a great way to hear early Led Zeppelin live.
3. The Song Remains The Same (1976)
Perhaps THE classic Led Zeppelin live release, the album was recorded and filmed during their three day residency at the Madison Square Garden, New York, July 27–29, 1973, and released three years later. It's been discussed intensely by fans ever since due to a series of different, and sometimes controversial reasons.
First of all, let's get it out of the way: The performances are great, and although we can hear Plant's voice changing due to overuse, many live versions of their songs included here are regarded by most fans as definitive. "No Quarter," "Dazed And Confused," "Stairway To Heaven," "Moby Dick," "The Song Remains The Same," and "The Rain Song" are all legendary and sometimes extended by improvisations.
The movie itself is also hugely important, most notably in the way it integrated some fantasy sections to cover the lack of filmed parts from the live shows. That turned obvious limitations in strengths, even if those fantasy sections are seen by many as tacky and forced, they perfectly represent the band and the culture and aesthetic of the mid-'70s.
The album didn't follow the tracklist of the movie, so some songs were only in the movie, and others were only on the album. In 2007 things changed dramatically: A remastered version of The Song Remains The Same was released, and the tracklist of the double CD was extended to include songs that were not on the original album and movie, like "Over The Hills And Far Away," "The Ocean," "Misty Mountain Hop," and the complete "Heartbreaker."
At the same time, the songs that were cut in the movie are now also cut on the CD ("Black Dog" is a perfect example, as is "No Quarter," which interestingly, was actually complete on the 1976 LP). All that to say, despite this legendary album and performance, there isn't a perfect Song release. Regardless, this is Led Zeppelin at their peak, playing a setlist filled with classics.
Before moving on, I'd like to address the controversy about the way this album was recorded, as many people are convinced that most of this album was re-recorded in the studio later. This is obviously not true, as it's pretty easy to go online and find bootleg recordings of most of the three concerts (only the first one is incomplete). If you listen to all three shows and compare it with the official album, it's at least 99% live, with very few corrections made after the fact.
What was actually done later, in 1974, is some filming at Shepperton Studios to cover missing bits in the footage—as we can see in the movie during "Black Dog"—but this has nothing to do with the live recording itself, which is pretty faithful to reality.
2. How The West Was Won (2003)
This is the best Led Zeppelin live release on CD, hands down. Taken from two performances, one at the LA Forum on June 25, 1972, and the other from the Long Beach Arena from June 27, 1972, How The West Was Won brings us two and a half hours of music on three CDs.
Yes, some songs are cut (apparently they also played an acoustic version of "Tangerine," and encored with "Communication Breakdown" and "Thank You"), but what is on par with The Song Remains The Same, and at times even better. The opening with "Immigrant Song" and "Heartbreaker" is incendiary, the early version of "Over The Hills and Far Away" is a rare occasion to hear Plant singing the original high melody, the acoustic set is loose and fun, the jamming in "Dazed And Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love" is some of their best, and the last ever performance of "Bring It On Home," extended out to nine minutes, is a perfect ending to this wonderful album. Yes, it could have also fitted on two CDs, but that's a minor issue.
In 2018, a remastered version was released, which sounds slightly better, but probably for copyright reasons, omitted "Hello Mary Lou" from the "Whole Lotta Love" medley, which was included in the 2003 version. Bear that in mind when you consider which version to buy.
1. Led Zeppelin DVD (2003)
This DVD is probably the best introduction to live Led Zeppelin, as it includes a selection of performances from 1969 through 1979. Most of the first disc is dedicated to the Royal Albert Hall concert from 1970, and even though it's incomplete, it's still more than an hour and a half of excellent video showing the band without fancy lights, just playing their early songs in a very solid way. From the opening "We're Gonna Groove," to the very long "How Many More Times," to the spectacular "Moby Dick," there is much to enjoy here.
As a bonus, there are various TV appearances. My favorite is from March 1969 and was recorded for Danish TV. The band rips through four songs, including a rare "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," one of the best early Zeppelin videos I've ever seen.
On the second DVD we get four tracks from Madison Square Garden in 1973, two of which didn't make the cut for The Song Remains The Same movie ("The Ocean" and "Misty Mountain Hop." We finally get a complete "Black Dog" and a slightly different "Since I've Been Loving You," which was probably included because it was played right after Misty Mountain Hop."
After this, things get even more interesting, with 50 minutes from Earls Court in 1975 (the acoustic set, followed by incredible versions of "In My Time Of Dying" and "Trampled Underfoot," along with "Stairway To Heaven"), and another 50 minutes from Knebworth 1979, especially worthy at least for "Achilles Last Stand" and "Kashmir."
Of course all material is edited and far from being complete, but as an overview it's a fantastic DVD. It's also worth noting that in each of the DVD menus there are so many videos used as a background, most of them are fan videos filmed on 8mm cameras. They're a very valuable and interesting addition to an already packed release.
Curiously, when the Mothership compilation was released around 2007 to coincide with their big reunion, there was a version with an added DVD. That's basically a shorter version of the 2003 release, with fewer songs so it could fit on one disc and without bonus tracks. It's only worthy of consideration if you can't find the 2003 DVD.