In 1973 John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Report Plant, aka Led Zeppelin, embarked upon one of their US tours. They were at the height of the heavy rock scene and this tour broke records in terms of crowd attendance. Famous for their excellent stage productions, trashing hotel suites and shark fishing one of the stops on this tour was filmed for release at a later stage. Those 3 dates were at Madison Square Gardens and resulted in the 1976 film The Song Remains the Same. Due to the recent death of Ahmet Ertegün the 3 remaining band members (Bonham having died of alcohol poisoning on September 25th 1980) reformed for a one off, sold out within seconds, benefit gig so the time was obviously ripe once again to re-release this on disc.
The Song Remains the Same is slightly unusual in terms of concert footage; it's a little more than that. Interspersed with the band playing at Madison Square Gardens are a number of additions extracted from their own psyches. We see Plant imagining he's a knight in shining fur and cheesecloth battling to fight evil who has captured the fair maiden. Page scales vertical cliffs only to find an older druid type figure which in fact turns out to be the man himself just aged a little. God knows what Paul Jones was on as he descends into his own hallucinations and Bonham appears to like nothing better than messing about with family down on the homestead. Can anyone please tell me why Peter Grant appears as a gangster at the start, or am I being just a little obtuse? As well as these snippets there is archive news footage of the famous - and still unsolved - robbery of the gate money held in a safe deposit box at The Drake hotel, shots of the band and crowd arriving and the standard backstage shots of crew and band members.
- Black Dog
- Rock & Roll
- Since I've Been Loving You
- No Quarter
- The Song Remains the Same
- Rain Song
- Dazed and Confused
- Stairway to Heaven
- Moby Dick
- Whole Lotta Love
What we have here on this disc is a true legendary rock band at the absolute height of their career. Bonham going wild on the drums, but still eclipsed in my own mind by The Who's Keith Moon, Paul Jones hitting a thumping beat on bass guitar or psychedelic synth, Plant's ultra dynamic vocals offering a superb lead presence on stage and of course Page's all too often riffs on his custom Les Paul.
This was the 70s though and it meant a number of things, wide-open shirts showing off medallions or a brief clump of sweaty hair, wider flares you could sail yachts by, excruciatingly bad hairstyles (thankfully Paul Jones hasn't continued this trend), and the solo on stage. This was always Page's band, put together after leaving The Yardbirds, and he makes this fact plain in their albums and here on stage. Often the songs will come to a brief pause so he can show off his undoubted talents to the world. The same goes for Bonham, at one point during Moby Dick producing a drum solo for some 8 or 9 minutes and here leaving his sticks behind to provide some percussion with his kit and his hands; the rest of the band members leave the stage to let him get on with it. Now you either love or hate the solo and I for one can't say I take to it that easily, a band is just that a group of members, and for me extended solos are just a way of massaging one's ego. I have to admit though these people are pretty good at it.
On top of all of this we have bare chested Plant ripping his lungs out to give us a stunning performance. His vocal dynamic range is something to behold, and by all accounts still can produce the goods some 35 years on. You'll see the audience go wild at his renditions of Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll and my personal favourite Whole Lotta Love. True he misses a key every now and then but give the guy a break, it's a demanding job! And that brings us nicely to the audience; at times I felt they were a little subdued considering who's up on stage and what they have to offer... perhaps it was just the sections the camera panned to. These panning shots reveal audience members whose jaws are literally wide open, hitting the deck; and a particular shot of a woman with bright blue eye shadow... God knows what she was on at the time but she certainly looks as though she's enjoying herself. I think it's fair to say that the attendees got their money's worth over the 3 nights at Madison Square Gardens.
These days though I can't help but look at The Song Remains the Same and cast my mind back to the pant wettingly funny This is Spinal Tap, which presents a truly wonderful take on the whole mega rock band era, their off stage antics, elaborate stage shows and untimely death of band members. Whereas Tap tried to go all the way to 11 The Song Remains the Same for Zeppelin fans certainly succeeds.
Drama itself surrounded the making of this feature, not only did the $200,000.00 gate money go mysteriously missing from one of the hotel's safe deposit boxes but filming almost never took place due to the American trade unions taking umbrage at a British crew being used. Fortunately, for Zeppelin fans world wide, the latter of these was ironed out and in the end both band members and crew produced wonderful concert footage with a brief insight into their substance-induced minds at the time.
With the current hype yet again surrounding Led Zeppelin I feel that this disc will fly off the shelves; well they would if Warner had released it at the start of December as originally planned. Pulled with no reason given, web sites have said there are copyright issues - but who knows. Some however, obviously including my BluRay copy, found their way into the wild and I am so glad they did. If you can, try and pick one up. Even if you're not a big lover of the group you'll be entertained by some of the best individuals the music scene has known.
Our Review Ethos
- Black Dog