I am not a die-hard Led Zeppelin fan. But I have come to have enormous respect for the quartet of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. I have come to realize that the efforts of a great work ethic have produced some of the stuff that legends are made of – and Led Zep takes the cake. At the same time, I have always been a fan of the music that has been a part of the “BBC Archives”. These archives contain legendary live recordings, exclusive studio sets, and documentaries that are a must for any music fan. Since there is a well-known shortage of official “live” albums by Led Zeppelin, when I found out that “Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions” was being made available, I was most interested in this collection. While I don’t consider a lot of the material, Led Zeppelin’s “best” material – I just continue to have more and more respect for what was one of the all-time great bands.
When I review a live album, I usually prefer the album to basically be a full recoding of a concert. I normally am not one for edited concerts or live compilations. However, with “Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions”, I felt I had to adjust my thinking. This compilation is attempting to surface material that was broadcast back from 1969 through 1971 – and has basically been “lost” (except for those who had bootleg recordings). The important thing to note is that the emphasis of the material is going to be from Led Zeppelin’s first four albums – or what I term “the early days”. The collection includes material that were broadcast on three separate BBC Radio programs: John Peel’s “Top Gear” (Broadcasted 3/23/1969 and 6/29/1969), “Chris Grant’s Tasty Pop Sundae” (Broadcasted 6/22/1969),”BBC Rock Hour” (“One Night Stand”) (Broadcasted 8/10/1969) and Radio One’s “In Concert” (Recorded 1/4/1971).
“BBC Sessions” is broken up into two CDs. The first CD focuses on material from “Led Zeppelin I” and “Led Zeppelin II”. The shows that derive this material are “Top Gear”, “Tasty Pop Sundae”, and “BBC Rock Hour”. The one thing to note is that much of this material is going to focus on Led Zeppelin’s Blues days. While I am not the biggest fan of the Blues, I had enormous respect for the quality of the music that Led Zeppelin created in this genre. The one thing I don’t like is that the music is mixed up. I would have preferred the collection to have the music in the order by which the shows were broadcasted. It seems the “Pop Sundae” material was broken up – disrupting the flow. If the collection preserved the originaln chronological broadcast order, I think this would have allowed us to see how Led Zeppelin progressed from their Blues roots into a Hard Rock band. It is worth noting the material from the first “Top Gear” broadcast (“You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, and “Dazed and Confused”) comes entirely from “Led Zeppelin I”.
The second CD is devoted entirely to the “In Concert” broadcast. While the first CD had much more of a Blues feel, this one is going to have much more of a Classic Rock feel. (even though there is a Blues medley for “Whole Lotta Love”). This CD includes a good cross section of material from the first four Led Zeppelin albums. This also has much more of a feel for a true concert as opposed to the first CD, which has more of a feel of a broadcast of live songs. As mentioned above, I normally would not like this, but I feel the intent of this was to basically bring the stuff “out of the vault”. The second CD also includes “Thank You” – this particular song was not broadcasted on the “In Concert” recording.
One thing that is very important when considering this collection is the sound quality. Prior to the release of “BBC Sessions”, much of this material was basically available from bootleg. Also, keep in mind – this stuff comes from a 25 month period from 1969 through 1971. While we all know that Jimmy Page is a legendary guitarist, he must get enormous credit as a record engineer. Page remasters this collection as brilliantly as I have ever heard any mastered. There are many references that “BBC Sessions” shows Led Zeppelin in “raw” form. I couldn’t agree with that statement raw. The amazing thing is – as you listen to this CD, you can almost pick out every sound that is made. In other words, you can hear Jimmy Page’s guitar, John Paul Jones’ keyboards and bass, and John Bonham’s drums in a most intricate manner. Of course, don’t forget the incredible and unique vocals of Robert Plant. While “Stairway to Heaven” may be one of the all-time overplayed Classic Rock songs, the version that is included on the second CD will just completely blow you away.
One thing worth mentioning is that you will hear different variations of the same song on this collection. This is truly one of the major strengths of this collection. This shows the versatility and talent of Led Zeppelin as a band for being able to pull this off. Multiple versions include: “Communication Breakdown”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Whole Lotta Love”, and “You Shook Me”. As for Led Zeppelin being seen in a “Jam Band” style: “How Many More Times” (1st CD) and “Whole Lotta Love” (2nd CD) are terrific while “Dazed in Confused” (2nd CD) was a bit overdrawn.
The liner notes include a terrific 2-panel write-up by Luis Rey in regards to Led Zeppelin and the BBC broadcasts. As mentioned while this isn’t my favorite Zeppelin material, it still is of very good quality. It’s too bad they didn’t have material taken from the mid 1970s – the period that I consider the most creative of Led Zeppelin’s career. Still this is good stuff – and definitely worth checking out.