Friday, September 3, 2010

Led Zeppelin 11: Box Sets

One of the most commercially successful box sets of the era was released to great fanfare in the fall of 1990, simply titled Led Zeppelin. Rather than being a chronological overview loaded with rarities, the four CDs included 54 songs, only four of which could be considered rare.
Recorded for the BBC around the same time as the second album, “Traveling Riverside Blues” is pretty faithful to the Robert Johnson original, even though it pulls lyrics from others of his songs. “White Summer/Black Mountain Side”, recorded a few days later, is a live performance of Page solo on his Danelectro with some help in the middle from Bonham. (“White Summer” was originally recorded for the Yardbirds, and is an uncredited arrangement of the traditional “She Moved Through The Fair” in his special DADGAD tuning, which was also used in “Kashmir” and “Midnight Moonlight”.) “Hey Hey What Can I Do” should have been included on Coda, since it was actually a band-approved B-side for “Immigrant Song”, loaded with acoustic guitars and mandolins and sporting a happy singalong chorus. Before being overplayed on the radio, it was a fun rarity. “Moby Dick/Bonzo’s Montreux” is a special edit that rather deftly combines the two tracks, and is actually pretty entertaining listening.
Jimmy had, however, remastered the music, having been unsatisfied with the initial 1987 CD versions of the albums, which were done without his involvement. So while the box didn’t exactly break any ground, it did give fans a reason to get a CD player.

The balance of the tracks not included in the first box were included on the two-CD Boxed Set 2, which appeared in 1993 with one new track. “Baby Come On Home” was a long lost outtake from the first album, originally titled “Tribute To Bert Berns”, with lots of piano, organ and Leslie guitar under layered harmonies. It would have been a worthy inclusion to that album, or at least a B-side, yet was obviously left off to better emphasize the band’s particular brand of light and shade.
The CDs were sequenced completely out of any order, but still make for a good shuffled listen, even with “Moby Dick” and “Bonzo’s Montreux” included in their original guises. With such Classic Rock radio hits as “Good Times Bad Times” and “Living Loving Maid” here, it’s clear the songs are good enough to avoid being considered sub-par simply because they weren’t on the first box. (Around the same time, another box appeared. The Complete Studio Recordings offered all the albums in their original sequencing on ten discs, with the bonuses from the other two Box Sets added onto the end of the Coda disc. Nice of them.)

Despite insistence that it would never happen, two “best-of” collections finally appeared late in the century. Early Days and Latter Days included all the hits on a CD each, with pleasant packaging, nice photos and multimedia content. While neither is definitive, they do a nice job and are handy for novices who should probably buy all the albums anyway. They were eventually packaged together to give consumers a more complete set. And a decade later, another double-disc set appeared, to coincide with the band’s iTunes debut. With a few different tracks from the previous collection, Mothership merely underscores that if you like the band, you might as well spring for the whole catalog.

Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin (1990)—
Led Zeppelin Boxed Set 2 (1993)—

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