The Song Remains The Same
Swan Song Records, 1976
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/24/2005
The Song Remains The Same was recorded in 1973 at Madison Square Garden during the tour supporting Houses Of The Holy, and released three years later as the soundtrack for the concert film/documentary of the same name. The film was well received and is considered one of the great rock & roll films -- the soundtrack album of the film is not, however, great in any way.
In fact, it kind of stinks. If it was any other band, I might be more forgiving, but these guys are capable of much, much greater things, and it's sad that for more than 20 years this was their only official live legacy.
[As a side note, I think the film is great. Led Zeppelin was a visual band from a lyrical sense, and they have great stage presence. They were masterful at performing their own works in fresh ways, and the enthusiasm of their live shows was legendary. The film captures this very nicely and is well worth checking out.]
So why go back three years into their past and completely ignore their most recent album Physical Graffiti, which is also one of their best? One of the reasons this happened was that the band was suffering numerous problems in their personal lives and needed to release something to keep their market presence. This is the same mindset they had when they went into record the unfortunate Presence, which also ended up being rather mediocre.
The biggest disappointment with TSRTS is the poor recording quality. The sound is very muddy, and even Plant's air-raid siren vocals barely rise above the bottom-heavy sludge. Granted, mobile recording was not very advanced at the time, but plenty of other bands had released very good live recordings by this time -- and when a Kiss double live album sounds better than Zeppelin, you've got problems.
Led Zeppelin's live shows are indeed legendary, but they don't cleanly translate into an audio-only format. The prime example of this effect here is "Dazed And Confused." At around 25 minutes, this might have been electrifying live (this portion of the film is excellent), but Jimmy Page flogging his Les Paul with a violin bow is far more interesting when you can watch him do it than to just listen to the audio track. Their performance is fine, as the film shows, but it doesn't translate well to audio.
In many ways, even the exciting songs are somewhat lackluster. "Rock and Roll" should shine live, but the studio version is preferred here, while the drum solo on "Moby Dick" just doesn't end and "Stairway to Heaven" adds little to the song you know by heart. Not bad performances, by any means, but not necessary ones either.
Thankfully, Zeppelin has since released much better live recordings in the form of BBC Sessions and How The West Was One. Buy those and check out this film, but there is really no need to get the film soundtrack.