BBC Sessions

Led Zeppelin

Atlantic Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Who would have believed that seventeen years after their breakup Led Zeppelin would still be all the rage?

I had a hard time believing it when I first tried to pick their latest disc, BBC Sessions, up from my local Best Buy; they were moving so fast that they had to put them at the registers. The clerk told me they couldn't keep them on the shelves.

And while this collection does feature a live performance that captures the bandmuch better than their previous live effort The Song Remains The Same, it also is an exercise in overindulgence that tests the listener's patience -- is there really any reason there are three different versions of "Communication Breakdown" on this one -- two recorded within one frickin' week of each other?

In fact, the 1969 sessions are the ones that take the most patience to get through. Admittedly, these sessions display a very young band barely one album old. So, there is a lot of repetition here -- besides the three version of "Communication Breakdown," there are two versions of "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" on disc one alone -- good grief! (Disc two has repeats of "Whole Lotta Love" and "Dazed & Confused.") Yes, I can appreciate that the band didn't have a real catalog to choose from, but this seems to be pushing it.

The cuts taken from "Chris Grant's Tasty Pop Sundae" sound a little rough -- too sharp in the treble range. One song from these sessions, "The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair," is making the rounds on radio as the first single -- though this is hardly a classic Zeppelin number. Jimmy Page's guitar work is nothing special here, nor is Robert Plant's banshee screaming. And while I love the song "Travelling Riverside Blues," the die-hard fans should rightfully feel cheated here -- isn't this song one of the reasons we all dropped $70 in 1990 on the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Led Zeppelin box set?

Where disc one fails, disc two makes up for the shortcomings. A 1971 live concert recorded for the BBC, this is where msgrs. Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham shine. Recorded just before their untitled fourth album came out, this show served to introduce a London audience to songs that would soon be embedded in their collective memories. "Stairway To Heaven" has a fresh, almost hesitant sound to it -- and it's rarely been performed so lovingly. "Black Dog" features Plant ad-libbing through some of the stanzas, while "Going To California" is simply amazing.

I also like the fact that there are a spattering of selections from Led Zeppelin III -- "Since I've Been Loving You" was not broadcast by the BBC, and this live version makes its debut. "That's The Way," easily one of the most underrated Zeppelin tracks ever, is a welcome addition to the live repertoire.

As Led Zeppelin was reaching the pinnacle of their fame, some of the big hits are presented without as much of the musical masturbation that would burden the tracks in just a few short years. "Dazed And Confused" -- a track that clocked in at around 30 minutes on the movie, but only around 24 on the album -- is much more manageable here at around 19 minutes. Now, this may seem like a strange statement, but shaving off a dozen or so minutes of noodling on the instruments boils the track down to a more powerful result. "Whole Lotta Love" clocks in at just under 14 minutes, but this is a rawer effort with a little more zing.

The die-hard Zeppelin fans probably aren't surprised at the content of BBC Sessions; the song order is pretty close to the way they were playing their live sets around this time. Bootlegs I have from this time back this up. But I would stop at saying that this is the ultimate live Led Zeppelin album - if only because the bulk of the 1969 sessions aren't truly "live". (That is, they're not performed in concert -- not unless Page figured out how to play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time that he was playing dobro.)

The set I purchased cam with a bonus disc containing three interviews with Led Zeppelin -- but I'm ashamed to admit I haven't gotten to this disc yet. The drooling collector won't be able to live without the three-disc collector's set; for everyone else, the "official" two-disc release will do just fine.

BBC Sessions is a welcome addition to the Led Zeppelin discography, and it is a much better effort than The Song Remains The Same - but it still leaves something to be desired as a true live album. It's still an entertaining way to spend two hours, and will make an excellent stocking stuffer for the music lover in your household.

Rating: B

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.