Words by: Richard “The JamFather” Melamed

I was 15 years old when my older brother changed my life. Home from college, he said to me, “Ricky, you have to listen to this album.” The album was Led Zeppelin II, and the song that started it all for me was “Whole Lotta Love.”

Now, up to this point I thought I was pretty well versed when it came to music. I was a big fan of Cream, CCR, The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.  But the power and energy from Led Zeppelin was a game changer. Robert Plant could channel a blues force with a tidal wave of intensity that made the world stop and take notice.  And for all you devotees of Jimi Hendrix, I believe that Jimmy Page actually did it better.  His guitar riffs made me shudder. 

It was Led Zeppelin (and The Allman Brothers) that sent me exploring the great blues masters like Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, and BB King. Zeppelin borrowed heavily on American Blues, but their sound was so different and influential. They took a great American art form, but gave it an original interpretation that stands the test of time. Otis Rush sang the Willie Dixon classic “I Can’t Quit You Baby” with a great Chicago blues power that was pure and raw…but you know what, Led Zeppelin did it better. Muddy Waters first sang “You Shook Me” (another Willie Dixon classic), and, even though Muddy is my all-time favorite bluesman, and a blues God, Led Zeppelin did it better.

The raw primal force is what makes Led Zeppelin one of the all-time greatest hard rock bands ever.  Frankly, there is way too much great music today, coming from too many areas. Nothing can ever have the impact of Led Zeppelin in 1969.  You just had to be there.  We went from “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies to “Good Times, Bad Times.”  A quantum leap; so profound and never to be duplicated.

So, it was with great anticipation that I anxiously awaited the re-release of the first three Led Zeppelin albums, as remastered by Jimmy Page. This process started two years ago, when Page decided to redo all nine of the band’s albums. It’s been 20 years since the last remaster, and with improvements in digital technology, the opportunity to do even better presented itself.

Each release is a 2 CD set, with the original album and a second CD of bonus material: unreleased songs, alternate takes and new live recordings. I won’t spend much time talking about the music from the original albums themselves, assumedly you’re familiar with the historic albums. The improvement in the audio quality, however, is definitively noticeable.

The vocals are brighter, and there is a crisper response on the bottom end.  Past recordings always seemed to carry a muddier sounding bass, which I likened to the Zeppelin sound, but the remastered mixes have a cleaner bass line. John Paul Jones comes out the real winner, only fueling the argument that Mr. Jones is one of the all-time great rock bassists. Ditto for the great John Bonham on the drum kit.  The interplay between bass and drums is even more pronounced on the remasters. I found myself listening over and over again rediscovering the greatness of Zeppelin.  The remix adds depth and the music is even more expansive.  Rich and lush like a rain forest – you are immersed in a very special world.

As for the bonus material, Led Zeppelin I contains a wonderful live recording from Paris in 1969. Of the eight songs played, “Moby Dick” is extremely noteworthy, with an incredible drum solo by John Bonham.  There are quite a few live renditions of the LZ1 songs and each is worth exploring.

Led Zeppelin II mostly contains alternate/rough mixes for the tracks that appear on the album. There is a rough mix of “Whole Lotta Love” that is a real gem…certainly not as polished as the original release mix, but no less powerful.  Same for “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On” – rougher formative mixes that shows the bands progression to get to the final product.  And for the devoted Zeppelin fan, there is a cool instrumental mix of “Living Loving Maid.”  How this stuff could be buried for so long without seeing the light of day is a mystery – but thank you Mr. Page for combing through the tapes and delivering.

Also included in LZ2 is a never released song called “La La.” The track is a festive jewel with the inclusion of fine organ work. It’s very reminiscent of The Yardbirds, perhaps due to Jimmy Page’s involvement with that band. The upbeat bluesy instrumental switches from organ to acoustic guitar to electric guitar, powered through by Bonham’s drumming. You can check out that tune here.

On we go to Led Zeppelin III. An earth shattering version of “Key to Highway” is not to be missed.  Spare and poignant with some very nice overdubbed vibrato to Plant’s voice makes this an instant classic.  The blues harp accompaniment with a delicate acoustic guitar is as good as the blues gets.  I was of the opinion that the Derek and the Dominoes cover of the old blues classic was the best…maybe not.  “Jennings Farm Blues” is another instrumental blues gem from the archive that finally seen the light of day. And I may prefer the rough mix of “Gallows Pole” to the original, though they’re both great.

So bottom line, this is a must have for any Zeppelin fan.  Exploring the greatness of the band has been expanded with release of these new remasters.  Oh boy..I cannot wait for the remastered releases of Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.  If you like to get the led out, do not hesitate…buy these albums!!


You can stream all three albums by following this link.