Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: Rhino
With nine more tracks than the original 1997 release, this remastered collection of Zeppelin’s recordings for the BBC captures their glorious ascent between 1969 and 1971, before superstardom and unfettered hedonism started to affect their musicianship and edge. With Robert Plant at his wailing, libidinous best and Jimmy Page wreaking all manner of noise and havoc with his guitar, the various live and session takes of material from their stellar first four albums document a steamrollering trajectory from ferocious hard rock to pastoral beauty and back. Completists will be fascinated by the three tracks from a lost 1969 session for Alexis Korner – including the otherwise unrecorded blues boogie, Sunshine Woman – and other curiosities include a romp through Eddie Cochran’s Something Else and a live version of Whole Lotta Love that turns into an extended medley of covers.
Do you remember when young people used the word bitchin’? I can’t remember when it went out of fashion and, being a prematurely old man yelling at a cloud, I’m still not entirely certain what bitchin’ meant. But I am pretty certain that if ever a band was bitchin’, then Led Zeppelin bitched: The Complete BBC Sessions simultaneously kicks serious arse (or, if you’re the kind of person who said bitchin’, then ass) and is somewhat problematic. First, the good times.
Back in 1997, Led Zeppelin released BBC Sessions, the band's first attempt to chronicle its heavily bootlegged live recordings for the British Broadcasting Corporation. That double-disc set didn't contain all of Zep's BBC Sessions: a full nine songs from 1969 were left behind, including three songs recorded in March -- a session highlighted by the otherwise unavailable original "Sunshine Woman" -- that were believed to be lost. The 2016 triple-disc set The Complete BBC Sessions adds those songs as a third disc to a remastered version of the original 1997 compilation, an addition that doesn't greatly alter the overall picture of Zeppelin's BBC Sessions but offers a whole lot of additional value.
Maybe you’re the person who hasn’t quite made up their mind up about Led Zeppelin. That’s fine but fair warning, the band is the apotheosis of overstuffed arena rock, from private jets to strong-arming managers to personal excess in every musical, sexual, and philosophical front. Lester Bangs wanted to chuck pies at them in defense of Truth and/or Iggy Pop.
Power and pleasure see-saw for more than three hours in the expanded Complete BBC Sessions. This is Zeppelin from 1969-1971, working through the core material of their first four albums (and taking swaggering side trips through blues and rockabilly classics). Nine newly unearthed songs – a full CD, including the never-before issued stomp "Sunshine Woman" – have been added to the 1997 release.
Given the massive impact they ultimately had on the formation of modern hard rock and metal, it’s often forgotten that at their heart, Led Zeppelin was a British blues rock band. Recording and releasing their first two albums within a 12-month span in 1969, their initial approach was deeply rooted in the heavy blues rock sound that came about in the wake of Cream and their myriad offspring. This isn’t to shortchange Zeppelin’s status by any means; rather it’s to provide contextualization for the environment from which they sprang.
Led Zeppelin recorded five sessions for the BBC in 1969, as well as a live performance in 1971, but when they were originally collated for release in 1997, some tracks weren’t included. This remastered reissue restores almost all the missing material (save around seven minutes of a Whole Lotta Love/ old blues standards medley), including a dazzling 11-minute take on Dazed and Confused. But of greater interest to aficionados are the three tracks from a session recorded for Alexis Korner in March 1969, long presumed to be lost, featuring the only recorded version of Sunshine Woman.
It’s reissue time again over at Zep HQ; this month it’s the turn of 1997’s BBC Sessions. It was a record not without its minor let-downs first issue round, for instance the Whole Lotta Love medley recorded at the Paris Theatre in ’71 included renditions of For What It’s Worth and Honey Bee, and sadly the track is still cut short here, running 14 minutes instead of 22. In fact, given all new material appears on the third disc of this updated release, it is unclear whether the original first two discs have actually received much treatment.