Album review: Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won (2003)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 5, 2003

By Steve Newton

Back in June of 1972, when these live recordings were made at the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena, I wasn’t a big Led Zeppelin fan. I was too busy reaming my ears with then-new LPs like Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, Deep Purple’s Machine Head, and Blue Oyster Cult’s self-titled debut. Zeppelin was more something that my older sister was into; they weren’t one of “my” bands. I didn’t become a real Jimmy Page and Robert Plant devotee until 1975’s Physical Graffiti double album, which I still feel is the group’s finest work.

I had also enjoyed its ’73 predecessor, Houses of the Holy, so I’m pleased to see that How the West Was Won includes early versions of that disc’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “The Ocean”. And the sound of these 30-year-old performances—which Jimmy Page discovered while researching its companion two-disc DVD, Led Zeppelin—is remarkable. All the instruments and vocals come through loud and clear. There’s no trouble making out the lyrics when, on “Over the Hills”, Plant croons: “I live for my dreams, and a pocketful of gold… Acapulco Gold.”

Now that’s what I call ’70s rock.

Cracking open this three-disc set, I was surprised to find no accompanying booklet or even a skimpy insert, only a wee square of paper advertising the CD and DVD. They even used the same picture from the cover on the inside—three times! I guess the band figured it was making up for lack of packaging by including 23- and 25-minute versions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused”, respectively. Then there’s “Moby Dick”. As great a drummer as John Bonham was, even he can’t make a 17-and-a-half minute drum solo seem worthwhile.

Because crotch-rock bombast is an integral part of Zeppelin’s legacy, hard-core fans shouldn’t mind the musical excesses on display here. But those who prefer the quartet’s less wanky latter-day work should keep in mind that on June 10 its entire catalogue will be released on compact disc in limited-edition LP-style packaging. That means you can get those nifty die-cut windows from the original Physical Graffiti sleeve and a remastered CD! How cool is that?

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