Also today, in 1976, Led Zeppelin’s concert film The Song Remains the Same had its world premiere at Manhattan’s Cinema One in New York. The entire group attended. The soundtrack album would be released two days later.
The film consists of footage shot during the last leg of the 1973 U.S. tour, at Madison Square Garden on July 27, 28 and 29. There is also a little footage from gigs in Baltimore and Pittsburgh earlier the same year. All the tracks were later mixed down at Electric Lady (New York) and Trident Studios (London). Coming at the end of a grueling tour though, these particular performances were hardly magical nights. There had initially been plans to record and shoot some more footage on the aborted world tour of 1975/76, but after Robert Plant’s 1975 car accident, Page used this period of inactivity to tie up the movie and soundtrack.
The movie showed the band in concert in 1973 and was interspersed with fantasy sequences that revealed each member of the band indulging in what might have been their own personal fantasies. Bonham raced a drag-strip car, Plant rescued a fair maiden from a castle, Jones appeared as a masked night rider, while Page climbed a mountain on the shores of Loch Ness, in search of a mysterious Hermit. Band manager Peter Grant, who appeared in his own sequence as a gangster, later called it “the most expensive home movie ever made”.
The album received poor reviews upon its initial release, with some critics considering it to be over-produced and lumbering. Indeed, the band members themselves have since expressed a lack of fondness for the recording. Page has admitted that the end product was hardly the best representation of Led Zeppelin as a live band: “Obviously we were committed to putting this album out, although it wasn’t necessarily the best live stuff we have. I don’t look upon it as a live album…it’s essentially a soundtrack”.
The film went on to be a staple of late night movie houses for years to come, and its subsequent issue on video in 1984 provided a whole new generation of fans with a front row seat to Led Zeppelin. Visually and musically though, their live shows after 1973 were much more spectacular.
As for the soundtrack album, keen collectors know of far better material that has surfaced unofficially. Performances such as “Moby Dick” and “Dazed and Confused” sound somewhat lackluster, and the actual track listing still baffles fans. Why, for instance, does “Celebration Day” appear on the soundtrack album but is nowhere to be seen (or heard) in the film? Why are excellent filmed performances of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Heartbreaker” left off the album? These anomalies all point to the fact that, as Page admitted at the time, the movie and soundtrack proved to be a rare Led Zeppelin compromise.
Released on DVD in December 1999, but in November 2007 Warner Home Video released a new DVD edition, with all 15 songs from the original MSG concerts. This coincided with the reissue of the accompanying soundtrack on CD. The remixed and remastered DVD features 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, and includes more than 40 minutes of added bonus material, including never-before-released footage of “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “Celebration Day”, plus performances of “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Ocean”, a rare 1976 BBC interview with Robert Plant and Peter Grant, vintage TV footage from the Drake Hotel robbery that occurred during the New York concert, and a Cameron Crowe radio show. A Collector’s Edition box set was released as well, and includes a t-shirt with the original album cover, placards from the New York shows, and several glossy photos.
The backstage incident involving Peter Grant was shot at the Civic Centre in Baltimore.
The airport and motorcade scenes come from the July 24 show in Pittsburgh.
In 1990 there emerged a video from the director’s original film footage titled The First Cuts. This seemingly legitimate release has outtake fantasy scenes plus original concert film of “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Song Remains the Same”, “Dazed And Confused” and “Moby Dick” – 35 minutes in total. The director is also known to be sitting on unused footage from the 1973 filming.
A stage replica was constructed at Shepperton Studios in August 1974 to re-shoot some close-up shots that were missed at the 1973 filming. Those with a trained eye will notice the Shepperton footage because of Page’s shorter hair and Plant’s capped teeth.