Also today, in 1976, The Song Remains the Same album was released. This is the soundtrack album to Zeppelin’s much-maligned feature film, which had premiered three days earlier in New York. 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. Coming at the end of a grueling tour though, these performances were hardly magical nights; but as this was the music that matched the film footage, it had to be used.
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 album did manage to reach number one in the UK (had to settle for second place in the U.S.), but this was more a result of Zeppelin’s popularity than the album content.
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 Song Remains the Same movie and soundtrack proved to be a rare Led Zeppelin compromise.
The double-album came in an embossed gatefold jacket design. The cover (and the movie poster) depicts a run-down picture house, which is based on Old Street Studios, a London rehearsal theater the band used to perfect the 1973 U.S. stage act prior to the tour. The inside cover of the jacket has a brief 6-paragraph introduction by Cameron Crowe, and an 8-page booklet with various small stills from the movie.
Rock and Roll – A fine opener. For the live version Plant sings in a lower key and Page duck walks into the solo.
Celebration Day – In the movie, “Rock And Roll” is edited into “Black Dog”. The album, however, has the correct link: “Rock And Roll” edited into “Celebration Day”. Strangely edited out of the film, this underrated stage number sounds spot on. Page is particularly impressive, weaving a cluster of notes towards the outro.
The Song Remains the Same – An excellent live take with Page switching to the Gibson double-neck. In the film, it accompanies Plant’s fantasy sequence (snippets of which he would later use as a backdrop to “Immigrant Song” on his 1990 solo tour).
The Rain Song – Dovetails from “The Song Remains the Same”, as was the custom during this era. This version includes some delicate Page strumming and precise Bonham dynamics. At times though, the mellotron quivers a little unsteadily.
Dazed and Confused – Stripped of the on-stage visuals, this marathon loses its appeal somewhat here. A bit lumbering at times…
No Quarter – The album’s standout performance. Everything works perfectly here, from Jones’ revolving opening to an awesome Page solo. A slightly different version appears in the film, though.
Stairway to Heaven – “Stairway” had yet to take on its truly epic proportions at this point in time, and it typically followed “Dazed and Confused” in actual live sets. Accordingly, the excitement of “Dazed” was such that the audience often drowned out the intro to “Stairway”, and Madison Square Garden was no exception. Though the album version doesn’t reveal it, live outtakes reveal Plant trying to settle the audience down. The intro link retained for the album has Plant saying “This is a song of hope”, but it edits out his next line “And it’s a very quiet song… so shut up!”
Moby Dick – Another track that loses most of its impact without the visual footage. In the movie it makes a perfect accompaniment to Bonzo’s profile, but on record it goes on much too long.
Whole Lotta Love – In the film, as in all the shows on the 1973 tour, “Whole Lotta Love” segued in from “Heartbreaker”. Here it’s edited to appear as a track in its own right. Complete with Page on vocals, “The Crunge” sequence, the theremin attack and “Let That Boy Boogie”, it sustains interest.
The following tracks appear in the film, but not on the record: “Black Dog”, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “Bron-Y-Aur” and “Heartbreaker”. Another number, copyrighted as “Autumn Lake”, is played on a hurdy-gurdy by Page in an early pre-concert sequence. Other songs known to have been aired at the Madison Square Garden gigs and likely to have been recorded and filmed are: “Over The Hills and Far Away”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “The Ocean”, “Communication Breakdown” and “Thank You”. “The Ocean” has surfaced on an outtake film track unofficial tape that also has the “Heartbreaker”/“Whole Lotta Love” sequence and alternate takes of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Moby Dick”.
The soundtrack album was reissued on CD in November 2007, with the surviving band members overseeing the remixing and remastering. This coincided with the reissue of the film on DVD, and this version received much more positive reviews than the original. The new version of the soundtrack included six songs that were not on the original album release: “Black Dog”, “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “The Ocean” and “Heartbreaker”, plus new liner notes by Cameron Crowe. The songs were synchronized so that the full set list from the concerts was available, the only exceptions being “Bron-Yr-Aur” and “Autumn Lake”, both of which remained absent. However, some musical sequences from the original release were deleted here; notable among these is a drum and organ sequence by Bonham and Jones in “No Quarter”.
In July 2008, a four-LP edition on 180-gram audiophile vinyl was released. It came in a deluxe archival two-piece box with foil-stamping. It included a 12-page oversized full-color booklet with dozens of previously unpublished stills from the film, as well as four individual sleeves with new artwork. A special white vinyl edition was also printed in very limited numbers; just 200 were produced, with only 100 being made available to the public.
Certified Gold November 03, 1976
Certified Platinum (x4) February 05, 1997