The Song Remains The Same (Again and Again)

Why?  Why three copies (10 LPs in total)?  I don’t know.  I’m not even like the real nutters.  I’m a novice.  But there are lot of different pressings of records and a lot of record enthusiasts insist on owning multiple copies of things.  Why?  Let’s look at it.  Let’s make this a thing!  I’m starting a little blog here about vinyl.  Let’s start with looking at the brand new, newly remastered soundtrack for the film The Song Remains The Same.  This album concludes the Led Zeppelin remastered series that Jimmy Page oversaw over the last few years.  For those who don’t know, the remastered Zeppelin studio catalog on vinyl is smashingly good.  Jimmy and crew went through great pains to make sure that the sonics of the material sounded outstanding and also true to the original vision.  I have put up most of the remasters against the originals and I’d have to say I side with the remasters.  They are well worth your time and money.  Zeppelin was also very smart in offering multiple versions of the same record.  You could get each studio album as a stand alone record, a deluxe version with bonus material, or a super deluxe version that came with a big ass book, CD’s, hi-res files and was packaged nicely.  I purchased all of the deluxe versions.  The bonus material varies, some seems more crucial than others but I really enjoyed the catalog in this format.   

But now we get to TSRTS.  Originally a double album that accompanied the bizarre film.  Released in 76, recorded in 73.  The film was a hodge podge of live footage, behind the scenes shenanigans and strange fantasy sequences.  It didn’t fare well with critics.  The band even admitted it wasn’t Zeppelin at their best.  That said, there was a lot of great music.  When my aunt Lenore bought me the CD at the age of 12, it was pretty mind blowing.  There was an epic version of No Quarter with some masterful Jimmy Page guitar work, there was a huge version of Dazed And Confused that showed the three piece working within all kinds of different musical frameworks.  When me and my friends were learning how to play, we memorized all kinds of passages from the double record.  We’d hang out in my parent’s basement and make each other smile while reciting different sections of the double record.  It was like a club.  For me, it captured a time and space that I could only imagine.  I had no frame of reference of the 70’s.  There was no internet, there was no youtube.  This was as close as I could get to what it would be like to be at MSG listening to this epic band of rock and roll legends stomping down your town with a 59 Les Paul, vista lite drums, a Fender bass player who also traveled with keys and a singer who was a ‘golden god.’  Acapulco Gold.   

In 2007, there was a re-release of the film and with it came a 4LP box set.  The release was advertised as a new mix of the album and had songs that the original double LP didn’t.  Primarily, the new mix was supposed to sound more like the film and the edits of the live material were supposed to mirror more of what you saw in the film. While critics reviewed the new mix fondly and had a kinder view of the original release, a lot of fans were angry.  First, the new sound was brash.  It was very compressed and loud.  The dynamics were lost.  The new mix sounded more like the giant stadium that they were in.  The spacing was wide, the intimacy mellowed by reverb. There were also other effects used that were in the movie but missing from the record.  For instance, the phasing in No Quarter.  Phasing was used quite liberally in the film but minimally on the LP.  In 2007, the phasing was back in its cinematic glory.   

But not only was the sound a point of contention, so were some of the new edits.  No Quarter had over 2 minutes cut from it.  Again, the idea was to make it similar to what you saw on screen.  But for those of us who were fans of the album, those two minutes contained some outrageously good music and it was sacrilegious to make such an edit.  Moby Dick was also cut down.  Not sure I heard too many complaints on that.  No disrespect to the genius of John Henry Bohnam but I am not sure many of us really noticed that a minute and a half of his drum solo was missing. The rumor is Robert Plant and not Jimmy Page was mainly in charge of the 2007 remix.  I think this rumor started because there were apparently some of his outdated sexual yelps edited out of the new mix.  I don’t think it has ever been quite clear who was in charge but it definitely wasn’t like the 2016 Led Zeppelin remaster series where Jimmy Page was clearly credited.   

Even though fans balked at the sound or certain edits, there were also additions that were advantageous to a buyer.  There were more songs!  Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, The Ocean and Heartbreaker (complete with Bring It On Home intro) were added.  Dazed And Confused was also there in its complete glory.  An additional 2+ minutes worth of jamming on the complete take and it was damn good. However, that was even a point of contention.  The new music and sequencing made it so Dazed And Confused was spilled over two sides.   

People were surprised when it was announced that 2018 would see another remastered version of TSRTS and even more surprised when it was announced that the remastering would come from the 2007 remix and edit and not the original 1976 release.  The whole point of the remastered series was to bring you back to the original artifact and yet in this case they absolutely were not doing that.  What could be gained?   

Many times I’ve wondered how much there is to know 

So, yeah, I bought it.  I read around in some audio nerd forums.  I made my own conclusions.  Full disclosure, I’m not running the most expensive set up here.  I have a nice older Sansui 661, a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with a Blue cartridge, I have some nice EPI speakers from the 70’s.  But I am not an audiophile.  I can say that I was never much of a fan of the 2007 mix, like the other naysayers.  It felt harsh, stiff.  It also felt like being in the middle of the audience instead of being on the stage.  It felt more like cinema.  I always felt like the 2007 LPs were a result of them creating a new 5.1 mix for the film for people’s home theaters.  I wondered if that didn’t sort of screw the LP buyer.  Maybe less attention was given to the sound of a two channel LP mix and more time was focused on wrap around sound.  It made me curious as to how much ‘help’ the remaster treatment could give it.  To me, the 1976 mix had an immediacy to it.  There is an urgency.  The bass drum feels great, it feels like you are on the stage being bowled over by the air of Bonham’s foot.  There are less effects used, the vocals are drier, everything just feels more upfront.  I went into this listen with my mind set that the 1976 version would still be hands down my favorite.  I mean, how much could a remaster change some of the egregious errors made in 2007?  Answer, you’d be surprised.     

The 2018 remaster is a vast improvement when it comes to dynamics and the harshness of the 2007 mix.  It DOES sound better.  Yes, it is still cinematic in scope but everything feels much more immediate.  It is noticeable.  Does it beat the original 1976 copy?  Apples and oranges (and read on).  Is it worth owning?  Absolutely.  The 2007 version, to me, should be avoided.  I’m sure now that the new one is out you can find used copies of the 2007 cheap.  That’s fine.  If you are curious but don’t feel like plonking down for the new one, go for it.  You’d get the extra tunes at least. But the overall sound makes it not very vinyl friendly.  The flipping of the side on Dazed And Confused will harsh your mellow for sure. The 2018 copy rounds the sound, the band is more centered, the remaster doesn’t suffer from being overly loud, the dynamics of the band shine through.  They did a good job righting the wrongs of the 2007 remix. 

No Quarter is still edited down.  It is still missing that glorious 2+ minutes.  Moby Dick is still a little shorter.  I’m still not quite sure where but I know it is because the time on the label tells me so.  And the bonus tunes are also still there.  So is the extra music from Dazed And Confused.  AND they put all of Dazed And Confused on one side.  And, to me, that is perplexing how well it works.  Generally too much music on a side can make the sound of a record get a little foggier or distorted.  I’m pleased to say hearing Dazed And Confused on one side in all of its almost 30 minutes is fantastic.   

What’s interesting to me is when I first started hearing the 2018 remaster, I still sided with the 1976 mix being the definitive version of TSRTS.  I thought while they cleaned up the mess of 2007, it could never surpass the immediacy of the original mix. That is the sound I grew up with, after all.  Now I am not so sure.  As I am writing, I have listened to all three copies (again) of side one.  Started with the 2007 copy, hate it.  Then the 2018 copy, better but not like my beloved 1976 mix.  And finally the beloved 1976 mix to round out the shoot out.  But as I listen and write, my ears are missing the 2018 copy.  In fact, I just stopped The Song Remains The Same (song) from the 1976 and put on the 2018 and I think the 2018 is the winner. 

So, why?  Because it is fun.  For me, it is fun to have two different perspectives on one live album.  The original 1976 mix, sequencing and even packaging will always hold a place in my heart.  I grew up with the CD and later found it on vinyl.  I’ve been listening to it forever.  It makes me smile.  It brings me back. But there is something truly fascinating about hearing the same material through different ears.  The new mix brings out things that I didn’t notice before.  There is more attention given to the frequencies, the sound has more nuance.  I also really love having the bonus songs.  The new additions are welcomed.  As far as the heinous crime of editing No Quarter?  A couple things.  One, this is a live record that already has several edits, overdubs and fixes.  It was never billed as a untampered Led Zeppelin show.  Two, the edit follows what you see in the film.  So, if you are a fan of the film and how the song was edited, there it is on your turntable.  Three, why not own both?  If you buy the new one and have the old one, keep it.  There are many reasons to not ditch your old copy and yet there are many reasons to buy the new copy.  One of the beautiful things about vinyl is its ability to translate sound well.  Therefore, it is a pleasure to own multiple copies of something.  You can hear differences where differences are supposed to be.  This isn’t like having two of the same files on your phone.  This is a noticeable different take on a 42 year old classic live album.  Oh yeah, I didn’t even mention the packaging.  It comes in a nice box.  The LPs are all sleeved in textured covers and there is a nice book in the box.  For Zep heads, it’s worth it.  

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