BBC Sessions and
The Complete BBC Sessions

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The Garden Tapes » BBC Sessions and The Complete BBC Sessions

Good evening. I'm Angela Rippon OBE and this is the BBC News.

Following countless bootleg releases, Led Zeppelin's 1969 and 1971 BBC recordings finally saw the official light of day in 1997. "BBC Sessions" was a very welcome and long overdue release, although some of the available material was omitted and some of the included tracks were edited. In 2016, some 45 years after the last of Led Zeppelin's momentous collaborations with the BBC, most of the remaining holes were plugged by the release of "The Complete BBC Sessions", although it will have surprised few fans that the word "Complete" was used somewhat loosely.

"BBC Sessions" contains selections from three of the four 1969 studio sessions and from the two live shows in 1969 and 1971 on two CDs. The chosen material from 1971 is presented in sequence on the second disc but the 1969 selections on disc one are arranged with running order aesthetics rather than chronological accuracy in mind.

The content of discs one and two of "The Complete BBC Sessions" is almost identical to the original release, although with some significant sonic differences. The EQ of the 1969 material on the original release favours the top end of the spectrum, whereas on the "Complete" release quite the opposite approach is evident. Which is preferable is of course very much down to personal taste but The Garden Tapes would venture the opinion that, on the whole, the studio sessions come across better on the earlier release and the live show is more satisfying on the later, and that both EQ jobs are perhaps a little too extreme and something in between would have been best! The 1971 live show sounds virtually the same on the two releases.

Disc three of "The Complete BBC Sessions" contains the tracks that were omitted from the original "BBC Sessions". One of the tracks on this disc had in fact been previously released officially... but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Those are the headlines, now it's time for the news in depth.

3rd March 1969
Studio session recorded at the Playhouse Theatre, London

Four numbers from the first album were recorded at Led Zeppelin's first BBC studio session. "Dazed and Confused", "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" were included in full on the original "BBC Sessions". "Communication Breakdown" was omitted from that release but included in full on "The Complete BBC Sessions".

The session was first broadcast on 23rd March 1969 on John Peel's Top Gear.

19th March 1969
Studio session recorded at Maida Vale studio, London

"Sunshine Woman", "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "You Shook Me" were recorded at this second session. The tracks were broadcast on Alexis Korner's Rhythm and Blues programme on the BBC World Service on 14th April 1969 but the master tape was subsequently wiped and re-used by the BBC. This abominable act of desecration was apparently in keeping with the common practice of the era so I suppose to a certain extent we should be thankful that only one of the Led Zeppelin sessions suffered this ignominious fate.

For many years, the only remnant of this session known to exist was a scratchy recording of "Sunshine Woman" that had somehow appeared on a Polish Postcard flexi-disc and was later included as a bonus track on a CD bootleg of a 1973 concert. Historically valuable but of poor quality, it seemed certain that this would be all that we would ever hear from this session until, in the mid 1990s, a complete recording of the World Service broadcast was miraculously unearthed in the very same country where that flexi-disc had originated.

This discovery brought us a much better recording of "Sunshine Woman" along with the versions of "I Can't Quit You Baby" and "You Shook Me" that had been thought to be irretrievably lost, and quite brilliant versions they are. The quality of the recording is, of course, limited by the fact that it was sourced from an AM radio broadcast, and the end of "You Shook Me" is missing, presumably faded out as the programme had reached the end of its time slot. These imperfections notwithstanding, this remarkable find will surely in time be favourably compared in archeological circles to those of the Rosetta Stone and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The recording was in common circulation among Led Zeppelin collectors before the original "BBC Sessions" was compiled and was therefore available for inclusion if Jimmy Page had felt so inclined, but none of the tracks appeared on that release.

On "The Complete BBC Sessions" all three tracks were included. There was never any suggestion that the original master tape had turned up and that the tracks would therefore be heard for the first time in professional quality, but the possibility that a different broadcast recording had been found, possibly with a complete "You Shook Me", was a tantalising one. Alas, hopes were dashed, the recording used was the familiar one and we must accept that the end of "You Shook Me" is lost to this world.

Clearly Jimmy Page cannot be blamed for that, but he and his associates must accept responsibility for the shoddy presentation of "Sunshine Woman" on "The Complete BBC Sessions". The version used has an extraneous popping noise at 0:55 and an early fade-out cutting off the drum flourish that ended the number. Versions that do not have these faults and that even have slightly better overall sound quality are readily available in unofficial collecting circles, so it is mystifying why a little more effort was not made to secure the best possible version for the official release.

16th June 1969
Studio session recorded at Aeolian Hall, London

"The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair", "Communication Breakdown", "Somethin' Else" and "What Is and What Should Never Be" were the numbers recorded at this third session. The first three were included on "BBC Sessions" and all four are on "The Complete BBC Sessions".

The session was first broadcast on 22nd June 1969 on Tasty Pop Sundae. An excruciating interview with the show's presenter Chris Grant was also recorded at this session but was never broadcast.

The version of "What Is and What Should Never Be" from this session appeared on the abovementioned AM broadcast recording of the 19th March session, rather strangely inserted into the recording in a way that gave the impression that it had been part of the original broadcast, when quite obviously that was not the case. Stranger still are the subtle but undeniable differences in the guitar overdubs at the end of the first chorus. It's easy enough to imagine Pagey having a couple of attempts at the overdubs and thus creating an alternative take, but how and why this very slightly different version came to be broadcast, recorded and falsely inserted into the Rhythm and Blues recording are conundrums that seem destined to slip into folklore alongside such mysteries as Jack the Ripper and Nessie, although perhaps not attaining quite that level of infamy outside the confines of Garden Tapes HQ. Existing only in AM broadcast quality and containing just that one small difference, this oddity was unsurprisingly not included on "The Complete BBC Sessions".

24th June 1969
Studio session recorded at Maida Vale studio, London

"Whole Lotta Love", "Communication Breakdown", "What Is and What Should Never Be" and "Travelling Riverside Blues" were recorded at this fourth and last studio session. All appeared on "BBC Sessions", making this the only session to be represented in full on that release. Needless to say, the four tracks also appeared on "The Complete BBC Sessions".

The session was first broadcast on 29th June 1969 on Top Gear. A brief interview in which Jimmy Page chatted with DJ Brian Matthew about the recording of Led Zeppelin II and introduced "What Is and What Should Never Be" was recorded but not included in the broadcast.

Strictly speaking, the tale of officially released Led Zeppelin BBC material begins in 1990 and not 1997, as "Travelling Riverside Blues" from this session was included on the "Led Zeppelin" box set compilation, as was "White Summer" from the Playhouse Theatre live show that we'll be coming to in just one moment. The extended edition of the "Coda" album in the 1993 "Complete Studio Recordings" box set also contained those same two tracks.

27th June 1969
Live performance at the Playhouse Theatre, London

Three days after the last of the BBC studio sessions, Led Zeppelin returned to the scene of the very first, but this time with an audience in the house. The hour long event included an interview with presenter Alan Black and a comedy interlude - a Commercial Break for the Next Great War - performed by members of The Liverpool Scene. The first broadcast of this performance did not take place until August 10th 1969, with John Peel's Top Gear once again doing the honours.

The opener "Communication Breakdown" was included on "BBC Sessions" but was cut by 10 seconds at 2:33 where Robert sang some lines from the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing". Copyright and royalty issues were to blame for the decision to remove this superb little passage. 19 years later the issues remained unresolved and the edit is unchanged on "The Complete BBC Sessions". An archetypal segue takes us straight into "I Can't Quit You Baby" which is included in full on both old and new releases. This was followed by a five minute interview with Jimmy and Robert.

The next two numbers were "Dazed and Confused" and "White Summer", neither of which appear on "BBC Sessions". Along with "Travelling Riverside Blues" from the fourth studio session, this version of "White Summer" had previously been released on the "Led Zeppelin" box set and on the extended "Coda", but with a 15 second cut at 5:06 in both cases. Whatever that section had done to offend its creator was forgiven or forgotten over the course of the next couple of decades and on "The Complete BBC Sessions" those 15 seconds stand proudly reunited with the other 8 minutes and 3 seconds of the track for the very first time on an official release. But as is so often the case on the BBC News, it is necessary here to report joyful and tragic events in juxtaposition. For although "Dazed and Confused" was finally called up for official duty on "The Complete BBC Sessions" after 47 long, lonely years, nine seconds of its fast instrumental section have been condemned to remain in Zep vault limbo, probably for evermore. Think of those lost souls that never did no wrong every time you treat yourself to a spin of this track and the counter ticks past 6:45. The Dark Lord giveth and the Dark Lord taketh away.

Next up was "You Shook Me" which is included in full on both releases. "Beautiful contrast in styles, there," observed Alan Black as the band eased into "How Many More Times", but on "BBC Sessions" that has been removed, along with the first few runs through the bass riff over which Black was rather awkwardly informing the audience that Robert Plant was about to "re-enact a typical Led Zeppelin stage show closing." At 0:24 a further 53 seconds during which Robert introduced the band members have also been cut but from that point onwards the track is complete. The 12 seconds of applause between "You Shook Me" and "How Many More Times" have been reduced to just half that number on "The Complete BBC Sessions", and at the end of the song the applause is again shorter on "The Complete BBC Sessions", but other than that the editing is the same on the later release as it was on the earlier.

On the most complete bootleg releases, Robert reels off his bandmates' names one last time after thanking the audience and then a voice, presumably Alan Black's, can be faintly heard to say, "I think they might do one more number," but no evidence exists either in the form of recording or rumour that an encore was played.

1st April 1971
Live performance at the Paris Cinema, London

Led Zeppelin's final BBC performance was originally scheduled for 25th March 1971 but was postponed for a week to allow Robert's voice to recover after a busy month of touring. The concert was first broadcast, although not in complete form, on 4th April 1971 on John Peel's Sunday In Concert programme.

Disc 2 of "BBC Sessions" features most of this concert but some parts were left out. "Immigrant Song", "Heartbreaker", "Since I've Been Loving You", "Black Dog", "Dazed and Confused", "Stairway To Heaven", "Going To California" and "That's The Way" are all included in full. "What Is and What Should Never Be" was played next but is not included.

An immaculate "Whole Lotta Love" medley followed but three cuts have shortened it by about seven minutes and greatly diminished its impact. The reasons for this wanton mutilation were the same as those that were behind the removal of "It's Your Thing" from the 1969 live show, along with a desire to edit the show down to fit onto disc two of "BBC Sessions". The first of these cuts is at 6:00, where 90 seconds worth of guitar solo and "Trucking Little Mama" have been removed. At 9:15 another 90 seconds bites the dust - this time it's "For What It's Worth" that is the victim. And at 11:29 we lose four minutes of blues improvisation that was patently inspired by the band's visit to the BBC canteen before the show and incorporated a mouth-watering menu of honey, sugar, coffee, tea and, inevitably, lemon juice.

"Thank You" is included in full but the second encore, "Communication Breakdown", has been omitted.

The missing "What Is and What Should Never Be" is included on "The Complete BBC Sessions". The song is complete but a false start where Robert sang the opening line in the wrong key is predictably absent. Also missing from both releases is almost all of Robert's chat to the audience between songs and his banter with John Peel in various places, most notably before Whole Lotta Love. Speaking of which, there has been no restoration to full glory of the medley, which remains neutered by exactly the same painful cuts as on the original release.

And for our final story tonight... "Communication Breakdown", the last song ever to be played by Led Zeppelin for the BBC, is included on "The Complete BBC Sessions", bringing the total number of appearances of that ditty to five, with the Alexis Korner Rhythm and Blues session being the only BBC occasion on which it failed to show up. As the song and Led Zeppelin's BBC oeuvre approached its final moments, Robert Plant followed in the footsteps of many a blues and rock and roll luminary, not least a certain E. A. Presley, by breaking into the Chuck Willis song "I Feel So Bad". Echoing the "It's Your Thing" ad-lib from the Playhouse Theatre rendition some two years previously, this 19-second episode met a similar demise, slipping into the abyss at 3:03.

And that concludes the BBC News tonight. Before I sign off, I'd just like to say how much fun it's been to sit once again behind a BBC newsdesk after so many years and to express my heartfelt gratitude to The Garden Tapes for this unexpected opportunity. Apparently they spared no expense to secure my services not only because I'm fondly remembered as the first female presenter of BBC national TV news at a time when Led Zeppelin were at the peak of their fame, but also because they had been informed that I was the original presenter of Top Gear. I really felt I should point out to them that it was actually the TV motoring show that I presented rather than its legendary radio namesake whose history will be forever entwined with that of those precious Led Zeppelin recordings, but my agent advised me that it would be impolite to mention it.

Funnily enough, back in my '70s newsreading heyday, I often tried to persuade the BBC bosses to allow me to open each broadcast with "Hey, fellas, have you heard the news?" but this was deemed unsuitable for family audiences and apparently Mr. Page would have demanded royalties of a magnitude that would have resulted in a significant increase to the BBC licence fee.

I'm afraid that's all we've got time for this week, folks. Come back next week - Ted Ray. Ted Ray next week.

All of my love,

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