Led Zeppelin DVD

A Garden Tapes special feature
by Eddie Edwards

The Garden Tapes » Led Zeppelin DVD » Knebworth 1979 » Achilles Last Stand


Knebworth 1979
Achilles Last Stand

This is from the 4th (do you see a pattern emerging here?). The word "touch" at 0:16:46 has been replaced by its counterpart from the 11th but that's the only vocal fix.

At 0:16:58 the ascending theme enters for the first time and it doesn't take long to spot that there are two guitars playing very effective harmonies, even though only one Jimmy Page is visible on the Knebworth stage. So is this a studio overdub? Not in the usual sense. It's a second copy of the original guitar part, delayed and manipulated to harmonise with itself. As the theme begins, the first four notes B-G-C-A can be heard on their own then, as the pattern continues with a D note, the harmony part commences with the B that was played moments earlier.

This continues all the way up the scale until, at the top of the ladder, the last four notes (C-A-D-B) are surplus to requirements in the harmony part, but it wasn't as simple as just starting the duplicate copy at the right moment and letting it run. To achieve the correct synchronisation, some notes would have had to be shortened in duration from crotchet (one beat) to quaver (half a beat) and others would have had to be delayed by half a beat so that they didn't come in too early.

This theme appears twice more in the song but on these occasions it's played over the 5/4 marching rhythm pattern. It receives the same harmony treatment, which would actually have been slightly easier to apply in this time signature because the notes are all evenly spaced.

The perfectly matched tonal quality of the two guitar parts is evidence enough that the harmony line was created from the original part rather than being recorded as a studio overdub, but if one needs further proof of this then it lies in the fact that there is no harmony accompaniment for the first four notes. If Pagey had recorded an overdub, he would surely have played the natural lower harmony of G-E-A-F# at the beginning of the scale. But when he created the harmony part by copying and adapting the original scale, he couldn't include those notes because they don't exist in the original scale!

Some may concern themselves with the ethics of treating a live soundtrack in this way while others will marvel at the ingenuity and content themselves with the enjoyment of yet another masterful Jimmy Page creation. Count me among the latter group - if I'm desperate to hear the song without the harmonies I still have my trusty bootlegs.

A straightforward delay effect has been applied to the guitar solo played over the 5/4 march beginning at 0:22:43. Unlike the harmonies described above, which would have been impossible to produce by using delay effects in a live environment because of the variations in note duration, this totally different type of echo effect should have been simple enough to produce on stage if Jimmy had wanted to do so. However, neither the soundboard or audience recordings suggest that this particular echo was there on the night, so I think it's safe to say that it was a studio enhancement.

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