A study of the Led Zeppelin film and album The Song Remains The Same
by Eddie Edwards
The Garden Tapes » The Song Remains The Same » Rock and Roll
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Led Zeppelin would nearly always begin a show with two songs played back to back, a simple but effective way of building on the pre-concert tension. In the American tour of 1973 they went one better, opening the set with a devastating trio of rockers, which probably left the audience in a state of ecstatic shock, wondering whether they could possibly endure this level of excitement for nearly three hours. It's a shame that this opening sequence was not represented in full on The Song Remains The Same, either in the film or on the album, but what exactly did Pagey give us?
Let's start with the film. The first thing we hear is Bonzo's war cry, "Ok, let's go!", then it's straight into Rock and Roll. Appropriately enough, this opening blast is from the first night, the 27th. The first night, in fact, supplies the whole song, with no cuts or spliced-in sections from other nights, but what we hear is not exactly what the New York audience heard on that Friday night in The Garden.
As already mentioned in the introduction, the first hour of the recording of the first night's show has never become available to collectors. So should we assume that, if something clearly does not come from the 28th or 29th, then it must come from the 27th? On the whole, yes, but there is one place in Rock and Roll, where this cannot be the case. This comes towards the end of the song, in the fourth verse. Well, it's not really a proper verse, it's the bit where the opening riff is repeated a few times and Robert sings some "Ooh, yeahs", and then...
On the original album (at 03:20 on the CD), Robert sings "Ah, rock it, rock", and his voice cracks a little. In the film, the "Ah" is sung at a lower pitch with no crack, and then there's "Rock it, rock it", which is also noticeably different. The interesting thing is that neither of these vocal ad libs matches up to either of the recordings from the 28th or 29th! The only reasonable conclusion, then, is that one of them is the genuine vocal from the 27th and the other is a studio overdub. It's fairly obvious, after a few listens, that the album features the genuine 27th vocal and the smoother, slightly drier vocal in the film is the overdub.
Now, I'm going to stray for a moment into a slightly more dubious area, and suggest that there are probably some more overdubbed vocals in the film version of Rock and Roll. Robert delivers a very clean first verse, which is quite a contrast to the corresponding verse on the recordings from the 28th and 29th, on which it's clear that his voice hasn't warmed up. Perhaps he really did nail it from the start on that first night but there's something of that dry studio character about the first few lines, up to and including, "It's been a long time, been a long time". It's a near certainty that these first few lines are overdubbed, before the true 27th vocal is allowed to take over for "Lonely, lonely...". I can't apply the same logic as above to prove this, because the album uses the version from the 28th at this point in the song, but let's forget that for a moment as we're still discussing the film version and I don't want to spoil any surprises!
In addition to the vocal overdubbing, there are a few little embellishments in the form of some strange guitar overdubs, which appear in the instrumental section in the middle of the song, in the 12-bar interlude between the second verse and the main guitar solo. They are just very brief bursts of guitar sound; five of them, faded rapidly in and out, lasting no more than half a second each. These are so odd that it's worth taking a moment to consider why they're there.
In the studio version on the 4th album, this section features a return to the guitar riff sequence from the beginning of the song, accompanied by a second guitar playing a repeated figure over the top every second bar. When playing the song live, Pagey would, in his customary fashion, blend these two guitar parts into one. Because of the nature of the two parts and the way they fit together, it was necessary to sacrifice the last note of the "second guitar" figure each time, in order to play the first note of the main riff. The overdubs are an attempt to reinstate those lost notes!
Reproducing the studio guitar army on a single instrument was at the heart of Jimmy Page's style in Led Zeppelin's live performances, and the section of Rock and Roll described above is a classic, if rather simple, example. It works perfectly, so why would Pagey go to the trouble of putting on those weird little overdubs? I'm not going to pretend to know the exact answers to questions like that, but what I will say is that they were obviously intended to produce a kind of echo or surround effect in the film's original quadraphonic mix. This doesn't translate particularly well to the 'Dolby Surround Stereo' mix on the DVD release of the film.
Having digressed into a fairly lengthy discussion about overdubs at such an early stage, it's probably worth re-iterating what I said in the introduction, i.e., that The Song Remains The Same does not feature a significant amount of overdubbing. It just so happens that probably the highest concentration of overdubs occurs in the very first song in the film!
To summarise, the film version of Rock and Roll is basically from the 27th but with one definite overdubbed vocal near the end, some probable overdubs in the first verse and some brief guitar overdub effects in the middle. So what about the album version? This is a very different beast, and one that's more typical of the way that most of the songs on both formats of The Song Remains The Same have been constructed. It starts off with the same Bonzo shout from the 27th but from then on it's actually in four different parts, two from each of the first two nights, as follows (with timings from the original CD in brackets):
So, two quite different versions of Rock and Roll to open the film and album. Surprising, perhaps, that there should be such complexities lurking behind the relatively short and simple opening number. But now we come, for the first time, to the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD and the Remastered and Expanded CD. Let's see what delights they brought to us, a mere 31 years after the original releases.
The version of Rock and Roll on the new DVD has more in common with the version in the original film, than with the one on the original album, although it has some features that are very much its own. It starts off the same as the original film, using the version from the 27th, with the same first verse vocal track that, as discussed above, is probably studio-overdubbed. The second verse is where things get interesting, as it definitely does feature vocal overdubs, but of a different and cunning type. Lines have been taken from other nights and laid over the top of the instrumentals from the 27th; a 'cross-dubbing' technique with which we shall become quite familiar as we look in detail at the new releases. The vocal lines used here are:
After that, the genuine 27th vocal is allowed to take over for a while. The overdubbed guitar bursts were of dubious value in the original film, and they've been wisely dispensed with for the new DVD. In due course, we reach the point discussed above where the original CD used the genuine 27th vocal and the film was given a vocal overdub. On the new DVD, we get a bit of both; the "Ah" is the lower pitch overdub used in the film, but the "Rock it, rock" is the genuine 27th vocal!
At the D chord, the rhythm section from the 27th continues, overlaid with four bars of guitar from the 28th. This gives us the same bass and drum parts as in the original film, alongside the guitar part that was heard on the original album. The purpose of this was, no doubt, to repair that guitar note in the film that always sounded a bit flat, but to avoid an unnecessary change of night for the rhythm section. Nice!
At the return to the riff in A, we're back to the genuine 27th audio for all four members of the band, which means we're back to hearing the same audio as in the original film. We stay with this until the guitar, bass and drums stop for the last time. The last vocal a cappella "Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely..." is borrowed from the 28th, on which night it was sung much more convincingly than on the 27th. We then make a final switch back to the 27th for "time" and the closing drum solo.
A quick recap of the considerable complications of this new version reveals that what we actually have are the complete instrumentals from the 27th, apart from a brief guitar patch-in from the 28th, along with vocals from all three nights and from a studio. Whether all the vocal patching was absolutely necessary is debatable, but the end result is a version that is free of the more obvious flaws present in the original film, and has a more consistent sound than on the original album. Combine that with the improvement in overall sound quality over the originals, and you have something that stakes a pretty strong claim to being the best of all the official versions.
All that remains to be said about Rock and Roll is that the new CD features exactly the same excellent version as the new DVD. A very promising start for the new releases. To finish off this opening chapter, here's a summary of the points where this new version deviates from the original 27th recording, with timings from the new CD:
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