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 » Visuals and summary
Now I suppose you'd like to know where all the different visuals come from? Well, if you find out, let me know! As previously mentioned, it's really not possible, without reference to the original, unedited footage, to tell exactly what comes from where. Some of the on-stage footage is not from the concerts at all, but is from the studio re-enactment at Shepperton Studios in 1974. The Garden Tapes is all about the sources of the music, but here are just a few points of visual interest.
It seems to me that, most of the time, the visuals are correctly matched to the music. That said, there are plenty of places where they are not. Most of the non-synchronised passages are short, but some of them are so blatant that they tend to stick in the mind, leaving the viewer with the impression that this problem is worse than it actually is. The cuts in the music add to the sometimes disjointed feel. In almost every case, when the music is cut or edited, the visuals flow without interruption, which means that they have to be out of synch either before or after the cut (or both!). This is presumably intended to make the cuts less noticeable and it works quite well for the cleaner edits, but it doesn't really help when the more obvious cuts occur.
It's said that John Paul Jones refused to stick to the 'same clothes every night' rule. This seems to be true, and he causes further problems by removing that crazy jacket at different points in the show each night. He probably wore it at the beginning of all the shows, then took it off after a few numbers. On the 29th, though, he was still wearing it during Dazed, which results in some severe continuity problems during that song! The shirt that he wore underneath varies, and it's possible that he changed it during Moby Dick as well. The last part of the film is from the 27th and he's wearing the leafy patterned shirt with dark patches round the shoulders and cuffs, whereas in earlier shots from the same night (e.g., much of Dazed and Stairway), he's wearing a plain white shirt. But, clearly not satisfied with the difficulties he'd caused with his wardrobe inconsistencies, Jonesey trumped this by turning up for the Shepperton shoot with hair several inches shorter than it had been when the concerts were filmed! The local wig suppliers were promptly called in to remedy the situation.
Jonesey's jacket is without doubt the grooviest fashion accessory on the 1973 New York catwalk, but the one Jimmy wears at the beginning, with the big silver lapels and shoulder tassels, runs it close. Originally on display only in Rock and Roll and Black Dog, it can now be admired in Celebration Day too, in the bonus features of the new DVD. It's probable that Jimmy wore this at the beginning of all three shows and then removed it before Over The Hills, although we can't be at all sure how many different nights are represented by the visuals in the opening numbers, or indeed how much Shepperton footage is in there.
Is that drum solo at the end of Dazed for real? I've heard a number of people express the opinion that it must have been speeded up, but this is of course nonsense. It does look almost unbelievable but closer examination confirms that Bonzo's actions match the soundtrack, which has certainly not been speeded up. The overhead view probably adds to the effect of lightning speed, but the main reason why this looks so incredible is John Henry Bonham, who should never be underestimated.
Is the synchronisation any better on the new DVD? To answer that, we really need to consider exactly what we mean when we speak of synchronisation problems, 'cause, you know, sometimes words have two meanings. One possible meaning is that the visuals and music are genuinely matched, but the timing is slightly off, and the visuals are a little behind or ahead of the music. I actually don't think that this type of synchronisation problem occurs to any great extent in the original film, so there were no real problems in this area that needed to be fixed on the new DVD.
Another possible meaning of poor synchronisation is that the visuals simply do not match the music on the soundtrack. Problems of this nature certainly do occur in the original film, but the only way they could have been addressed properly would have been by starting from scratch with both the visuals and the music. As we know, the visuals had to remain exactly as they were, and if you've followed the analysis of the music closely, you'll know that, despite the many little editing and patching differences between the versions, for the vast majority of the time the same extracts of music from the same nights were used on the new DVD as in the original film. The inescapable outcome of this is that the synchronisation is much the same on the new DVD as in the original film, i.e., fine most of the time but occasionally infuriating or laughable, depending on your mood. The bit that always springs to my mind is in the quiet interlude following the central guitar solo in Since I've Been Loving You, where we hear the lovely, unusual, high-register figure from the 27th, but Pagey's left hand is a bus ride away from where it would need to be to play it.
The new DVD is not perfect, but it is superior to the original DVD in every important respect: vastly improved sound quality, 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS options as well as 2.0 Dolby Stereo, correct running speed and pitch on both PAL and NTSC versions and extra songs and other goodies in the bonus features. But despite the many little differences in detail documented in the song-by-song analysis, the musical content in the main feature is essentially the same as it was in the original film.
Although the dodgy editing and maddening cuts had never prevented me from loving the film and enjoying it countless times in cinemas, on VHS video and on DVD, I'd often thought how nice it would have been if the vastly superior music on the album could have been used in the film itself. I did wonder, when the news first broke that The Song Remains The Same was to be remastered, whether something along those lines would finally happen. Then, it was announced that the visuals could not be altered, and I knew immediately that this would not be possible. Fair enough - slightly disappointing, but no big deal. What had never occurred to me for a moment, even in my worst and weirdest nightmares, was that the exact opposite might happen, that the music from the film might be used on a new CD release!
I've always loved the unique, crunchy sound of the original album, but the remastered sound on the new CD is in a different class, allowing previously hidden details to shine through with glorious clarity. And the inclusion of six songs that were not on the original is an improvement that speaks for itself. Better sound, more songs. A winner in all departments? I wish I could say so. But the decision to re-use the audio from the new DVD instead of treating the CD as a separate project, as was done in the seventies, is, by a huge distance, the worst ever made in the history of official Led Zeppelin releases. The missing music, the editing imperfections, the strange timing anomalies - all of these are understandable and acceptable in the context of the DVD, but disastrous on the CD.
For the original album, the best bits of music from the three concerts were selected and spliced together with impeccable precision. If anything were to be changed for the new CD, there needed to be a good reason. The occasional use of pieces of music that, after careful re-assessment, were considered to be even better than those that had been selected for the original album, would, perhaps, have been a good reason. Re-using the heavily compromised audio from the new DVD was definitely not a good reason. What makes this even more exasperating is that it was recognised that the cut in Rain Song was horrible and needed to be fixed for the CD. Then why not do the same for Black Dog, No Quarter and Whole Lotta Love? And why fix this one fault, but leave so many off-time edits, the like of which I don't think I've ever heard on any official release by any artist, let alone the greatest band in history?
Mention needs to be made of the effects applied to the audio on the new DVD and CD. The new releases may boast wonderful sound quality, but did we really need quite so much reverb, delay, phase, flange, chorus etc.? Personally I think some of it works well, some is unnecessary and in a few places it's overdone. Opinions are bound to be strong and varied on this subject, one listener's cool and mindblowing being another's tacky and tasteless. The Garden Tapes has always been intended to provide a guide to the sources of the music rather than to offer opinions on whether there's too much echo here, the vocal is mixed too low there and so on, but I will say that the effects seem to work better on the DVD, where the music accompanies the visuals, than they do on the CD, where the music stands alone. Yet another reason why the audio created for the DVD should not have been used on the CD.
The Song Remains The Same (1976) remains my favourite album of all time. The Song Remains The Same (2007) certainly had the potential to take its place at the top but, despite the improved sound and previously unreleased songs, it doesn't even come close. It's full of fantastic music with superb sound, but it's impossible to listen to the whole thing without the occasional reminder that it's not as good as it could and should have been, and that's a feeling that I've never experienced while listening to any other Led Zeppelin album. I don't suppose we'll ever see yet another Song Remains The Same, with the music from the original album, plus the extra songs, all remastered and assembled with the loving care they deserve. But I'll keep hoping.
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