Certain Songs #907: Led Zeppelin – “The Song Remains The Same (New York 1973)”

Album: The Song Remains The Same
Year: 1973

I never saw Led Zeppelin perform live, of course. I was just a bit too young — their last North American tour ended before my first concert — and unlike other bands with a key unexpected death ::coughs:: The Who ::coughs::, they took that death as a sign to break up once and for all.

And besides, even if John Bonham hadn’t died, it wasn’t like they were ever going to come to Fresno, where the story goes, they were booed off of the stage.

Or at least that’s the story I remember hearing as a teenager: Led Zeppelin came to Fresno on their first American tour, and they were booed off the stage. And, of course, I’ve never ever had any cause to doubt it, until I did some research, and couldn’t find any evidence that they ever played Fresno.

Now, of course, what you have to realize is that this “research” consisted of going to the Led Zeppelin concerts Wikipedia page and googling “Led Zeppelin Fresno 1969,” where the only thing I came up with was a reprinted list of 1300 KYNO’s Top 30 Boss Records for 12-24-1969, which had “Whole Lotta Love” at #1.

So maybe the story about Led Zeppelin getting booed off of the stage in Fresno is apocryphal? Shit, did I make it up? Just now when I messengered Tim about it, he didn’t remember it, but maybe he was just gaslighting me. Or I’m gaslighting me. Does anybody else from Fresno know this story?

ANYWAYS, in lieu of actually getting to see Led Zeppelin, we had The Song Remains The Same, the 1976 concert film and album that — confusingly — didn’t contain any music from either of their most recent albums, Physical Graffiti and Presence.

That’s because, of course, The Song Remains The Same was recorded three years prior to its release, because I guess it took that long for them to split one Jimmy Page into three Jimmy Pages during a guitar solo.

Of course, kids, there wasn’t any home video and there wasn’t any internet back in those dark ages, so The Song Remains The Same as a film was a rarely-glimpsed treat. Maybe you could see it at a drive-in, or as a midnight movie at the Tower. Not so much with The Song Remains The Same, the album, which featured 9 songs spread across two discs, including the infamous 26:53 minute version of “Dazed and Confused” and goddamned “Moby Dick” and “Do you remember laughter?” and all of those covers in the middle of “Whole Lotta Love.”

And, of course, it was completely different than the version that’s now available — that one has 15 songs, a even longer take of “Dazed and Confused,” the goddamn drum solo, and worst of all, moved the title track so it wasn’t after “Celebration Day.”

You see, that was the thing about the original version of The Song Remains the Same: it started off like gangbusters. The sheer power of “Rock and Roll,” which segued right into a smoking “Celebration Day,” and after that, the best thing on the whole record, “The Song Remains The Same.”

And in fact, this version of “The Song Remains The Same” is one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs, period. On Houses of The Holy, it’s got loads of wonderful layered guitars, but I can’t stand what Jimmy Page did to Robert Plant’s voice.

No so the live version, which starts off with that wonderful syncopated riff crashing against itself, and then while Bonham and John Paul John stay locked in, Page wills his double-neck to get damn right funky until the whole song quiets down about 90 seconds in so Plant can sing the first verse over gently rolling drums and ringing guitar.

After that first verse, John Bonham gets out ahead of the rest of them on a drum roll and comes this close to falling right off of his kit, but after the last second, somehow comes back in just milliseconds before Plant sings the second verse.

All of that’s cool, but to me the live version “The Song Remains The Same” is all about the ever crescendoing series of guitar solos Jimmy Page uncorks whenever it kicks back into gear: one moment his guitar is playing a dirty, funky, sweaty riff, and the next second he’s matching Bonzo’s drum rolls, and when he finally gets going, it’s floating around like butterflies in a grove. It’s like he’s somehow able to play all of the overdubs from the studio version until he nods at Plant to sing the chorus.

California sunlight
Sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu starbright
The song remains the same
Ooh, ooh, oh, oh

And then, while Plant encourages him, he takes right back off, living halfway between drillbit solos and chickenscratch rhythms for measures at a time, until with one last “push push, oohhhh” they all crash right into “The Rain Song.”

One more memory about “The Song Remains The Same:” that rhythm was so distinctive that I remember one time in high school, a classmate was randomly pounding it out on his desk, and I was all, “The Song Remains The Same,” and he was all, “nice pull, dude.”

“The Song Remains The Same”

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