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Led Zeppelin's "Best Year"


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Had some time and an idea came to me that I don't think I've seen anyone do before, so what the hell...

There have been plenty of topics about what was Zeppelin's high point for touring; some like 1972, others 1973, a scant few say 1975 or 1977 was Zeppelin's live peak, but most seem to think 1971 was their best year for concerts.

What I aim to do in this post is compile a "Greatest Year" by listing what I think were Led Zeppelin's best months in their touring history, taking into account the number, quality and historical importance of the shows in that given month.

Some months, like July and November, were easy, but some, like March, May, and June, proved very difficult to narrow down to one. In the end it just comes down to one's subjective opinion.

Which is why I encourage everyone not only to comment on mine, but make and submit their own list. No duplicating months allowed, it has to be a year made up of each of the twelve months. Otherwise people would just list multiple "March's", ie. March '70, March '73, March '75.

Ok, I'll start it off with my "Year":

January 1969: 17 total concerts...First US tour(continued from Dec. 1968)...includes important stands at the Whisky in LA, Fillmore West in SF, Detroit's Grande Ballroom, Boston Tea Party and the Fillmore East in NY...the great raw, savage Zeppelin, with Jimmy playing the "Dragon" Telecaster and Rickenbacker Transonic amps...my favourite thing to listen to from these shows are the "As Long As I Have You/Fresh Garbage" medleys...wished they would have kept it in the set longer...January 1973 was another good Jan., but in the end it just has to be 1969.

February 1972: 6 concerts...1972 Australian/New Zealand tour...not a lot of shows but what the month lacks in quantity it makes up in quality...barnstorming gigs from this tour and also the end of Jimmy's beard, as he shaves it sometime between the Feb. 20 Melbourne show and the Feb. 25 Auckland, New Zealand gig.

March 1973: 13 concerts...1973 European tour...I can already hear the howls of disgust: What about March 75? March 70? And of course, March 71, the "Back to the Clubs" tour?...hey, I am with you, those are all fantastic months in Zeppelin's touring history and one reason why march was a bitch to pick...but every time I listen to those Euro 73 shows I am plain knocked out by how "EN FUEGO!" the band sounds, and this, THIS right here, March 1973 is the PEAK of Jimmy's fast and fluid guitar playing..."Dazed and Confused" was never better after this tour...the interplay between Bonzo and Jimmy also reaches demonic intensity on this tour. Hamburg...Munich...Vienna...Offenburg...it's hard to pick an absolute favourite from this tour.

April 1970: 15 concerts + 1 BBC TV date...1970 North American tour...from a tough month to choose to a pretty easy one...only April 1969 gives any competition(April 77? Please!)...but 1970 has better setlists.

May 1975: 5 concerts...The Earl's Court gigs...another tough one to choose...May 1969 and May 1973 both had far more concerts(20 & 16 respectively) and historic moments(that May 1973 being the month when the world finally took notice of how big Zeppelin had become when they broke the Beatles' attendance record)...but in the end, I chose May 75 for it being the only month on my list that has such late-period concert epics as "No Quarter" and "Kashmir"...and unlike the 1975 US tour, Earl's Court 75 reintroduced the "acoustic set'...and finally, more than any gigs in May 1969(just an extension of their many 1969 tours, with no real changes to the setlists) or May 1973(some, like Bonzo's Birthday at the LA Forum, great, others not so), the 1975 Earl's Court shows have such an iconic status in the band's history that makes them impossible to ignore.

June 1972: 17 concerts...1972 North American tour...aha, you might have thought I would pick June 1977...but "Listen to this, Eddie" and "Badgeholders" aside, June 1972 offers more consistently incendiary playing than June 1977...and June 1972 also holds a soft spot for me as it is when I first saw Led Zeppelin in concert(of course, June 77 is also memorable for me as it was the last time I would see Zeppelin)...1972 would be the last US tour to feature those wild and crazy "Whole Lotta Love" marathon medleys...and feature Plant singing "Over the Hills and Far Away" using the original vocal melody as on the album...oh, and say goodbye to longtime one-two punch set-openers "Immigrant Song"/"Heartbreaker" after this tour.

July 1969: 13 concerts...Their 1969 Summer tour, with lots of outdoor festival type shows...not a lot to choose from this month...only other "July" with a substantial amount of shows was July 1973, which was not nearly as good as March 73, or even May 73...so I am going with July 69 as this was when Zeppelin started to play in front of larger and larger crowds, thanks to the Summer Festivals they played, as the impact of the band and its first album deepened and grew ever wider.

August 1971: 12 concerts...1971 Montreux and North American tour...Pretty much self-explanatory...it's 1971! That says it all right there as 1971 was a touring peak for the band, as they just got better and better as the year progressed...any other August pales in comparison...yes, even August 70 and August 69...by August 1971 they had integrated the upcoming Led Zeppelin IV songs seemlessly into the set...this would be the first time Swiss and American audiences would be hearing "Stairway" and "Black Dog" and "Going to California"...another high point of these shows is the explosive "Celebration Day" with Jones and Bonzo playing a vastly more propulsive and wild rhythm pattern in 1971 than they did any other time.

September 1971: 17 concerts...1971 North American and Japanese tours...the peak of 1971 continues...only September 1970 comes close...and if it was just the North American tour then I might have gone with Sept. 70, as that month has the only two occasions of "Out on the Tiles" being played(9.4.70 and 9.19.70) along with some other cool bits...BUT when you add in the LANDMARK first tour of Japan, then Sept. 1971 becomes a NO-BRAINER choice...you simply can't live without these shows...hell, just look at all the great boots that have come from this month of shows!!!

October 1972: 8 concerts...1972 Japan and Montreux...another great tour of Japan followed by the band's seemingly annual jaunt to Montreux, Switzerland...apparently Claude Nobs knows how to throw a party...this month features the debut of the linkage of "Misty Mountain Hop" to "SIBLY", which I always thought was a marvelous, dramatic transition...also, this tour introduces "The Song Remains the Same" and "Rain Song", played back-to-back, just as they would be on the album, "Houses of the Holy", which was still months away from being released...it is this tour that damaged Plant's voice and his concert vocals were never really the same afterwards.

November 1971: 13 concerts...UK tour...did I mention 1971 was a great year for the band?...this month marks one of my favourite periods in the evolution of "Dazed and Confused" as they improv on the "Theme from Shaft" during the solo and really get funky...wicked fun!...this tour also includes the iconic "Electric Magic" shows at Wembley's Empire Pool.

December 1972: 12 concerts...UK tour...another year, another year-ending tour of the UK...the Winter 72/73 tour being the last real "proper tour" Led Zeppelin would do in the UK as Earl's Court 75 and Knebworth 79 were just shows in one location...the band continues working in the Houses of the Holy tunes that they didn't do in the US earlier that summer of 72...songs like "The Song Remains the Same" and "Rain Song"...you can see the frame-work of the standard 1973 setlist forming...one touch I wished they would have kept for the 73 US tour was the "Dancing Days" and "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" combo.

And so there you have it...my take on Zep's best months that make up their "best year".

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Yeah I'd probabley pick mostly the same. I do think April is a tough pick though since those shows were the best of 69 for me, the peak of the bands early psychedelic blues style. As you say though spring 19070 did have a killer setlist, the band had devolped more character but not at the cost of "jam friendly" tracks.

I'v not heard too many shows but august 70 gives 71 a run for its money aswell IMHO, the LA shows in 71 are monsters but alot of the rest of that tour doesnt seem as inspired to me as the shows in Japan or the UK, maybe a reaction to the audience problems?

I'm not that big a fan of the Japan 72 shows personally since I don't think they nailed the new HOTH direction until the euro 73 shows so I might go with the euro/US shows from 69 instead even if they werent the best of that year.

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April 1969

September 1970

September 1971

June 1977

Like I said, no repeating months...you can only have one "April". And try to make up one calendar year...you know, Jan-Feb-March, etc., etc.

And to the other guy, yeah, I saw 5 of the LA Forum shows in 1977, and while they were good, I don't think the whole month of June 77(San Diego and MSG sound erratic from what I have heard) can compete with the month of June 72.

But that's only me...it's all subjective...so let's see some more lists; surely there's more of you out there that have an opinion on this?

Still waiting to see if anyone has the chutzpah to list June 1980 in their "Year".

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I still post rarely in the live section, because even if I do have a bunch of bootlegs by now, a lot of that is stuff I've acquired only in the last two years, and it takes time to listen adequately to literally dozens of shows. But from what I've heard, the shows in Germany in 1973 were the highpoint. The soundboard excerpt from Dazed in Hamburg is quite astonishing, for example. Bonzo was on great form, also doing things in a somewhat adventurous spirit, and as for Jimmy I think these shows may be his best period ever. Their interplay is amazing.

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And to the other guy, yeah, I saw 5 of the LA Forum shows in 1977, and while they were good, I don't think the whole month of June 77(San Diego and MSG sound erratic from what I have heard) can compete with the month of June 72.

Well I can't comment on June '72 as I don't have many boots from '72 (need to get my hands on more!)

But on the whole June '77 was by far the best point of the whole tour. I have two of the MSG shows (6/13 and 6/11) and they are great shows, especially the 11th as the 13th suffers from a very average recording. To be honest, I don't think there are enough good quality of recordings of the MSG run to judge it (apart from the 11th of course, and it is a killer show!). As for San Diego, Bonzo was sick at the time (there was no drum solo in the set) but I think that Jimmy's playing is at the best that it ever got in '77.

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Aye LedZeppe75, that's the spirit! Good one!

March was definitely tough...between the '73 and '75 Marches I spent hours weighing the merits of both years. And I wanted, WANTED to have 1977 or beyond represented, if only to have the likes of Ten Years Gone and Nobody's Fault But Mine and Achilles represented, but I just could not pull the trigger on putting June 1972 over 1977...and anybody who has heard lots of shows from these two respective months would, I think, agree that I chose the better of the two.

I was pondering whether to pick May 1977 over May 1973; but I just haven't heard any shows from May 77 other than the Landover ones and I think those stink...so as erratic as May 73 could be(although the show I saw May 31 was fantastic), it seems it was still better than May 77.

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If you want all the parts of the band being at their top shape for an entire year it's any of the first 3 years 69-71. Robert's voice was on the decline to my ears from about mid 72-73 and was awful in early 75. But the band wasn't really that bad during that time. In fact as a bad Jones, Bonham, and Page probably jelled their best in 75 and it really went up as Plant's voice got better by around mid February and into March. 77 Page was sometimes out of it some shows and great others, but there wasn't that balance. The band wasn't quite in sync like they were in their first 6 years as a band.

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