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DVD REVIEW: "Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same (Two Disc Special Edition)"

POSTED ON 11/18/07 AT 9:30 A.M.

By Ken Shallcross


Half the fans love it. Half the fans hate it. But no matter which side of the fence you are on, if you are a Led Zeppelin fan, you have to buy the newly "revisited" infamous concert film, The Song Remains The Same. Complete with remastered video, newly mixed audio and a nice helping of bonus features, this is the familiar concert as you have never seen and heard.


After Led Zeppelin's fifth studio album, Houses of the Holy, the band was comfortably sitting on top of the world as lords of rock and roll world. Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones were recognized masters of their craft and Robert Plant was the king of frontmen. An idea that had been floated around for some time was finally put to practice: making a feature film that would showcase the live stage presence and capture the energy of the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Filmed over three nights at New York City's Madison Square Garden (July 27, 28 and 29) in 1973, the shows were captured from many angles with many cameras. When pieced together, the film also included some re-shot/soundstage (read: fake performance) footage, backstage and off-stage moments and - much to everyone's surprise - "fantasy" sequences involving the band members.

The film did well at the box office, and obviously found much success in the VHS format. A bare bones DVD with Stereo soundtrack was issued in 1999. This time around, Jimmy Page and Kevin "Caveman" Shirley (the man who mixed 2003's Led Zeppelin DVD and How the West Was Won CD) "revisited" the film (as Page has said), and completely reassembled the audio from the master recordings of the three-night stand. The result is an entirely new aural experience.


For concert DVDs I always like to give a setlist. This includes just the live songs, not the in-between/ backstage moments: "Rock and Roll," "Black Dog," "Since I've Been Loving You," "No Quarter," "The Song Remains the Same," "The Rain Song," "Dazed and Confused," "Stairway to Heaven," "Moby Dick," "Heartbreaker" and "Whole Lotta Love."


This is undoubtedly going to be the most-scrutinized part of this DVD. Because it is such a legendary concert film, and because there are millions of Led Zeppelin fans, the audio-visual presentation will no doubt be under the microscope. I am going to attempt to give all fans a sigh of relief and put the release's new A/V presentation into context.

First: the video. There are two huge improvements over my 16-year old VHS: the picture has been remastered and it is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. It is cleaner than ever and, for the first time, I am seeing the WHOLE picture. Sure there is grain, some dirt, and it is something that I didn't bother to watch in "fauxHD" (aka up-converting), but it has been restored in color and it looks great overall - it is right on par with, if not better than, the footage from Led Zeppelin.

There is another aspect to the video that one should know first, in order to understand the audio: for legal reasons, the film is EXACTLY the same video that was released in 1976. The images were legally unable to be altered in any way. Only the recorded audio was subject to the "revisit."

There is a great article in Modern Guitars with Kevin Shirley. I suggest everyone read it. It is where I grabbed my background knowledge and information for the next paragraph - can't get much better than from the horses mouth. [Note: You may want to check out his website - he has a very extensive producing, engineering and mixing discography.]

The original recordings for The Song Remains The Same were 16-tracks. The original soundtrack was a quadraphonic mix for play in theaters. Of course, a simple stereo mix was also compiled, and over time became the dominant assimilated soundtrack. The original soundtrack was sometimes out of sync with the video, and there were edits that used different recordings from different nights, due to mistakes in the original audio that went with the displayed video. Well, in this revisit, Shirley was able to fix that original audio and match everything up perfectly. There are some minor tweaks that purists will fuss over, but in the end everything that was done was for the better.

So we have a nicely restored Dolby Digital Stereo track, along with newly mixed DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks. To start, toss the Dolby Digital 5.1 aside; the DTS is superior. Now it's down to DTS and Stereo. To be honest, each one is a different experience. The stereo is like listening to the VHS, but WAY cleaner and crisper than you have heard it before. It's a true live Zep experience. The DTS on the other hand is a true live experience, as it places you in the crowd and surrounds you with music. But in turn, it also arranges the familiar Zep songs in an unfamiliar way. In the end, it's going to come down to personal preference. [Note: I was very excited for the DTS, but ended up liking the Stereo version more - though I still admire the DTS and won't shun it.]


The Song Remains The Same: Two-Disc Special Edition comes in a very basic black plastic snapcase, with flopping tray inside to accommodate two discs. No slipcase. No inserts (bummer!). Artwork has been updated; back cover summary, photos, credits and specs are in place.

The first disc contains only the feature film. The second disc contains all bonus material. Disc set up and menus are all basic and easy to navigate.

The Song Remains The Same runs 138 minutes and is split into 23 chapters, though it should be noted that the only option you have of jumping to a "chapter" is jumping to a song.

Please note: There is also a Collector's Edition that was released for about twice the price. Fans should absolutely splurge for the extra goodies that come with it, including a T-shirt and other little collectibles. I am a bit saddened that the Collector's Edition was not offered to DVDFanatic for review. I am a hard-core Zep fan, what can I say?


There is lots of great bonus content on this disc. There is no audio commentary on the film, which I would have loved, but we still get four additional songs (two of which have never been seen), vintage TV footage and interviews, an old radio show and a trailer. Pretty neat for a concert film that is over 30 years old! In addition, you can play everything at once here and the items are not lumped together by group, everything is well mixed. In effect, it's like watching a 35-minute "bonus film," if you will. The best part - all concert performances come in DTS and DD 5.1. Woo hoo! Here's a look:

  • Tampa News Report (3:25) - This is a news report from Zeppelin's world record attendance breaking show (over 56,000) at Tampa Stadium in 1973. Pretty neat.
  • "Over the Hills and Far Away" (6:18) - A previously unreleased live number from the filming. Excellent.
  • Boating Down the Thames (8:20) - This is a stand-up interview with Robert Plant and the group's infamous manager, Peter Grant, while cruising down the Thames on a boat. The focus is the return of the band after the MSG concerts and the Drake Hotel theft.
  • "Celebration Day" (Cutting Copy) (3:40) - One of my 'Top 5' favorite Zep tunes. Assembled from the master tapes and video, this has never been seen. I can't for the life of me figure out what the "Cutting Copy" is a reference to - if you know, please write to us. Either way, it's great.
  • The Robbery (5:03) - I didn't realize until the end of the piece that this is the officially filed WNBC (New York) field report on the Drake Hotel theft. Pretty cool to include here, it is largely made up of the press conference following the incident.
  • "Misty Mountain Hop" (5:51) - Though it was previously released on Led Zeppelin, it's still great to have here.
  • Original Film Trailer (:59) - Fantastically '70s.
  • "The Ocean" (4:41) - Another 'Top 5' fave of mine. Also previously released on Led Zeppelin.
  • Radio Profile Spotlight by Cameron Crowe (14:59) - Though it was compiled and aired three years after the concerts, this radio special is from the time of the movie's release. A pretty cool find and a definite nice addition to the set, but there is actually little talking. Instead, it's more of a "beginners guide"/"intro to Zep" thing. [FYI: If you didn't know, famous filmmaker Cameron Crowe started out as a young reporter for Rolling Stone.]


There is something about listening to Led Zeppelin live. Though this movie was an "either you love it or hate it" with fans (and believe me, for as much as I love it, it is my least favorite Zep-era), the revisiting of the audio makes the new The Song Remains The Same DVD a must see for fans of the band. Even if you didn't like it before, give it another chance in cleaned up Widescreen with polished new 5.1 mixes. You may be surprised. Add in another 35 minutes of goodies, and you have a winner of a DVD. And though we weren't given a copy for review, I highly suggest the extra cash for the Collector's Edition set. At the very least, the $14 for the Two-Disc Special Edition (which we were given) is very much worth it.



DVD PACKAGING/ LAYOUT SCOREW: D+ (for the Special Edition version - boring)


DVD OVERAL GRADE: B+ (the Collector's Edition would most likely be an A)

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I don't neccesarily buy that review. It could be bought, or the magazine may not want to lose any good will lest they miss the chance to interview someone from the Zep camp to sell more magazines. Or maybe the guy genuinely loves it! It sounds like I'll be sticking with the old chubby-case soundtrack and the previous issue of the DVD, though.

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