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A Led Zeppelin Coda: Artists Reflect on the Final Three Albums

by Ron Hart on September 01, 2015

Perhaps the most misaligned rock notion of the last 30 years or so is that the last three Led Zeppelin studio albums are the band's weakest in their short but massively influential catalog.

But for many of us who appreciate Plant, Page, Jonesy and Bonzo for their adventures in non-blues rooted music or were old enough to discover these underrated classics in real time when they first came out in record shops and department stores across the globe, these albums are indeed as special, perhaps if not more, than the iconic I-IV series that defined the first half of their career as a group.

Especially Coda, which has long been tossed off as a posthumous odds and ends collection that didn't deserve the same kind of accolades as its more cohesive predecessors.

"I have always had a strong affinity for Coda," admits Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. "I mean, most bands would sell their souls (smirk) for an extra song or outtake that good, much less an album full of them."

And now, thanks to the Jimmy Page-curated deluxe edition series of the Zep discography, Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda have all been beautifully repackaged to emulate their original vinyl concepts and contain a bonus disc filled with eye-opening outtakes and previously unreleased material. For Coda, this latest reissue provides full vindication for the former runt of the litter, expanding it by two additional CDs, which gives it a completely newfound existence as a comprehensive career spanning anthology of Led Zeppelin's killing floor in the studio. Among the treasures to be found within its contents are the fabled Bombay Orchestra sessions—a long, longtime fave among the hardcore Zep bootleg collectors—as well as ultra rare tracks like the Led Zeppelin III-eraPage instrumental "St. Tristan's Sword" and the first album outtake "Sugar Mama" along with rough mixes of such Coda faves as "Walter's Walk" and their cover of Ben E. King's "We're Gonna Groove."

To celebrate the final lap of this historic reissue campaign, we've assembled a diverse variety of prolific Zep fans to speak on their favorite song from one or all three of these closet classics. For some, the choices were absolute no-brainers. For others, the idea of choosing one aspect of a work that should be perceived as a seamless whole was a little trickier.

"I’m not trying to wax poetic or sound like a screw-counter," proclaims Starr. "But it’s very difficult to pick favorite songs from Zeppelin albums because each album was written and recorded to be a singular, fully realized artistic statement. On the other hand, each album seemed to have a centerpiece, so to speak."


PRESENCE


Achilles Last Stand

This is Led Zeppelin 2's favorite Led Zeppelin tune of all time, and supposedly Jimmy Page’s too. The galloping bass line played on an 8-string , the drum shuffle, Page’s guitar lines a dozen or so overdubs, Plant’s vocal placement and lyrics which were by his ’75 trip to morocco and William Blake = rock perfection. - Bruce Lamont, Led Zeppelin 2

“Achilles Last Stand” is a regal, galloping masterpiece. John Bonham and John Paul Jones are utterly nailing it to the floor for ten minutes plus while Jimmy Page paints a swirly guitar masterpiece underneath Robert Plant’s “there and back again” lyrics and howling vocal. This one is a perfect example of the idea that no one sounds like Zeppelin. - Charlie Starr, Blackberry Smoke

Royal Orleans

Zeppelin is always referred to as the godfathers of heavy metal and although this may be true, I am amazed by their sense of groove and space. Bonham and John Paul Jones are the most unbelievable rhythm section. It's rare to find a band who can rock as hard as "Communication Breakdown" and on a dime go in to the funk and groove a la Shuggie Otis. The playfulness mid way through "Royal Orleans" always reminds me that just because you're a heavy rock band doesn't mean you can't have fun in the studio with percussion. This greatly influenced the pots and pans we used on "Can't Hear You Coming," off our first album, Give Em All A Big Fat Lip. - Julian Dorio, The Whigs

Nobody's Fault But Mine

“An old Blind Willie Johnson blues turned pure rock in classic Zep form. From the trippy guitar intro to the unstoppable groove of JPJ & Bonzo, to the Plant harp solo, it's pretty much the perfect rock & roll song. And they played it every night right up to the end, so you know they were feeling it!” - Edward David Anderson

“The timing of the Presence recording was tricky for Led Zeppelin, even though they were possibly the biggest band on earth at the time. Robert Plant was in a wheelchair, recovering from a very bad automobile accident, and the Rolling Stones were already scheduled to come through the same studio just a couple of weeks later. While all of these circumstances seem quite unfortunate, I believe this did something special for "Presence" that is only shared with Zeppelin's first couple of records (Led Zeppelin I being done within a span of 36 hours of studio time). There is a rawness, and an authenticity to it: caused by the fact that they were forced to crank this album out under extreme adversity. It almost seems healthy in retrospect for a band so in their prime, that would otherwise have no reason to struggle through a record, to give us something so real. A track like "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (originally by Blind Willie Johnson) gives us a glimpse into a younger Led Zeppelin -- jacked up blues riffs on acid, an awesomely heavy and perfectly sloppy groove from Jones and Bonham, and not to mention a killer harmonica solo from the wheelchair ridden lead-singer, crying out in pain, but seemingly healing himself through the music at the same time.” - Dave Brandwein, Turkuaz

Candy Store Rock

I love this song, I just wanna say that I appreciated jimmy page has visited Hiroshima last week and gave flowers and prayed for peace. August 6th, 2015,is Hiroshima nuclear bomb 70th anniversary. Jimmy and we all hope nuclear bomb will never be used again! -Satomi Matsuzaki, Deerhoof

Tea For One

It starts out like a rockin' Zeppelin track would and then suddenly downshifts into some slow gnarly dark-ass blues worthy of being blasted while driving through the Mississippi delta. And if it was me driving, it would be on repeat!! - Olga Wilhelmine-Munding

Hots On For Nowhere

[Sings perfect vocal approximation of drum fill from approx 4:03 into "Hots On For Nowhere"]: Definitely one of my top 4 favorite Bonham fills." - J. Mascis, Dinosaur Jr.


IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR

Fool in the Rain

Yes, this song is hardly underrated. It's probably the biggest "hit" off the later albums but it's meaningful to me. When I started playing drums, John Bonham was my hero. He's probably every drummer's hero, actually. At a very young age I wanted to learn every Zeppelin song I could. My father played music when he was in college and my older brother was learning to play guitar. In between our individual lessons, it was important to my father that we understood the meaning of a great song. The family band was born. We called ourselves the Flying Dorio Brothers (yes, we'd liked the Burrito Brothers) and my father would pick out classic rock hits for us to learn and play together. After a couple of years of playing simpler early '60s songs ("Love Me Do," "Get Off My Cloud"), he felt we were ready for Zeppelin. "Fool In The Rain" was the next to tackle. I'll never forget my drum teacher bringing in the drum tablature and us going measure by measure attempting to mimic Bonham. It was a beast to learn at only 9 years old but we got it close enough to play together, whistle blow and all! It was far from perfect but what a thrill! I can't help but think of my family in our basement music room when I hear this song. - Julian Dorio, The Whigs

This is a crazy song that unexpectedly explodes into a wild samba party right in the middle. It’s not what anyone would usually associate with Zeppelin at all. I got into the song quite recently when (dweeb alert) I was studying drum patterns. The main groove that Bonham plays on ‘Fool’ is based on Bernard Purdie’s legendary 'Purdie Shuffle' (from Steely Dan’s 'Home at Last' and 'Babylon Sisters’). Bonham makes it his own, of course.” - Simon Allen, The New Mastersounds

Hot Dog

I’m picking “Hot Dog” from In Through The Out Door for a much simpler reason. It’s the only country/rockabilly Zeppelin song that I can think of…" - Charlie Starr, Blackberry Smoke

All My Love

The hooky synth may be the main draw to the song, but for me it was how Jimmy Page found a way to make his guitar sound like whiney cats meowing. - Kevin Pariso, Surf Rock is Dead

In The Evening

The first two minutes and thirty three seconds of In Through the Out Door changed the way I write music. The vide is so intense and mysterious and then drops into bliss with fattest Zep groove. It really is a true piece of music history with Jimmy using a Gizmotron to get the drone at the top" - Joel Witenberg, Surf Rock is Dead

This is my favorite Zeppelin song-one that encompasses everything they did well and sonicly defines the end of the band. The atmospheric intro transcends the hippy atmospherics of their earlier work and moves into dark brooding decay, with a sweaty undercurrent. It's mysterious and otherworldly, but with an immediacy, like walking down a smoky city alley in the middle of the night waiting for something to happen. The main riff kicks in with a new ferocity and slickness. It doesn't sound like the blues anymore, but it maintained that authenticity most 80's guitar riffs failed to emulate. A riff with shiny metal teeth. The breakdown solo is beautiful, I can still hum each note in my head. I still hear that solo copied all the time but nobody nails the vibe of it, so despondent and lonely, maybe best reproduced by The Mars Volta on the Deloused record. They get into the carny vibe they perfected on Houses of the Holy during the " oh I need your love" part, which just sets up that magic riff, especially the end with the jet engine noise and the ripped out guitar solo. - Preston Maddox, The Bloody Knives

Carouselambra

This song is a little bit adventurous, yeah. But that was the beauty of Led Zeppelin. They wouldn't stick to a formula and take a left turn whenever they wanted. And that's what the seventies were all about. No one was really following any rules. But once the record business became the record industry, things began to fall apart. Luckily Led Zeppelin were around when it was the record business, and that's a great thing. And for them to do a song as ambitious as "Carouselamrba" at that stage in their careers was a testament to their willingness to abscond from the rulebook. - Billy Sheehan, The Winery Dogs

I'm Gonna Crawl

The first time I heard "I'm Gonna Crawl," it was 1992 and I'd just received the Led Zeppelin boxed set on tape for my Confirmation gift from my folks. The song made my heart hurt in such a way I was too young to understand. When Robert Plant's vocal takes a graceful swan dive off a cliff at the end of the verse... "somebody please bring me dooooooooown." I just thought, "Ok, if this is what heartache and longing sounds like, I want in." -Nicole Atkins


CODA

We're Gonna Groove

A key component of Led Zeppelin to me is the joyousness I hear from the musicians as they play their instruments. The interplay between Page and Bonham on "We Gonna Groove"--a Ben E. King-penned tune, by the way--is a good example of that joy. On every hit of the song, you feel as though they are racing to be the first one to play it. And Jimmy Page always wins. - Steve Marion, Delicate Steve

I Can't Quit You Baby

I don’t think rock and roll music gets much better than the live version of “I Can’t Quit You Baby” found on it. I mean, the last twenty seconds alone are more powerful than anything most other rock bands have ever played. Thank you, Led Zeppelin." - Charlie Starr, Blackberry Smoke

This live performance gets right to the bones of Led Zeppelin. It's from their stone blues foundation - a Willie Dixon tune first cut to perfection in the '50s by Chicago badass Otis Rush - and hits all the buttons that made Led Zeppelin great. They're interpreting a classic with an original voice, which is one of the marks of a true artist. The improvisation is absolutely incendiary, the soloing and ensemble playing ferocious. And, since we're talking 1970 for this performance, it's pushing toward what they'd become - a hard rocking, sonically edgy, experimental roots-based band with a gift for unconventional arrangements and a unique, insanely hot sound. At the time, this was the sound of the future... And the past. When your music can screw with the space/time continuum, you're onto something good. - Ted Drozdowski, Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen

Darlene

"Darlene" could be a throwaway or an exercise in Blueshammering in the hands of any other band. thank Christ i've never heard it covered in a bar. but in the hands of these here overgrown Hobbits it becomes something much greater- a further testament (to my ears) of what an utter powerhouse this rhythm section was. they could almost never be overrated when they hit like this. Bonham is basically the British bricklayer's son who was simultaneously channeling Zigaboo from the Meters, Earl Palmer and everyone who came before. and John Paul Jones remains my ultimate rock n roll studio keyboard hero- always with the right tools for the job and not an ounce of fat. - Jared Samuel, The Invisible Familiars

Bonzo's Montreux

I know that "Resolution Time" by the Beastie Boys samples "Montreux." Considering that the Beasties' first albums starts RIGHT off with a loop of Bonham from "When The Levee Breaks," there's already history there. They also sampled "The Ocean" on that same first album. I also have a funny story about that track myself. Back in 1983 on Port-Au-Prince, Haiti's biggest radio station, I played "Montreux" one Saturday afternoon and the station owner almost had a heart attack. I got chewed out, of course. I played two things back to back that were...a bit much...that was one, and the other was possibly 'Ace Of Spades'. - Grandmaster Caz, hip-hop forefather

Poor Tom

In our tour van, we have a little dinosaur that we got out of a quarter machine named Tom. He lives in the dashboard and always falls over and when he does I always say "Poor Tommmmm," and our drummer Sharif will say, "Oh no don't worry about Tom, he knows what's going on" just like in the lyrics to the song. I heard "Poor Tom" for the first time in my guitar teacher's van when we were on our way to a guitar show. I didn't even realize it was a Led Zeppelin song, because it was the coolest drum beat I ever heard in my life and up until that point Zeppelin to me was only about solos and sweet guitar riffs. - Tarra Thiessen, Sharkmuffin

Wearing and Tearing

What an urgent emergence. Sounds like they are covering their own song, particularly well. You can feel the ambitious concessions. I love the influence on Queen's "Sheer Heart Attack". It is clear that they have no where else to go but cling to the most bad ass rock they have invented. I almost feel the same way. - Ryan Sawyer

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