Fan Film Review: The Song Remains the Same, 1976 – Led Zeppelin

The Song Remains the Same posterThe Song Remains the Same is quite simply the best movie of a live concert I have ever seen. I was going to concerts in the 70s – I saw Santana do 5 encores at Wembley Arena, the last being simply an extended jam and I watched Jethro Tull suffer an electrical failure and perform an acoustic set only to get the power back on and launch into an incredibly 30-minute jam at the end, but I have never seen anything to top Led Zeppelin live at Madison Square Gardens in 1973. Now we have got that out of the way, for those who haven’t seen it yet, what are you missing?

I won’t discuss length, because, though long, you have to view this as a movie with many segments, so if you are any kind of rock music fan, you won’t get bored. The movie starts with short vignettes – fantasy snapshots – of each bandmember receiving ‘news’ of a new tour; Robert Plant is by a remote waterfall in Wales, Bonham on his way to the pub (where else?) in his hot rod, John Paul Jones in his mansion’s kitchen with his wife and Jimmy Page by a lake in his Sussex mansion. Finally, we get to see Peter Grant, the larger-than-life but often forgotten manager of Led Zeppelin, a man who has been called the 5th member, in his Sussex mansion.

The final vignette segues into Grant leaving his mansion in a pre-war limousine, complete with mafioso-like henchman and a bizarre shoot-out with vampires before we move on to a scene of the band arriving outside New York in their personal Boeing airliner. They transfer to limousines and are taken to the MSG venue.

You can find a track-list for the concert anywhere, so I won’t list them but you will get both the audio and live versions of Stairway to Heaven, a 30-minute version of Dazed and Confused and an extended medley inside Whole Lotta Love, complete with pyrotechnics to finish. If I had a single criticism of this concert film, it would be that it lacks an acoustic segment, which more of their concerts included, but this would be to split hairs. The concert is a tour-de-force and shows the band at the pinnacle of their skill, daring and brilliance.

The camera angles are often dramatic (below Jimmy, spinning around Robert) and include a beautiful sneak peek at Bonham and Jones exchanging knowing glances and opinions on fills during Dazed and Confused. The colour is sumptuous, often including dazzling effects and still holds up today.

Now let’s look at the highlights, usually songs that are backed by a bandmember’s fantasy dream sequence.

Dazed and Confused.
This is Jimmy’s. Although he didn’t write this song, he certainly developed it far beyond its original scope and played it with its creator in The Yardbirds years before Led Zeppelin was born. Here, behind the band’s stage 30-minute performance, we see Jimmy climbing a rocky cliff behind his mansion in Scotland and encountering a mythical monk or spirit holding a lantern and wearing a white smock. You will recognise this image from the inside cover of the album Led Zeppelin 4, but your guess is as good as mine at what it means. To the tortured, insane and profane wailing of Jimmy’s Les Paul guitar here played with a bow, the Jimmy of the dream regresses to a baby and develops back to the old monk when we zoom in on his face. The sequence reveals Jimmy’s love of the occult.

John Paul Jones’ sequence starts with him playing a giant cathedral organ during No Quarter, the band’s jazz-influenced epic which evokes a feeling of lonely darkness that often reminds me of the Doors’ Riders on the Storm or that old song, Ghost Riders in the Sky. We see a band of highwaymen returning from a raid and JPJ removing his mask when he enters his mansion, where his wife and children are waiting. It reveals what is well-known about JPJ, that he was a very family-oriented and home-loving guy.

Robert Plant’s sequence is probably my favourite. You don’t get many more romantic men than Robert Plant, and this sequence is set in the medieval, a lone warrior (possibly a Viking), played by Robert, comes ashore and rides with his trusted (even sacred) sword to spend the night in a cave. Moving on at daybreak he eats a red mushroom, which no doubt symbolises magic and hallucinatory dreams, and sets of for a castle, where he defeats the evil guards and sweeps up tower stairs to save the gorgeous, blonde maiden held within. The dream makes me think of Tolkien’s Aragorn wandering through Eriador’s wild landscape in search of some secret scroll or jewel.

John Bonham doesn’t do things like other guys. His sequence is perhaps not so much a fantasy sequence as a sequence of fantasies made real by him in his lifetime. To the sound of Moby Dick, an incredible drum solo probably never equalled, we catch him first working on his beloved cars in the yard of his farm before he takes his hot rod and chopper out for a trip through the lanes of the countryside around his farm. On his chopper, he cruises through the streets of a neon-lit city (Blackpool?) at night. His hot rod eats up the miles between high hedges on Midland lanes, and then we see him strapping himself into a dragster at Santa Pod. With fat rear tyres rimmed by flame, much like his huge gong on stage at the end of Whole Lotta Love, he screams down the runway and inexplicably seems to reach across his lap to wave before adjusting his wing mirror while accelerating to 200+ mph within a few seconds. This act of reckless bravado can only emphasise how addicted to adrenalin Bonham was. I sometimes ponder whether this addiction and his other, to alcohol, were crutches for a crippling depression, but that’s a subject for another day. Here, we can only be dazzled by his supreme energy and brilliance on the drums. Without him, there wouldn’t have been a Led Zeppelin. Rest in peace John.

Other highlights include an extended version of Stairway to Heaven, which I don’t think is as good as the official audio, but many prefer it.

The ultimate accolade probably has to go to Since I’ve Been Loving You. This performance’s legendary status rises above even that of the other songs during the concert. It has to be seen to be believed, and, thank God, the cameras catch the audience reactions, an open-mouthed security guard, a stoned blonde who is simply lost in Plant’s presence, and a beautiful, dark-haired girl who is so hypnotised that her boyfriend glances at her to make sure she is okay.

A final note should be made that the concert was filmed in 1973, the movie only coming out three years later, so it doesn’t include Kashmir, and a couple of short vignettes had to be recreated in a rehearsal studio for John Paul Jones in 1975/6, possibly because the original didn’t include enough of his astonishing contribution to the band.

The Song Remains the Same is quite simply the best movie of a live concert I have ever seen. I was going to concerts in the 70s – I saw Santana do 5 encores at Wembley Arena, the last being simply an extended jam and I watched Jethro Tull suffer an electrical failure and perform an acoustic set only to get the power back on and launch into an incredibly 30-minute jam at the end, but I have never seen anything to top Led Zeppelin live at Madison Square Gardens in 1973. Now we have got that out of the way, for those who haven’t seen it yet, what are you missing?

I won’t discuss length, because, though long, you have to view this as a movie with many segments, so if you are any kind of rock music fan, you won’t get bored. The movie starts with short vignettes – fantasy snapshots – of each bandmember receiving ‘news’ of a new tour; Robert Plant is by a remote waterfall in Wales, Bonham on his way to the pub (where else?) in his hot rod, John Paul Jones in his mansion’s kitchen with his wife and Jimmy Page by a lake in his Sussex mansion. Finally, we get to see Peter Grant, the larger-than-life but often forgotten manager of Led Zeppelin, a man who has been called the 5th member, in his Sussex mansion.

The final vignette segues into Grant leaving his mansion in a pre-war limousine, complete with mafioso-like henchman and a bizarre shoot-out with vampires before we move on to a scene of the band arriving outside New York in their personal Boeing airliner. They transfer to limousines and are taken to the MSG venue

You can find a track-list for the concert anywhere, so I won’t list them but you will get both the audio and live versions of Stairway to Heaven, a 30-minute version of Dazed and Confused and an extended medley inside Whole Lotta Love, complete with pyrotechnics to finish. If I had a single criticism of this concert film, it would be that it lacks an acoustic segment, which more of their concerts included, but this would be to split hairs. The concert is a tour-de-force and shows the band at the pinnacle of their skill, daring and brilliance.

The camera angles are often dramatic (below Jimmy, spinning around Robert) and include a beautiful sneak peek at Bonham and Jones exchanging knowing glances and opinions on fills during Dazed and Confused. The colour is sumptuous, often including dazzling effects and still holds up today.

Now let’s look at the highlights, usually songs that are backed by a bandmember’s fantasy dream sequence.

Dazed and Confused.
This is Jimmy’s. Although he didn’t write this song, he certainly developed it far beyond its original scope and played it with its creator in The Yardbirds years before Led Zeppelin was born. Here, behind the band’s stage 30-minute performance, we see Jimmy climbing a rocky cliff behind his mansion in Scotland and encountering a mythical monk or spirit holding a lantern and wearing a white smock. You will recognise this image from the inside cover of the album Led Zeppelin 4, but your guess is as good as mine at what it means. To the tortured, insane and profane wailing of Jimmy’s Les Paul guitar here played with a bow, the Jimmy of the dream regresses to a baby and develops back to the old monk when we zoom in on his face. The sequence reveals Jimmy’s love of the occult.

John Paul Jones’ sequence starts with him playing a giant cathedral organ during No Quarter, the band’s jazz-influenced epic which evokes a feeling of lonely darkness that often reminds me of the Doors’ Riders on the Storm or that old song, Ghost Riders in the Sky. We see a band of highwaymen returning from a raid and JPJ removing his mask when he enters his mansion, where his wife and children are waiting. It reveals what is well-known about JPJ, that he was a very family-oriented and home-loving guy.

Robert Plant’s sequence is probably my favourite. You don’t get many more romantic men than Robert Plant, and this sequence is set in the medieval, a lone warrior (possibly a Viking), played by Robert, comes ashore and rides with his trusted (even sacred) sword to spend the night in a cave. Moving on at daybreak he eats a red mushroom, which no doubt symbolises magic and hallucinatory dreams, and sets of for a castle, where he defeats the evil guards and sweeps up tower stairs to save the gorgeous, blonde maiden held within. The dream makes me think of Tolkien’s Aragorn wandering through Eriador’s wild landscape in search of some secret scroll or jewel.

John Bonham doesn’t do things like other guys. His sequence is perhaps not so much a fantasy sequence as a sequence of fantasies made real by him in his lifetime. To the sound of Moby Dick, an incredible drum solo probably never equalled, we catch him first working on his beloved cars in the yard of his farm before he takes his hot rod and chopper out for a trip through the lanes of the countryside around his farm. On his chopper, he cruises through the streets of a neon-lit city (Blackpool?) at night. His hot rod eats up the miles between high hedges on Midland lanes, and then we see him strapping himself into a dragster at Santa Pod. With fat rear tyres rimmed by flame, much like his huge gong on stage at the end of Whole Lotta Love, he screams down the runway and inexplicably seems to reach across his lap to wave before adjusting his wing mirror while accelerating to 200+ mph within a few seconds. This act of reckless bravado can only emphasise how addicted to adrenalin Bonham was. I sometimes ponder whether this addiction and his other, to alcohol, were crutches for a crippling depression, but that’s a subject for another day. Here, we can only be dazzled by his supreme energy and brilliance on the drums. Without him, there wouldn’t have been a Led Zeppelin. Rest in peace John.

Other highlights include an extended version of Stairway to Heaven, which I don’t think is as good as the official audio, but many prefer it.

The ultimate accolade probably has to go to Since I’ve Been Loving You. This performance’s legendary status rises above even that of the other songs during the concert. It has to be seen to be believed, and, thank God, the cameras catch the audience reactions, an open-mouthed security guard, a stoned blonde who is simply lost in Plant’s presence, and a beautiful, dark-haired girl who is so hypnotised that her boyfriend glances at her to make sure she is okay.

A final note should be made that the concert was filmed in 1973, the movie only coming out three years later, so it doesn’t include Kashmir, and a couple of short vignettes had to be recreated in a rehearsal studio for John Paul Jones in 1975/6, possibly because the original didn’t include enough of his astonishing contribution to the band.

I can tell you that Plant’s singing is here at its very peak, before he had any issues with his vocal cords, and Jimmy Page’s guitar solos are insane, probably beyond anything else you will ever see. Jones supplies that hidden support that elevates the songs to masterpieces while Bonham makes it sound like the band is a full concert orchestra on ethanol. If you like rock music and you haven’t seen this movie, don’t miss out.

Find The Song Remains the same on imdb.com.

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