Mobile phones: can”t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, can’t shove ’em up the arse of whatever raging shitwit has decided it’s a good idea to block your view of a gig by trying to capture 30 seconds of shaky, barely audible footage that will be uploaded to YouTube and never watched again.
These days, every second of every live show that’s been played in the last 10 years exists online, but it wasn’t always that way. Take Led Zeppelin. One of the biggest selling bands in history, onstage footage of them is relatively scarce – just a handful of professionally filmed shows and the odd, blurry if tantalising home video clip. Hey, that‘s 70s tech for you, kids.
That got us wondering. Does footage exist of every song from the band’s iconic fourth album, aka Led Zeppelin IV? It turns out it does, at least in one form or another. Some of it dates back to the glory days of the 1970s, some of it is from the various renunions and collaborations that took place following their split in 1980 in the wake of drummer John Bonham’s death.
We’ve pulled them all together here. Not all of these clips are necessarily the greatest versions of a given song – though some of them most definitely are – but they’re nothing if not fascinating, and a great reminder of just how untouchable Led Zeppelin in full force really were.
Black Dog (Madison Square Garden, July 1973)
Recorded during Zep’s three-night stand at Madison Square Garden at the conclusion of their monumental 1973 North American tour, Led Zeppelin IV’s opener was omitted from the original The Song Remains The Same album. Thankfully, footage of made it into the film itself. It’s not the tightest performance ever, but it captures Zep in their imperial pomp – a bare-chested, dragon-suited behemoth breathing fire and pheromones at 20,000 people.
Rock And Roll (Knebworth, August 1979)
Legend has it that Zeppelin’s two comeback shows at Knebworth were sloppy, underpowered and generally disappointing. This electrifying version of Rock And Roll suggests otherwise – this is a band on fire, something footage of other songs from the same shows backs up. It’s hard not to wonder how things might have turned out had John Bonham not died 13 months later.
The Battle Of Evermore (Kingdome, Seattle, July 17, 1977)
The footage is a little blurry and the performance rough, but this version of The Battle Of Evermore – recorded just over a week before their 1977 North American tour was prematurely curtailed following the death of Robert Plant’s son, Karac – has a shambolic charm. Plant opens it with a cough and John Paul Jones is no Sandy Denny, but Jimmy Page attacks the mandolin like it’s just insulted his outfit. It’s breezy and cheerful, and unaware of the darkness that was to come.
Stairway To Heaven (Earl’s Court Arena, London, May 25, 1975)
The big one, both song and performance. Zeppelin’s five night run at Earl’s Court in May 1975 captured a band at their peak, and never more so than on their most famous song. Robert Plant may have mixed feelings about Stairway To Heaven these days, but this 10-minute version – filmed on the final night – is perfect, from his effortlessly charismatic delivery to Page’s double-neck Gibson heroics.
Misty Mountain Hop (Madison Square Garden, New York, May 14, 1988)
Zeppelin’s one-night-only reunion at a concert marking the 40th anniversary of their old label Atlantic was marred by poor sound and a distracted performance – Jimmy Page called it “awful”. There are much better versions of Misty Mountain Hop out there, but this one is fascinating because it shows the band out of context, no longer the unstoppable force of old. One for curiosity value rather than quality.
Four Sticks (London Weekend Television studios, London, August 1994)
Zeppelin only played this hypnotic John Bonham showcase live once, in Copenhagen in May 1971. No video footage of that show exists, though the reunited Page and Plant resurrected it 23 years later for their 1994 MTV UnLedded show (subsequently released as the No Quarter album). This was a wild reinvention, stripping down the original’s and reconstructing it with the help of both the London Metropolitan Orchestra and the Egyptian Ensemble, whose use of non-Western percussion instruments such as the doholla, bendir and reque called back to a version Page and Plant had recorded with the Bombay Symphony Orchestra on a trip to India in 1972.
Going To California (Earl’s Court, London, May 25, 1975)
Another one from Earl’s Court. Zeppelin’s smoke-wreathed love letter to the West Coast and its music captures them at their most intimate. Watching Page and Jones do their respective things up close is something else.
When The Levee Breaks (Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony, New York, June 12, 1995)
Another iconic Zeppelin song that only got a handful of run-outs first time around – six in total, on their 1975 US tour, none of which were captured on film. It was dusted down during Zeppelin’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, when the surviving members – this time including John Paul Jones – were joined by an electrifying Neil Young, who is relishing the moment. Funny to see Plant tentatively strumming a guitar, too, not really holding his own in this company but not caring too much about it either.