Monday, September 30, 2013

Coda (1982)

The aptly-named Coda is a post-breakup album of outtakes from Led Zeppelin's recorded archives. It sounds about as you would expect an outtakes album to sound - spotty, with some more and less interesting tracks (the best of which, being outtakes, don't quite rise to the level of Zep's best songs, with the possible exception of the one or two live tracks). It doesn't have the cohesion of a real album, but honestly, after listening to In Through The Out Door, you could be forgiven for forgetting just how fantastic Led Zeppelin sounded in their earlier days, and hearing that again (on not all, but a few of the tracks on this album) is perhaps a better memory of the band than leaving off with In Through The Out Door.

Like all of Zeppelin's albums, it starts out strong, with a track called We're Gonna Groove, which is one of the several (often cover) songs the band performed live during their earliest tours that was never formally recorded for one of their studio albums. It's a short, high-energy rocker, with some fantastic-sounding contributions by all members of the band, especially Jimmy Page and his frenetic guitar attack. A single listen will cure the malaise that In Through The Out Door left you with.

The second track on the album is a song called Poor Tom, which is actually a variation on a song called That's No Way To Get Along, that was also recorded by The Rolling Stones under the title Prodigal Son (on their Beggars Banquet album). It's a light, shuffling, acoustic piece, with prominent percussion, and a harmonica part. It's a nice enough little number, but ultimately it fails to impress much.

Of all the songs Zep could have chosen to feature a live version on this album, it's curious that they picked I Can't Quit You Baby - but I'm certainly not complaining, seeing as I like the song so much, and this live version is absolutely smoldering with the kind of raw energy that is typical of Zep's early live recordings. It's an excellent teaser for the journey many of Zep's fans will embark upon, delving into the band's prominent (and often rewarding) bootleg catalog, after they've come to the end of their studio recorded (and officially released live) material. The only remaining question is why Poor Tom was slipped in between this track and We're Gonna Groove, breaking up the live combination, especially considering that those two songs were often performed together...

Then we come to Walter's Walk, which it turns out is kind of a Frankenstein of a number (or possibly the donor to other Frankensteins), parts of which were used in various other songs in Zep's catalog. Unfortunately, it's not as interesting as that introduction makes it sound. It's not bad, either - it's got a good rock n roll atmosphere, with a satisfying guitar part - but as you can expect from an outtake, it falls about in the range of average quality.

Ozone Baby is one of those strange kinda songs - like South Bound Saurez - that don't leave a whole lot of an impression. Of course, it doesn't help when you don't listen to the album that contains it nearly as often as the band's others - but then that's a symptom of the songs on the album not being as good. Actually, Ozone Baby has a decent rhythm, with a chorus that sounds eerily familiar. Now that I'm reading that it's one of three songs on Coda that are outtakes from the In Through The Out Door sessions, I'm wondering if that album would have been better with the outtakes than some of the other songs that made it on there.

Darlene was another one of those ITTOD outtakes, and is a little bit better than Ozone Baby. Which is kind of interesting, because it's a bit of a quirky song. But it's got a good rhythm, and despite being sort of light-hearted, I think it's far more effective at being a good song than other songs that try to be "fun". Even the piano part in this song sounds good. Its inclusion wouldn't have raised ITTOD to the level of a great album, but I think it would have improved it a little.

Bonzo's Montreux follows in the footsteps of Led Zeppelin II's Moby Dick, as a drum solo song. But this time, we don't get the kickass guitar riff intro/outro. Instead, we get some weird electronic effects, that make the song sound very dated. The drumming is impressive, as always - John Bonham was rightly hailed as one of the all time best drum gods of the 1970s rock scene - but I wouldn't say this is the best track to remember him by. If you really want to be impressed, get a hold of one of the live versions of Moby Dick, of which the antics in the studio version and this song are a mere taste.

I love the story behind Wearing And Tearing. Rumor has it, the band was going to release the song anonymously as a single, to see if punk-loving audiences would eat it up, not knowing it had been recorded by one of the very "dinosaur" bands they loved to rail against. It never happened, but here it is on Coda, and it's fast, and it's hard, and I think I could see it having sort of a punk aesthetic. Not an authentic punk aesthetic, of course, but it's not by any means the worst of Led Zeppelin's genre experiments. In fact, apart from the live tracks, I think it's the best song on Coda, and it would have definitely improved the quality of In Through Out Door if it had been included on that album.

Bonus Tracks

Special editions of Coda (the version included in the Complete Studio Recordings box set, I think) tack on several bonus tracks to the end of the album, which I think is a fantastic idea, for completionists who want to get every last song recorded by the band that's ever been officially released. The only problem is that you have to buy the box set to get them, so if you've already bought Led Zeppelin's complete studio recordings, you're basically paying box set price for four tracks. One of which is on the BBC Sessions album, so three, really. And they're not even that great. :-\

The first of them is a song called Baby Come On Home, which is kind of ballad-y, and has an organ part that recalls maybe Your Time Is Gonna Come from Zep's first album (although much more understated). It's actually a pretty little song, but given its status as a rare, hard-to-find track, it's not gonna blow your mind.

Travelling Riverside Blues is the song that was recorded for the BBC, and is available on Led Zeppelin's BBC Sessions album (highly recommended). Most of the songs on that album are alternate live versions of songs that turn up on Zep's studio albums, but this is one song that stands out, and was actually released as a single. It sounds really good, features Jimmy playing a slide guitar, and is a cover of a Robert Johnson song. The only complaints I have about it are that it's not sad enough as a blues song, and not hard enough as a rock song. But if you're just listening for fun, I think it sounds great.

Led Zeppelin's first album contained the acoustic instrumental Black Mountain Side. Well, the next bonus track includes its cousin, White Summer, together with Black Mountain Side in one piece, the way Jimmy played it live - White Summer/Black Mountain Side. The White Summer part was first recorded by Jimmy while he was still in The Yardbirds (on the Little Games album), which is why he probably didn't record it again with Led Zeppelin (being that it's not even a band song, but a solo showcase), but here you get the whole impressive thing, and I have to admit, the two pieces sound great together. The only thing that's more impressive is the live version on the Royal Albert Hall portion of the new Led Zeppelin DVD - which, by the way, is a must-watch.

The final bonus track is a song called Hey, Hey, What Can I Do? which was actually released as the B-side of the single Immigrant Song. It's a pretty, acoustic number that wouldn't sound out of place on Led Zeppelin III. It's got a nice rhythm, and the chorus is infectious. I have to admit that it sounds really good, but at the end of the day, it's perfectly suited for the lite-FM format, and that's not the hunger I wish to sate when I put Led Zeppelin on my stereo. I find myself craving Dazed and Confused, Heartbreaker, Black Dog. It's too bad the time has run out for this Zeptember, because I'd love to dig into some live Zep right now. Maybe I'll save it for next year...

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