Led Zeppelin: Presence, In Through the Out Door & Coda—Super Deluxe Box Sets

And as we wind on down the road, we have now officially arrived at the home stretch of Led Zeppelin mastermind Jimmy Page’s master plan of reissuing all nine of the mighty Zep’s studio offerings in Super Deluxe Edition box set form. Not only has the studio wizard’s magic remastering wand gifted us with a plethora of bonus tracks—mainly consisting of fascinating works-in-progress outtakes and alternate mixes, as opposed to troves of unreleased songs—but Page has been adamant about going the full-on 96-kHz/24-bit route in order to “future-proof” the catalog for whatever audiophiliac upgrades are yet to come. (Knowing how audio formats tend to go, however, that song may not remain the same as time marches onward.)

At any rate, the final Zep reissue slab consists of the oft-underrated troika of Presence (1976), In Through the Out Door (1979), and Coda (1982), and, like the previous six albums, you can select single CDs or single 180-gram LPs, or Deluxe Edition double CDs or 180g LPs (three discs and two 180g LPs, in the case of Coda) with the aforementioned “companion audio” bonus tracks. And I have to echo the sentiments in my September 2014 review of the first three Zep reissues: the absolute must-have versions are the three Super Deluxe box sets, each of which have all of the remastered and additional material on both CD and 180g LPs, plus a digital download card to get all the content in 96/24. Naturally, HDtracks.com has all three releases available for download at 96/24 if you can’t get your hands on these Super Deluxe boxes (though you really, really, really should if possible).

Presence was born out of difficult personal circumstances, recorded after vocalist Robert Plant suffered a serious car accident in Greece in August 1975. The differences between the final mix of lead-off track “Achilles Last Stand” and the alternate “Two Ones Are Won (Achilles Last Stand Reference Mix)” are relatively subtle—hard to imagine I’d ever use the word “subtle” to describe any aspect of this absolute beast of a song—but they’re quite telling: Page’s intro riff and solo breaks aren’t as sinewy or as upfront as they are in the final version, nor is his outro quite as hypnotic or dreamlike. Plant’s vocal has less of an echo in the back half, but John Bonham’s drumming is as muscular as ever—reinforcing why it’s my third-favorite performance of his, right behind his devastatingly pocket-stellar work on Led Zeppelin IV’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Physical Graffiti’s “Kashmir.”

In Through the Out Door was the one Zep album driven the most by the songwriting and compositional proclivities of bassist/keyboardist/secret weapon John Paul Jones. My all-time zenith Zeppelin track, “Fool in the Rain,” is one of the most unusual in the band’s catalog—not only does it exhibit a 12/8 polyrhythmic groove, it features Bonham doing the patented Bernard Purdie shuffle. “Fool” also contains a 2-minute samba breakdown section and one of Page’s most distinctive guitar solos, played via an MXR Blue Box effects pedal to get that gnarly, fuzzed-out down-low octave sound. The bonus “Rough Mix” shows the amount of work still needed to bring this song off the wrong block and on to the top—Jones’ six-beat bass line is too prominent during the verses, and Bonzo’s drums and additional percussion are much too loud during the back end of the samba.

Coda was the original odds ’n’ sods collection Page compiled following the death of drummer John Bonham in September 1980. Its contents spanned the band’s own decade-long lifespan, and Page goes to town with a double-disc dip of outtakes. “Sugar Mama” is a lost bluesy gem from the 1968 sessions done for the first album at Olympic Studios, and it springs ahead like a crawling king snake uncoiled. The brawny instrumental “St. Tristan’s Sword” was forged during the 1970 Led Zeppelin III sessions, a fine talisman that marks the magical charm of Page-Jones-Bonham’s frenetic interplay. Two utterly mesmerizing readings Page and Plant performed with the Bombay Orchestra in India in 1972—Zep IV’s “Four Sticks” (ahh, that flute!) and Zep III’s “Friends” (ahh, those strings!)—simply beg for a full album’s release of those sessions. They also share a throughline with the mystically imperial versions of these two songs cut with Egyptian and Moroccan musicians in Morocco for 1994’s semi-reunion project, No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded.

If this trio of super deluxe boxes is indeed Led Zeppelin’s last aural stand, the producer/guitarist can rest easy: the 96/24 legacy of this band is quite secure. All of my audiophile love to you, dear Pagey.

Markoz's picture

Groan. Led Zep has been re-issuing their catalogue ad infinitum, each time with a supposedly superior remastering. I bought into it the first couple of times but the sheer volume of re-issues is now absurd.

I wonder if anyone has kept track of the number of re-issues.