Back then, these UK radio sessions from 1969 and 1971 represented the band’s first officially released live recordings since The Song Remains The Same, the somewhat compromised film soundtrack of ‘75. Given that all six BBC studio and theatre engagements had been logged by jolly thorough chaps in white coats, and apparently even illegally taped and traded (yes, really!), fans knew exactly how much Jimmy the Satanic Gatekeeper was holding out on us.
The good news is that the “Sunshine” sheila and all eight of her missing companions have been found this month, extending the original 25 tracks to a fifth, lovely, 180-gram record in this unambiguously “Complete” white box.
How lovely? The first four LPs are in glossy white cardboard sleeves featuring black and white photo portraits of Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham from the era. For maximum mystery, the fifth could be none more black, barring reversed type and cover sketch portraits. Content-wise, the Paris Cinema gig of April ‘71 features mid-period classics like Immigrant Song, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Black Dog, Going To California and Stairway to Heaven. The bulk of the sessions happened in March and June of ‘69, so selections naturally lean heavily on the first two Zep albums of January and October that year, with half a dozen songs appearing two or three times across the first four LPs.
Yet more versions of most of those – You Shook Me, Dazed and Confused, Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You Baby, What Is And What Should Never Be – also turn up on the black record, partly explaining Page’s reluctance to gild the lily back in ‘97. His sonic discernment can hardly be questioned either. Master tapes were unceremoniously erased after the band’s Maida Vale Studio 4 session of March 19, 1969, so the fabled Sunshine Woman arrives at last via some fabulously crusty dub of a tape of a tape. “There’s no point pretending it wasn’t recorded off the radio,” Page recently shrugged.
There’s no pretending she’s dispensable, though. She’s a fast mover; all hammered bar piano and nasty 12-bar boogie with blasts of blues harp and little indication, as legend has it, that she was summoned from the ether on the spot by a band clearly in the throes of a decidedly purplish patch. Where-and-when details are meticulous, down to photos of each venue concerned, but don’t expect slabs of contextual pontification about what it all means. The kicker for collectors may be the little 3D laser sticker of Storm Thorgeson’s winged rock god logo on the back of each LP. It’s the little things, right?
The Complete BBC Sessions is out now via Rhino/Warner.