1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 299

How the West was Won, by Led Zeppelin
Suggested by Nicholas Fitterson

How the West was Won is a sprawling eighteen-song, three-disc, one-hundred-and-fifty minute live odyssey from Rock and Roll legends Led Zeppelin. It contains a bevy of their classic hits, a few fringe favourites, and a medley of classic rock songs.

I’m only listening to Disc One.

It may surprise you, given my peerless dedication to perfection, but I’m making this project up as I go along. Yeah, I can hear the gasps of shock through the internet. When I gave my initial clarion cry for Album Suggestions, they came thick and fast, and not all of them were albums. Some were EPS, or roughcut demos, and at least one was actually a single. On the obverse, I’ve had a few Complete Works of such-and-such and the Unabridged $BANDNAME Vols 1-37 too. When faced with such largesse, I do what I must and make an Executive Decision, as above.

Frankly, Disc One is likely all but the most stalwart fan of the band, or of ridiculous Rock extravagance, will need. It houses nine strong tracks from Led Zep’s back catalogue, including the barnstorming Black Dog, Immigrant Song, and Stairway to Heaven, my standout and the bane of guitar shop demoists the world over. Other songs of note include the sprawling Heartbreaker and the infectious Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.

It’s difficult to know what to say about this album. If you like Eld Zeppelin, you’ll probably love it, as it encompasses a lot of the Rock and Roll excess one would associate with the band. I’m reliably informed that both Discs Two and Three take that excess and shove it down your throat sideways, with noodling twenty-minute solos from both Jimmy Page (guitar) and John Bonham (drums). As I’ve not listened I shall label that Apocryphal, although each disc does contain a few twenty-minute tracks. Of course, if you’re new to Zep, or if you’re not a fan, it’s unlikely this will turn you into an afficionado or stalwart from your closeted starting position.

Me? I quite like Zep. The hits are exactly that, and the musicianship of offer is strong on all fronts. But if I want an afternoon of Zep I’ll likely fire up Led Zep III or IV, or Houses of the Holy. As with all live albums, I largely miss the point. I’m no fan of live music when I’m actually there in person, so a watered-down warts-and-all recording is unlikely to butter my parsnips.

My beef with live albums is that there’s no space for retakes, so the finished product is always demonstrably worse than the initial studio release. It’s fine if you’re a voracious fan and are looking to consume as much content from your favourites as possible, as I was at one point with Primus, but for the listener with a passing interest? No thank you. Weird, this album attempts to tangentially address this by giving us frankensongs mixed from different live performances across two nights. If I’m honest, I don’t like that idea either, as, to paraphrase Mr Miyagi, it smacks of walking down the centre of the road. Sooner or later, you’ll be squished like a grape.

How the West was Won gets 5/10 from me, as I can’t fault the band’s legacy. It’s just the execution, this time, with which I take umbrage.

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