Led Zeppelin's weeklong sojourn at Los Angeles' famed Sunset Sound Recorders in 1971 — when guitarist and producer Jimmy Page mixed several tracks that he would later disavow and remix for the group's fourth album — has long been a curious part of the group's history. Now, more than four decades after the record came out, the band is including the Sunset Sound mix of their most epic song, "Stairway to Heaven," on the deluxe edition of their fourth record.
The Sunset Sound mix reveals a moodier approach to the tune. The pipes in the intro are quieter, the guitars are generally more present and the drums sit back a bit as Page takes control of the bridge. Its general murkiness makes for a somewhat more somber effect.
"It's always interesting to hear stuff that you know really well and hear it differently, but the same," John Paul Jones tells Rolling Stone. "It does give a different perspective on it. You hear different things. I did read somewhere that the end of 'Stairway to Heaven' contained one of the best rock bass parts ever recorded. Unfortunately it comes underneath one of the greatest rock guitars so... But 'Stairway' is a favorite still. It's just got everything that we are about."
"The Sunset Sound mix of 'Stairway to Heaven' was actually mixed at Sunset Sound in L.A. in advance of the version that everybody knows," Jimmy Page says. "I think it's a really good embodiment of everything that's on there. It's a guitar mix, really."
Page, engineer Andy Johns and the group's manager, Peter Grant, flew to Los Angeles in February 1971 to mix what would become the group's fourth album. When they returned to London a week later, they were unhappy with the mixes, claiming they were muddy and lacked high end. Page has said he wondered if Sunset Sound's monitors were just too state-of-the-art; the only Sunset Sound mix to make it onto the record was "When the Levee Breaks," as Page felt it had maintained his expectations. Page ended up remixing "Stairway to Heaven" at London's since-closed Island Studios.
In 1975, Page told Rolling Stone that he felt "Stairway" had "crystalized the essence" of the group. "It had everything there and showed us at our best...as a band and as a unit," he said at the time. "It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for years, and I guess we did it with 'Stairway.'"
As with the reissues of Led Zeppelin's first three records earlier this year, both Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy, which came out in 1973, have been completely remastered under Page's supervision. When they come out, they will be available in a variety of configurations – single disc, double-disc, 180-gram vinyl, digital download and a box containing all of the audio and a book with unseen photos – and the deluxe editions will each contain a full album's worth of demos and working versions of the records' songs.
The reissues will arrive on October 28th. Both are available for preorder on LedZeppelin.com.