Coda is a resounding farewell from the greatest heavy-metal band that ever strutted the boards. Produced by Jimmy Page, the album chronicles a ten-year adventure in high guitar drama and maximum blast. If the record seems a bit of a cheat timewise — it clocks in at 32:40 — the song selection is a marvel of compression, deftly tracing the Zeppelin decade with eight powerful, previously unreleased tracks, and no unnecessary elaboration.
Side one is early days. The opener, a frontal assault on Ben E. King and James Bethea’s “We’re Gonna Groove,” is definitive 1969 raunch. The essential elements of Zeppelin’s sound are already firmly in place: Page’s propulsive guitar playing, Robert Plant’s pealing vocal, John Paul Jones’ duty-bound bass, and the late John Bonham’s creature with – the – atom – brain drumming. “Poor Tom,” from 1970, isn’t completely successful at mating an acoustic-guitar turn with an insistent drum tattoo, but it does demonstrate Page’s links to the Bert Jansch-John Renbourn school of urbane folk picking. The walking-bass rendition of Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” tossed off at a sound check that same year, perfectly captures the bluesmania of the period, complete with a classically overwrought guitar solo. More impressive is Page’s frantic, trebly chording on “Walter’s Walk,” which recalls Paul Burlison’s steaming leads with Johnny Burnette’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio in the mid-Fifties.
Side two skips ahead to November 1978 for three outtakes from the Stockholm sessions for In through the Out Door, Zeppelin’s last LP before the group-sundering death of John Bonham. Recorded at Abba’s state-of-the-art Polar Studios, these tracks — the bone-rattling “Ozone Baby,” the hypnotic “Darlene” and “Wearing and Tearing” — are about as wonderful as hard rock & roll gets.
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Completing the picture — there was no getting around this — is “Bonzo’s Montreux,” recorded in Switzerland in 1976. Extended rock drum solos are notoriously the pits, but this one, electronically enhanced by Page and executed with considerable panache by Bonham’s “drum orchestra,” is true to the spirit of Sandy Nelson, and thus vestigially nifty at the very least. Coda is an honest and honorable career profile, and a classy way to go out.