Released in 1982, two years after the death of drummer John Bonham, Coda was a late goodbye from the rest of Led Zeppelin — singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and founding guitarist Jimmy Page — and paltry closure for everyone else: a mere half-hour of outtakes, including a drum solo. Three tracks were unused songs from 1979’s In Through the Out Door, an awkward embrace of New Wave electronics and pop romanticism. The contrast between those songs and Coda‘s opener, the early-prime bonfire “We’re Gonna Groove,” was not flattering. For the first time, in that threadbare collection, the most audacious hard-rock band of the Seventies sounded like a spent force.
Three decades later, Coda is the unlikely closing triumph in Page’s series of deluxe Zeppelin reissues: a dynamic pocket history in rarities, across three discs with 15 bonus tracks, of his band’s epic-blues achievement. There are familiar strays, such as “Baby Come On Home,” from the sessions for 1969’s Led Zeppelin, and the 1970 B side “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do.” But Page has gone deep. “Sugar Mama,” cut for and left off Led Zeppelin, already suggests the tightly wound textural fury of Led Zeppelin II. “If It Keeps On Raining” is a truly alternate take of “When the Levee Breaks,” on Led Zeppelin IV — less titanic, with more worried-blues nuance in Plant’s vocal — and two long-bootlegged 1972 recordings by Page and Plant, made in India with members of the Bombay Orchestra, evoke their determined exploration of the global routes and branches in American blues and Celtic folk, on the way to the rugged spectacle of 1975’s Physical Graffiti.
Page’s final round of reissues includes two other sets: new editions of In Through the Out Door and the feral-guitar overload of 1976’s Presence. The extra mixes essentially mirror the original LPs, with a refreshing exception: “10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod),” an instrumental sketch from the Presence sessions starring Jones’ jazz-nocturne piano. Even in Coda’s expanded context, the Out Door orphans “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” are still lesser Zeppelin, an inconclusive response to the edge and concision of punk.
Rebirth, of course, was not an option; Bonham’s death froze his band’s legacy in place. Yet it’s a story that keeps on giving. Once an afterthought, Coda is now a classic Led Zeppelin album: deep lore from their road to legend.