In the summer of 1973, Led Zeppelin were winding down the biggest tour of their career, a cross-country debauch-a-thon. By July, when they arrived at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the band was drained and eager to get home. To make things worse, their Manhattan hotel was robbed.
These aren’t the best conditions in which to record a live album, and The Song Remains the Same – captured over three nights – has few hardcore fans, even within the band. The two-disc document (and its accompanying concert film, a mishmash of cock-rock struts and campy dream sequences) was only released as a stopgap after Robert Plant was injured in a 1975 car accident, curtailing the band’s touring regimen.
Song does have plenty of arena-worthy moments: Jimmy Page’s slick, low-slung riffing on “Celebration Day,” the free-range psychedelic noodling on “No Quarter” and the cosmic crunch of Bonham on “Moby Dick.” In 2007, Page revamped the soundtrack, cleaning up the sound and adding in great previously deleted material (check Plant and the audience sharing some copacetic back-and-forth “unh-uhs” on “Black Dog”).
Sure, Plant’s cry of “Does anybody remember laughter?” during “Stairway to Heaven” is the height of golden-god self-seriousness. But, for better or worse, Song captures Zeppelin at a time when their brute force, young-stud stamina and unchecked excesses were peaking; it’s as exhilarating and exhausting as the decade it came out of.