It was the fall of 1990, and I was on the verge of graduating highschool and entering the "real" world. However, my musical development was way far behind -- everybody's was, in 1990. Poison, Whitesnake and Motley Crue ruled the charts: All bands, one way or another, influenced by Zeppelin. Yet, I had avoided actually hearing a Zeppelin studio recording. MuchMusic's endless showing of The Song Remains The Same had cooled any interest I might have had in this great band. So what happened?
In 1990, pop rock was showing its first signs of death and I was becoming interested in bluesier, rockier sounds. I was beginning to listen to FM radio and I heard a song called "Travelling Riverside Blues". The slide guitar was eloquent and infectious. Immediately, I wondered what I was missing.
A friend, who also had never owned a Zeppelin album in his life, picked up the Box Set released that fall. I asked him how it was. Cryptically, he responded, "It's good." It went on my Christmas list and I anxiously opened it on December 25, 1990.
I read the liner notes and I listened to the whole thing in one marathon almost-5-hour-session. Today, this is the running order that I associate these Zeppelin songs in, not the original studio album order.
For the record, this is no substitute for owning all the Zeppelin studio albums. Thay have a life all their own. However, Jimmy Page carefully assembled this running order to breathe new life into these tracks, and breathe they do.
I can't imagine a better opener than "Whole Lotta Love". It is a one-two punch followed by "Heartbreaker", and then "Communication Breakdown" took things to an out-of-control pace. Geniously, Page followed this with "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You". I was hooked. I couldn't imagine a band better than this. Better late than never, right?
Today I own all the Zeppelin albums in box set form (The Complete Studio Recordings), but I still listen to this box and its sequel, 1993's Box Set 2. When I have 5 hours at home, this is the way I prefer to go. This box set creates a journey. Each disc is a journey with a distinct opening and a distinct close, but the entire running order is like that as well. Witness "All My Love" as the final track. I couldn't imagine a better way to end a five hour journey.
Interestingly, even though the unreleased/rare tracks here were later reissued on the Complete Studio Recordings (they were "Traveling Riverside Blues", "White Summer/Black Mountainside", and "Hey Hey What Can I Do"), one slipped through the cracks and to the best of my knowledge is only available on this set. "Moby Dick/Bonzo's Montreaux", an interesting remix (today we would call this a "mashup") of Bonzo's two drum solos intertwined, would not find its way onto the complete box. It's not because it's inferior or redundant. Jimmy lovingly put this track together as a tribute to his friend 10 years after his death, and it works brilliantly.
10 years? It was hard for me to believe that Zeppelin had been gone for only 10 years at that time. It seemed to me like they were part of pre-history, something that predated everything I'd known. Yet all the bands I knew cited Zeppelin as an influence, from Kiss on down to Badlands. They were a part of my rock and roll soul without me even knowing it. Hearing this box for the first time was like discovering a part of myself.
Today, I would recommend this purchase to music fans on the following conditions:
1. You're a die-hard Zep fan who is missing "Moby Dick/Bonzo's Montreaux".
2. You don't own any Zeppelin at all, and this will be your first.
Because there have been many other sets since then (remember, back then Zeppelin didn't even have a greatest hits yet) this might be a hard purchase for you to justify making. However, listening to it the first time will be the best five hours of your day. I guarantee it.