The release of Led Zeppelin's Mothership compilation earlier this week gave the public a new opportunity to revisit the studio work of Led Zeppelin.
This is certainly happening in at least one new way, the world of online downloads. Led Zeppelin made its entire catalog available from online retailers this week. As a result, Gigwise reports that "Stairway to Heaven" stands to make the U.K. singles chart this weekend after downloads are tabulated.
While Mothership is certainly not the first compilation of Led Zeppelin's material, it is a sampler issued with purpose. In a radio special by Wildfire Media for Rhino Entertainment, Jimmy Page explains that he felt the box sets issued during the 1990s had become somewhat obsolete.
Led Zeppelin's 10-CD Complete Studio Recordings was released in 1993, and a two-disc set released at the same time complemented the 1990 self-titled box set that featured the first remastering of the band's catalog.
"The box set was [about] 15 years ago," Page said. Referring to the "Best Of" compilations released in 1999 and 2000, he continued, "Along the way, we had a piece of product that was going to be in two sections -- one called Early Days, and Latter Days. And then of course in true sort of marketing spirit, they were sort of shunted together as Early Days & Latter Days, two CDs, now. And personally, I felt that there was quite deterioration with the quality -- not the music, of course -- but with the quality of the packaging, I just thought that it felt worse and worse and worse. When you compared it to any of the other Led Zeppelin product, it just didn't have that stamp of authority about it, you know?
"There'd been a sort of proposal on the cards for ages about putting one out, you know? A collection, we'll call it. You could also call it a sampler because it's an access route through to the albums, you know? The biggest question is how do you actually choose the numbers for, you know, a 'Best Of'? It's impossible, and that's the answer."
"It's really difficult," added John Paul Jones, to Page's agreement.
The topic of selecting the tracks to include came up again as Jones was interviewed Nov. 14 on BBC Radio 2 by Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie. Describing the process in more detail, Jones said, "We had lists of everything, and it was extremely difficult actually." Asked what criteria were used to select songs, he replied, "Well, we wanted the song list to run chronologically, and we wanted something from every album. Really, it's more like a sampler than anything else. The whole idea was to introduce people to every album, and so the difficulty was not so much what to put on but what to leave off. ... We simply couldn't fit [other selections] on. It was just -- it would have been a 10-CD set."
The interviewer joked that fans might expect a second volume of Mothership containing another handful of tracks in a different mood. "Oh, don't say that yet," said Jones, laughing. In the answer to that particular suggestion, he sounded as if he was growing tired of all the interviews and publicity surrounding the new album releases and the upcoming reunion concert.
And well he might be exhausted. After all, he and the other members of Led Zeppelin have been hitting the media circuit rather hard. Life for Page, Jones and Robert Plant has been rife with photography sessions for magazine covers -- including the December 2007 issue of Mojo, whose cover features an image of all three members together, with Page in the middle. The lettering of the headline "Led Zeppelin: The Mother of All Comebacks" apes Mothership's red-and-black motif.
The cover also promises an exclusive from all three members "on the past, present and their future!" It is a hint toward that there may be a future beyond this concert. Rumblings of a 2008 concert tour abound, and the press began reporting talks of a Led Zeppelin appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in June. (The latest report says festival organizer Michael Eavis couldn't afford to hire the band – which would indicate a price had been given and turned down. But theoretically speaking, everything has a price.)
As for any official word, the band members insist nothing has been decided. It has been months since the last denial of a more permanent reunion.
Plant's most direct answer to the question was given Oct. 23 in an interview on the New York public radio station WNYC, during a sit-down accompanied by Alison Krauss to promote that day's release of their album Raising Sand. Once he was asked the near-inevitable question, Plant couldn't help but toy with host John Schaefer. The 59-year-old singer started coughing and self-mockingly exhibiting other typical signs of old age -- "Can I get a blanket please?" -- before he launched into an unprovoked interpretation of the opening of "Nobody but You," a 1962 B-side by a Baltimore-based R&B group called the Lafayettes.
If it seemed obscure and random, perhaps that's precisely the point Plant was trying to drive home. "I just want to have fun," he then said, once again speaking seriously. "And if it's fun, it's fun. This is fun; this is a big day today, one of the biggest days. And having fun in England is having fun, you know. I just hope we all have fun. Let's face it, so many people want to go to the thing. How 'bout -- how 'bout if it's fantastic? And how 'bout if it's, like -- it's been quiet for so long. ... [The] anticipation is incredibly overwhelming for me. I'm carrying it around like some kind of kryptonite, you know? And all I wanna do is have some fun."
Hmmm, sounds like a line he could have gotten from Sheryl Crow a year after Led Zeppelin's last box sets came out.
Page and Jones have more than once diverted attention away from the question of a more permanent reunion. "Basically, we are concentrating on this show," Jones said in an interview for Sun Media. "That's where all the energy is going. I mean, who knows, but one step at a time."
In a separate interview for the same news outlet, Page said the one-off reunion concert in London "is what we're working toward ... That's what we have on our horizon at this point. I know you want to hear other answers, but I'm afraid that's all I can give you."
Page and Jones were similarly evasive when recording alongside each other for the Mothership radio special. "What we need to do, just do the gig," said Page. "Listen, if we hadn't wanted to play, we wouldn't have got into that room for the first time [in June 2007]."
To this, Jones added a single word: "Right."
Those holding out hope for future Zeppelin activity may find a more encouraging quotation from Page when they open up the pages of the December issue of Mojo -- the one bearing images of all three members of Led Zeppelin on the cover with mention of "their future" and a "comeback."
Asked whether the band might perform again, Page tells the magazine, "It's a bit silly not to because there is such massive demand. It's a bit selfish to do just one show. If that's it, we probably shouldn't have taken the genie out of the bottle."