The forthcoming reissues of Led Zeppelin will probably cost, oh, at least a few pounds. Or something. So before we all trample over London’s tourists like brainwashed consumers in a desperate panic to buy new vinyl in whatever is left of HMV in Oxford St, let’s reflect on whether this is Actually A Good Idea.
What’s best? The original records, or the reissues? And if the answer is “the originals” then can we find them at a sensible price?
First, why buy vinyl at all? For me, that’s the easy bit. It’s not just the sound: it’s also for the fun bits.
Not only do Led Zep have some great albums, they also have some of the greatest packaging. Let’s have a look at the albums in turn:
First, the most fun record sleeve of all time. There’s joy to be had in the spinning wheel on the cover of Led Zep III that will transport you to when you were two feet high and your best record player was made by Fisher Price. It’s like a record and an activity set all in one. Ooh, look – a stripy ball, and wait! there’s a butterfly – and a rhino wearing a nappy. Ooh – and there’s a hairy, drunk mud shark-abuser…
Someone should make wrapping paper with the same design – it’ll make millions. Well, I’d buy it anyway…
Led Zep II is dull by comparison, a mere gatefold, whilst Led Zep IV will transport you to your tenth birthday, but only because it has a gatefold sleeve and features a Gandalf look-a-like on the inside cover. Never mind.
Physical Graffiti is much more fun. It has little holes in the windows of the town house on the cover. Depending upon whether you put the lyric sheet outermost or the printed inner sleeves, you can change the record’s appearance. But why stop there? Why not have the house looking like a grotty council estate by drawing your own crack den on the sleeve, or hanging out washing from the windows? Or hang it on the wall and pretend to be James Stewart whilst acting out scenes from “Rear Window”? Or insert pictures of ’70s Radio 1 DJs and pretend it’s a great big prison. But all of this is for another time…
Led Zeppelin seemed to care more about the packaging than most bands do nowadays.
Houses of the Holy’s release was actually delayed not because the band had musical differences, but because they weren’t happy with the way the sleeve looked. And not for a couple of days, or a week or so. Want to know how long? This is what Peter Grant said about the incident in a 1989 interview in Raw Magazine:
“We were determined to ensure that nothing went out with our name on it until it was absolutely right. We delayed the release of the “Houses of the Holy” LP for five months because the cover artwork wasn’t right. You can imagine that Atlantic (who distributed Swan Song product) were going mad.”
Five months! I can only think it was very important to get the exact shade of orange shining over the naked children’s bottoms (now there’s a Google search term I don’t want…) Presence had a gatefold Hipgnosis cover with mysterious 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisks heavily featured. I think having Goscinny-and-Underzo-inspired-Obelix’s might have been funnier, but you can’t have everything. The inner sleeve also has some pretty odd Hipgnosis images.
In Through The Out Door had six different potential covers wrapped in a brown paper bag, so you’d never know which of the six incredibly uninteresting covers you’d get until after you bought the album. Each photo is taken from the perspective of a different person in the photo.
What’s more, this album contains a colouring book!
Honestly, it does…
If you paint the inner sleeve with a water filled brush, the ink bleeds (deliberately) and different colours are revealed. Amazing eh?
All this is fine and well. But what do the records actually sound like? Is there any benefit in buying the original UK records with the plum coloured label?
Let’s find out next time.
Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song