In early 2014, the announcement finally came that the Led Zeppelin catalogue was to be reissued with bonus material, with the first three albums potentially appearing before the summer. Prior to this exciting announcement, the only extra material Zeppelin fans had seen officially includes a couple of extra tracks on two box sets, a couple of live recordings and a few extra tracks inserted into the running order of the band’s live opus ‘The Song Remains The Same’. Meanwhile, almost every other major rock artist saw their catalogues reissued with bonus materials galore, and in some cases – The Who and Hendrix, especially – several times over. Having been denied this treatment for so long, the idea of the entire Zeppelin catalogue being overhauled and awarded bonus discs of unreleased material provided much cause for celebration.
To mark the release of the first batch of reissues, REAL GONE takes a look at how Zeppelin’s music has straddled across decades and transcended fashions and genres, capturing the ears of so many different musicians. Here we present a list of interesting Zeppelin cover versions to emerge over the years…some good, some not so good.
Sandie Shaw – Your Time Is Gonna Come
How fitting that our list should not only begin with the world’s first ever release of a Led Zeppelin cover, but also come from someone so unlikely. 60s it girl and shoeless wonder Sandie Shaw is best known by many for her middle of the road 60s pop, as a musical peer of Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark and for her 1967 Eurovision winner ‘Puppet On a String’. In the eighties, she made an unlikely return to the chart after being championed by The Smiths and covering their seminal ‘Hand In Glove’. Years before that unlikely career turn, Shaw made another interesting choice by including a cover of Zep’s ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ on her 1969 flop album ‘Reviewing The Situation’, just a few months after Zeppelin’s own release hit the shelves. She may not catch the ear as instantly as Robert Plant on the original cut, but this version has plenty of charm, its jangling sixties pop a good fit for a vocalist who’d previously excelled at wistfulness.
Tori Amos – Thank You
One of the most overlooked tunes from Zep’s second release, ‘Thank You’ is a superb ballad which shows off Plant’s vocal range and the band’s abilities at constructing something thoughtful. In 1992, hidden on the b-side of a now notoriously hard to find CD single, Tori Amos slowed the song even further, stretching it out as a haunting piano ballad. A master at taking other people’s songs and making them seem as if they were only meant for her, Tori excels on this number…even if it sits in the shadows of her drastic reconstruction of Hendrix’s ‘If 6 Was 9’ played on an out of tune upright piano and then distorted beyond almost all recognition…
Sly and Robbie – Heartbreaker
In 2005, reggae production/performance duo Sly & Robbie released ‘The Rhythm Remains The Same’ – a whole album of Zeppelin covers. Naturally, the reggae-based ‘D’yer’mak’er’ provided one of the easiest cuts to cover and their version bigs up a summery groove, but it is on the far less tailor-made ‘Heartbreaker’ they really prove themselves. While joke reggae/rock/Elvis impersonators Dread Zeppelin tackled ‘Heartbreaker’ much earlier, naturally, this version is much cooler. Stripped of its distinctive guitar riff, the vocal is left to stand against an unrecognisable tune. That vocal occasionally pays tribute to Plant’s original melodies, but for the most part, this is a complete overhaul. As they say, if you’re gonna bother covering something, you may as well make it in your own image. If you’re not sure whether you like it, at least try and stick around until the fuzzy guitar solo.
Hootie & The Blowfish – Hey Hey What Can I Do
In the late 90s, Hootie & The Blowfish’s major label debut ‘Cracked Rear View’ took the world by storm, becoming one of the fastest selling albums in history. Its blend of light country rock, American tradition and pop sensibilities seemed to appeal to almost everyone in the US. In the UK, the band were less successful, though did manage to score an appearance on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ which briefly helped lift their profile. Without changing their style one iota, Hootie knocked out a faultless cover of this US-only b-side for a Led Zep tribute album in 1995, before including it on their own excellent covers album a few years later. Why choose a track that most Zeppelin fans are still less familiar with as opposed to another pastel-shaded classic from 1970? As the band admitted themselves, the choice was simple: this was the only one frontman Darius Rucker could sing!
Robert Walter – Poor Tom
Another track dating from the ‘Led Zeppelin III’ sessions, though unreleased until 1982, ‘Poor Tom’ is a mix of acoustic rock and a touch of bluegrass, dominated by a fantastically heavy drum sound. It’s a fabulous Zeppelin track – no question there – and perhaps should have been on ‘Led Zeppelin III’ instead of the bewildering ‘Hats Off’. In the hands of jazz-funk organist Robert Walter (of the Greyboy Allstars and bandleader for his own 20th Congress), the track becomes a driving instrumental with all the chutzpah of old Jimmy Smith recordings. Rarely does a Zep cover maintain both the spirit of the original cut and yet drive it in a new, funky and sophisticated direction at the same time. In this feat, Walter creates one of the ultimate Zeppelin tributes.
Lana Rebel – Black Dog
From a largely unknown album of Zeppelin covers on Jealous Butcher Records entitled ‘From The Land of Ice & Snow’, Miss Lana Rebel provides one of a couple of bright sparks among some dross with her cover of ‘Black Dog’. Removed completely of its bombast and then redelivered as a slow, sultry, acoustic blues number, this proves you don’t have to be flashy to make an impression. Its charm is in its simplicity. [Another recommended track from this comp comes from alt-folk hero M.Ward (Him of the She & Him duo) who plays a slightly slower and reverb drenched take on ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’].
Soulfly – Four Sticks
Although featuring a rather fine riff, ‘Four Sticks’ is arguably the weakest track on Zep’s fourth album. Weakest is relative, though – it’s only the weakest since something has to be by default and the rest of the album is flawless. As a bonus track on their 2010 album ‘Omen’, Brazilian/US metallers Soulfly turned this tune into a chugging tour de force with a vibrato-fuelled lead guitar replacing the vocal. It’s one of those tunes that never gets old. Listen and enjoy…and don’t forget to listen to it loudly.
Tool – No Quarter
Hardly known for being prolific, progressive metal band Tool know that perfection takes time. Since the release of their second album ‘Aenema’, they’ve barely put a foot wrong in their attempts at pushing the boundaries of metal. While Zep’s live recording from Madison Square Garden in 1973 may just be the definitive version of ‘No Quarter’ this Tool re-working provides an interesting take on the much-loved tune, really pushing it’s spookiest aspects.
Helmet & David Yow – Custard Pie
Both Helmet and The Jesus Lizard have been name-checked at REAL GONE semi-regularly. Helmet have released a couple of the world’s best alternative metal albums in ‘Meantime’ and ‘Betty’, while The Jesus Lizard – although David Yow’s demented yelping can be daunting – should be praised for pushing the envelope when it comes to angular noise making. The combination of both talents was always likely to be overwhelming and this cover of ‘Custard Pie’ proves to be the case. There’s a fine line between interesting and ugly and this tune crosses the line with wanton abandon. Is it good? Possibly…some days, the jury’s still out…
The Black Crowes with Jimmy Page – Ten Years Gone
So, is it cheating to include something that features an original band member? Tori Amos didn’t seem to think so when she duetted with Robert Plant on ‘Down By The Seaside’ for a Led Zep tribute in 1995, and with regards to this, we don’t think so either! On this great version of a ‘Physical Graffiti’ highlight, Chris Robinson never makes any attempt at channelling Plant in his delivery and its all the better for that. The song suits his own voice – always with the same natural drive that makes The Black Crowes recordings so special – and hearing him alongside Jimmy Page is a pure delight. The ‘Live at The Greek’ album is a good document of a live show, even though legal wrangles meant that none of the Black Crowes own material or cover tunes performed on the night are included. Hearing the Crowes tackling Zep classics with Page also clearly enjoying the event makes the 2CD set worth the price of admission.
[Deluxe editions of the first three Led Zeppelin albums are released in the UK on June 2nd 2014.]