Recorded in 1973, How The West Was Won (Atlantic) was released as a triple-album compilation of two back-to-back Led Zeppelin performances in Los Angeles. The album marks an important beginning of what has become a very long list of live Zeppelin bootlegs. In fact, How The West Was Won is little more than just a professionally mixed and mastered collection of bootlegged recordings owned by Jimi Page himself.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” starts out as expected with Page’s classic four note intro- but what follows bears little resemblance to the more widely known studio and Song Remains The Same versions. As if bored or short on ideas, Page immediately starts out with some fast riffing- a hybrid cross between impromptu doodling and elements from his proper solo in the middle. I love how you can still hear open string buzz on Page’s playing- just a warm reminder that he is indeed mortal (or perhaps his guitar tech just set the strings too high). Despite it only being the song’s beginning, Page immediately starts cranking out those flashy-sloppy riffs of his. This throws me off at first, but I gradually start to dig it. Instead of unleashing the usual fiery torrents of minor pentatonic blues riffs, Page actually begins to delve into the major scale-which, whether intentional or accidental, provides the song with a lighter, more casual sound.
Robert Plant has a really great way of never singing the same two lyrics ever the same, and this version definitely proves that. This version is rife with little improvisations- “Plantisms”- into so many of his classic vocals. He’s sure to squeeze in a “have mercy I did what I could, yeah” just because he can. There are several really novel and funny call-and-response moments between Plant and Page, such as at 2:45 when Page croons, “I said I tried…oh…ow…OWW, I really tried to do the best I could”. It sounds like Page is literally slapping Plant on the ass with guitar riffs! Plant also has a really great Prince moment in the way he shrieks that second “OW”. This is followed by, “working from seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven to eleven every night” where Page dutifully accompanies Plant with repeated double-stop blues bends. I don’t even think Jagger and Richards ever had such a synergy on stage! Another favorite Plantism occurs at 3:24 when Plant sarcastically sings, “oh baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby”, which sounds more appropriate in a Broadway Rockette number than a greasy rock show.
Page’s solo is actually fairly similar to the previous two versions I reviewed. This is not wildly surprising considering The Song Remains the Same performance was filmed only months earlier. His sound quality and tone is thinner, but still impressive for being little more than a re-engineered bootleg. Page starts throwing in subtle major and chromatic scale runs rather than his familiar minor pentatonic fireballing. The solo is cleanly played, but notably more improvised, unrehearsed and confused than his earlier performances.
Jimmy Page once said How The West Was Won captured Led Zeppelin at their “artistic peak”- which is a pretty titanic statement. Having listened through the album only once or twice, I can neither confirm nor deny Page’s assessment. I think he’s probably right, but Page’s statement will serve as benchmark for my continued research. I still think The Song Remains the Same is a stronger display of both Zeppelin’s performance and sound, but I realize my opinion is biased due to being religiously familiar with The Song Remains the Same, and the fact that the album was professionally recorded and edited unlike How The West Was Won.
Stay tuned for the next installment where I review a real bootleg of Zepp’s performance at Southampton University (1973).