The Song Remains the Same

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This article is about the Led Zeppelin concert film. For other uses of the term The Song Remains the Same, please see The Song Remains the Same (disambiguation).
The Song Remains the Same
TSRTSfilm1976.jpg
Director Joe Massot and Peter Clifton
Producer Peter Grant
Starring Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Music Led Zeppelin
Cinematographer Ernest Day
Editor Humphrey Dixon
Distributor Warner Bros.
Released 20 October 1976 (US)
4 November 1976 (UK)
Filmed July 1973 - August 1974
Length 137 minutes
Language English

The Song Remains the Same (also known as TSRTS) is a concert film by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. The recording of the film took place during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City, during the band's 1973 concert tour of the United States. The film premiered on 20 October 1976, at Cinema I in New York and at Warner West End Cinema in London two weeks later.[1] It was accompanied by a soundtrack album of the same name. The DVD of the film was released on 31 December 1999.

Promotional materials stated that the film was 'the band's special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamouring for — a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin. For the first time the world has a front row seat on Led Zeppelin.'

A reissue of the film, including previously unreleased footage, was released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray Disc on 20 November 2007, by Warner Home Video.[2]

Background

Since late 1969, Led Zeppelin had been planning on filming one of their live performances for a projected music documentary of the band. The group's manager, Peter Grant, believed that they would be better served by the big screen than by television, because he regarded the sound quality of the latter as unsatisfactory. The first attempt was the filming (by Peter Whitehead and Stanley Dorfman) of Led Zeppelin's Royal Albert Hall performance on 9 January 1970, but the stage lighting was judged to be insufficient, and the film was shelved (this footage was later remastered and featured on the 2003 release Led Zeppelin DVD).

On the morning of 20 July 1973, during the band's concert tour of the United States, Peter Grant made a contact with Joe Massot, who had previously directed Wonderwall. Massot was already known to Grant as he and his wife had moved into a house in Berkshire in 1970, where they made friends with their neighbours, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and his girlfriend Charlotte Martin.[3] Grant had previously turned down offers by Massot to make a film of the band, but with the huge success of the band's current tour, Grant changed his mind and offered him the job of director. As Grant recalled:

It all started in the Sheraton Hotel, Boston. We'd talked about a film for years and Jimmy had known Joe Massot was interested - so we called them and over they came. It was all very quickly arranged.[4]

Massot hurriedly assembled a crew in time for Led Zeppelin's last leg of the tour starting on 23 July 1973, in Baltimore. He subsequently filmed the group's three concert performances at Madison Square Garden on the nights of 27, 28, and 29 July 1973. The film was entirely financed by the band and shot on 35mm with a 24-track quadraphonic sound recording. The live footage in the US alone cost $85,000.

Original filming

The plans to film the shows at Madison Square Garden were threatened when the local trades union tried to block the British film crew from working. The band's attorneys negotiated with the union and the crew was eventually allowed to film the concerts.[5]

The footage of the band arriving at the airport in their private jet airliner, The Starship, and travelling in the motor cavalcade to the concert was filmed in Pittsburgh, before their show at Three Rivers Stadium on 24 July 1973.[6]

For their three New York performances, the band members wore exactly the same clothes to facilitate seamless editing of the film, except for John Paul Jones who wore three different sets of attire on each of these nights, which created continuity problems. In an interview from 1997 Jones said that the reason he didn't wear the same stage clothes was that he asked the crew if they would be filming on those nights and was told no. 'I'd think 'not to worry, I'll save the shirt I wore the previous night for the next filming'. Then what would happen is that I'd get onstage and see the cameras ready to roll.'

As Led Zeppelin's popularity soared throughout the 1970s, Peter Grant became increasingly known for being overtly protective of his band and their finances. The Song Remains the Same infamously captures one such exchange between him and a concert promoter backstage at the Baltimore Civic Centre. In the scene where Peter Grant is driven to the police station to be questioned about the theft from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel, he has his arm outside the police car. According to an interview conducted in 1989, he explained the reason he wasn't handcuffed was that the policeman driving the car used to be a drummer in a semi-professional band which had supported The Yardbirds on one of its US college tours in the late-1960s. Grant had at the time been manager of the Yardbirds.[7] The money stolen from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel was never recovered and no one has ever been charged.[8]

The scenes of police chasing a ticket jumper and of Grant berating the promoter for receiving kickbacks were both shot at the Baltimore Civic Center on 23 July 1973. Page purportedly recommended the 'Dazed and Confused' sequence wherein the camera zooms into Jimmy's eyes and cuts to the scene.[9] Some unused backstage shots filmed at Baltimore and at Pittsburgh later found their way into the promotional video for 'Travelling Riverside Blues', released in 1990.

Subsequent filming and release

Unhappy with the progress of the film, Grant had Massot removed from the project and Australian director Peter Clifton was hired in his place in early 1974. Massot was offered a few thousand pounds in compensation.[10] Clifton, in recognising that there were crucial holes in the concert footage, suggested that the entire show be recreated at Shepperton Studios in August 1974, on a mock-up of the Madison Square Garden stage. Close-ups and distance footage of the band members could then be slipped into the live sequences, which made up the bulk of the concert footage seen in the film. When it was agreed that the band would meet at Shepperton Studios for filming, Jones had recently had his hair cut short, so he had to wear a wig.[11] A plan to shoot additional footage on the band's Autumn 1975 U.S. tour was abandoned due to Plant's car crash in Rhodes, Greece.[12]

For both the film and accompanying soundtrack album, the songs were heavily edited, and until both the film and album were re-released in 2007, in some cases versions of song appearing in the film were different from the one heard on the album. A comprehensive study of how the audio sources for each song were edited is available at the Garden Tapes.[13] Songs performed by the group at the three Madison Square Garden concerts but not included in the original film include 'Celebration Day', 'The Ocean', 'Misty Mountain Hop', 'Over the Hills and Far Away' and 'Thank You'. Some of these songs were included on the soundtrack album of the film and, later, on the Led Zeppelin DVD.

The film was finally completed by early 1976, 18 months behind schedule and over-budget. Peter Grant later quipped 'It was the most expensive home movie ever made'.[14] It grossed $200,000 in its first week at the box office. Following the film's completion, the band experienced a major falling out with Peter Clifton. Suspecting that he had 'stolen' negatives of the film, Peter Grant ordered that his house be searched. They did find some footage, but this turned out to be a collection of the best 'home movie' footage which Clifton had intended to give to the band members as a gift. Clifton was invited to both the New York and London premieres of the film.[15]

Fantasy sequences

With an intention to give an insight into the individual personalities in the band, several out-of-concert 'fantasy sequences' were shot by Massot for each of the band members, in addition to Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole. The sequences are as follows:

  • Massot originally shot Grant walking a cameraman around a collection of antique cars, but this footage was quickly abandoned. Instead, Grant and Cole were filmed as hitmen driving towards Hammerwood Park estate in Sussex in a 1928 Pierce-Arrow car. Roy Harper also makes an uncredited guest appearance as one of the 'greedy millionaires' portrayed at a business meeting of multi-national corporations. Massot envisioned Grant and Cole in the hitman roles, as it symbolised the tough business decisions they made on behalf of the band. The female passenger wearing a scarf with Peter Grant driving on a country road is his wife, Gloria.
  • John Paul Jones was filmed first at home with his wife Mo, and reading Jack and the Beanstalk to his two daughters, Tamara and Jacinda, before receiving a call to join the band on their American concert. For his fantasy sequence, Jones initially wished to use footage from the original Doctor Syn film, but was prevented from doing so as this film was owned by Disney. Instead, his fantasy sequence involved a reinterpretation of the film. Jones portrays a masked gentleman known as 'The Scarecrow', who travels at night on horseback with three others and returns home to Sussex, an ordinary family man. The three other horsemen with him are a reference to the other band members. Jimmy Page's girlfriend, Charlotte Martin, and baby daughter Scarlet Page can be briefly seen during the closing moments of this sequence, which was filmed in October 1973. Thematic music: 'No Quarter'.
  • Jimmy Page is filmed sitting by a lake next to his 18th century manor at Plumpton, East Sussex, playing a hurdy gurdy. The tune played is called 'Autumn Lake' and the scene was filmed in October 1973. Page's fantasy role involved climbing up the face of a snow capped mountain near Boleskine House, Loch Ness during the nights of a full moon on 10 and 11 December 1973. The act was meant to show Page on a quest of self enlightenment, and deep understanding, by seeking out the Hermit. The symbolic Hermit is seen on the summit of the mountain; Staff of wisdom in one hand, and in the other, the Lantern of Knowledge held out abreast over the world below. Being a Threshold Guardian, he represents an obstacle the querent must overcome to achieve true enlightenment. At the final culmination of Page's quest, he reaches out to touch the Hermit only to discover paradoxically, that he himself is the Hermit. The Hermit features on the artwork or the untitled fourth album. Thematic music: 'Dazed and Confused'.
  • John Bonham was shot with his wife Pat and son Jason Bonham on their country estate, Old Hyde Farm in Worcestershire. It is interesting to note that part of his fantasy includes him spending time at home with his family. Bonham was known for falling into depression while on tour away from his family. His drinking, which ultimately resulted in his death, is partly attributed to his homesickness. The game of snooker was shot at the Old Hyde Hotel and the Harley-Davidson riding near Blackpool. His fantasy sequence is the most straightforward of all the members, with Bonham drag racing an AA Fueler at 260mph at Santa Pod Raceway, Wellingborough, Northants, in October 1973. Thematic music: 'Moby Dick'.

Critical reaction and popularity

For its New York premiere, Cinema I was equipped with a quadrophonic sound system hired from Showco in Dallas. For the West Coast premieres, no such audio boosting was employed. These premieres, along with the London premiere, were attended by the members of the band.[16]

The film performed well at the box office, grossing an estimated US$10 million by 1977. Despite this, the film was received mixed reviews from critics for its perceived self-indulgent content, with the fantasy sequences in particular coming in for some of the harshest criticism.[17] The film was less successful in the UK, where the band had not performed live for over two years as a result of being on tax exile. The band were thus unable to promote themselves at home, leaving them out of the public spotlight.[18]

However, amongst fans the film has retained its popularity, largely because, until the release of the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, The Song Remains the Same was the only official live visual document that followers of the band were able to access. It became a cult favourite at late-night cinemas,[19] and its subsequent release on video and then DVD has ensured a growing base of fans.[20]

Many of these fans, and some members of the band itself, regard the performances filmed at Madison Square Garden as merely average for the time, coming as they did at the end of a long and exhausting tour, but nonetheless representative of the generally high standard of the band's live performances during this era. In an interview he gave with New Musical Express in November 1976, Page stated:

The Song Remains the Same is not a great film, but there's no point in making excuses. It's just a reasonably honest statement of where we were at that particular time. It's very difficult for me to watch it now, but I'd like to see it in a year's time just to see how it stands up.

Page made good on his promise. When reviewing material for the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, he decided to include footage from this same series of concerts. However, other members of the band were less charitable, with Jones later admitting that the film was 'a massive compromise' and Plant denouncing it as 'a load of bollocks.'[21] For all of its technical faults, many today view the film as an interesting historical document that captured the band at a particular point in time when its popularity was about to peak, and, on a more general level, as an accurate representation of the excesses of the music and show-business industries in the 1970s.

2007 reissue

On 20 November 2007, Warner Home Video released a new DVD edition of The Song Remains the Same for the first time with all fifteen songs from the original Madison Square Garden concerts. This coincided with the reissue of the accompanying soundtrack to the film, available on CD. The DVD features newly remixed and remastered sound, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, and includes more than 40 minutes of added bonus material, including never-before-released performance footage of 'Over the Hills and Far Away' and 'Celebration Day', plus performances of 'Misty Mountain Hop' and 'The Ocean', a rare 1976 BBC interview with Robert Plant and Peter Grant, vintage TV footage from the Drake Hotel robbery during the New York concert stand, and a Cameron Crowe radio show. This version was released on standard DVDs as well as Blu-Ray and HD DVD.

A Collector's Edition box set including a t-shirt with the original album cover, placards from the New York shows, and several glossy photographs was released as well.

Due to legal complications, the band decided not to change the video portion of the original film for the rerelease.[22] Instead, sound engineer Kevin Shirley created an entirely new mix of the three 1973 Madison Square Garden concerts so that the audio portion of the film would better match the on-screen visuals. The audio on the new CD release is nearly identical to the soundtrack of the new DVD release. One difference is that the songs included on the CDs that were not featured in the original film are included as bonus tracks on the DVD.[23]

Track list

Film information

Track sequence:

  1. Mob Rubout
  2. Mob Town Credits
  3. Country Life ('Autumn Lake')
  4. 'Bron-Yr-Aur'
  5. 'Rock and Roll'
  6. 'Black Dog'
  7. 'Since I've Been Loving You'
  8. 'No Quarter'
  9. Who's Responsible?
  10. 'The Song Remains the Same'
  11. 'The Rain Song'
  12. Fire and Sword
  13. Capturing the Castle
  14. Not Quite Backstage Pass
  15. 'Dazed and Confused'
  16. Strung Out
  17. Magic in the Night
  18. Gate Crasher
  19. No Comment
  20. 'Stairway to Heaven'
  21. 'Moby Dick'
  22. Country Squire Bonham
  23. 'Heartbreaker'
  24. Grand Theft
  25. 'Whole Lotta Love'
  26. End Credits (w/ 'Stairway to Heaven')

Chart positions

DVD

Chart (2003) Peak position
Norwegian Music Chart[24] 2
Finnish Music Chart[25] 3
Italian FIMI Music DVD chart[26] 18
Hungarian MAHASZ Top 20 DVDs Chart[27] 1

Credits

Personnel
  • Cast:
    • Peter Grant
    • Jimmy Page
    • John Bonham
    • John Paul Jones
    • Robert Plant
    • Richard Cole
    • Derek Skilton
    • Colin Rigdon
  • Production:
    • Jimmy Page - guitars, backing vocals, producer, sound editor, sound mixer
    • Robert Plant - vocals
    • John Paul Jones - bass guitar, keyboards
    • John Bonham - drums, percussion
    • Peter Grant - executive producer
    • Joe Massot - director
    • Peter Clifton - director
    • Ernie Day - camera operator
    • Robert Freeman - camera operator
    • David Gladwell - editor
    • Eddie Kramer - sound engineer
    • Shelly - special effects
    • Ian Knight - visual effects and lighting
    • Kirby Wyatt - visual effects and lighting
    • Brian Condliffe - technician
    • Mick Hinton - technician
    • Benji Le Fevre - technician
    • Ray Thomas - technician
    • Steven Weiss - shoot trouble
    • Cameron Crowe - liner notes

See also

Notes

  1. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (2005). Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, Revised. London: Omnibus Press, 275. ISBN 978-1-84449-659-4. 
  2. Led Zeppelin Readies Fall Reissue Bonanza
  3. Case, George (2009). “The Rover”, Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man - An Unauthorized Biography, Revised. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 130. ISBN 978-0-87930-947-3. 
  4. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (2005). Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, Revised. London: Omnibus Press, 206. ISBN 978-1-84449-659-4. 
  5. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 118. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  6. Lewis, Dave and Pallett, Simon (2005). Led Zeppelin: The Concert File, Revised. London: Omnibus Press, 225. ISBN 978-1-84449-659-4. 
  7. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 119. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  8. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Song Remains the Same, reissued version, 2007.
  9. Case, George (2009). “The Rover”, Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man - An Unauthorized Biography, Revised. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 131. ISBN 978-0-87930-947-3. 
  10. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 122. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  11. Snow, Mat, 'The Secret Life of a Superstar', Mojo magazine, December 2007.
  12. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Song Remains the Same, reissued version, 2007.
  13. The Garden Tapes
  14. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 133. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  15. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 136. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  16. Welch, Chris (2002). “The Song Remains the Same”, Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 136. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 779456406. 
  17. Welch, Chris (1996). “Into the Shadows”, Led Zeppelin. London: Carlton Books, 70. ISBN 978-1-85868-271-6. 
  18. Lewis, Dave (2003). “The 1977 US Tour: The Beginning of the End”, Led Zeppelin: The 'Tight but Loose' Files: Celebration II. London: Omnibus Press, 45. ISBN 978-1844-49056-1. 
  19. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Song Remains the Same, reissued version, 2007.
  20. Welch, Chris (1996). “Into the Shadows”, Led Zeppelin. London: Carlton Books, 70. ISBN 978-1-85868-271-6. 
  21. Blake, Mark, 'The Keeper of the Flame', Mojo magazine, December 2007.
  22. Liner notes by Cameron Crowe for The Song Remains the Same, reissued version, 2007.
  23. Watson, Tom Kevin Shirley Talks about Revisiting Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, Modern Guitars Magazine, 16 October 2007.
  24. The Top 100 - 2003. lista.vg.no. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  25. The Top 100 - 30 March 2005. pop.yle.fi. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  26. Top 20 - 20 March 2008. FIMI. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.
  27. Top 20 DVDs - 6 April 2008. MAHASZ. Retrieved on 2009-01-19.