There’s nothing I love more than live music. It’s unexpected, daring and one of a kind. Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won is no exception. Each time I listen to it, I find myself lost in a deep fantasy of how it must have felt watching it performed live for the very first time. If only I was alive in 1972, I would have lost my rock-intoxicated mind.
Out of all of Zeppelin’s live albums, How The West Was Won in particular puts me in an indescribable mood. It has some of my favorite recordings of all time, and the extended versions and restyled elements of the band’s most loved songs elevate me to a whole other level. From the 25-minute “Dazed And Confused” to the bewitching “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” there’s no doubting the power of Led Zeppelin live.
Though it sounds like one straight recording, How The West Was Won includes performances from two famous 1972 California concerts — June 25 at the L.A. Forum and June 27 at Long Beach Arena. The two shows are poetically meshed together, and the cheers and whistles caught on tape from both crowds give the classics some realness. It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that people were actually there witnessing this legendary music come alive in its prime.
If only I was alive in 1972, I would have lost my rock-intoxicated mind
The 2003 release of How The West Was Won after years of hard to come by bootlegs was a historic moment for Zeppelin fans. Most of the songs on the album are easily recognizable and very different from the band’s original studio recordings. I’m in love with its version of “What Is And What Should Never Be” — so much that I barely listen to the original anymore. In my opinion, the hook is much better sped up, as it amplifies the heaviness of the song.
The coolest part about this album, for me, is how John Henry Bonham’s manic drumming connects this long array of mixed-matched live songs together. Without it, its functionality would be lost. His “Moby Dick” solo is so powerful, my “air drumming” and head-banging reactions often leave me short of breath, and as it starts to come to a close at the 18-minute mark, I can easily picture myself losing all control in the audience. Hearing the crowd scream for him in the background of this track is all it takes to elevate me to that place — reminding me once again that those are the moments I live for.
For many people, myself included, specific songs and albums resonate physically and emotionally in our memories. It’s a big reason why we listen. Six years ago I traveled to Italy, did some soul searching, fell in love, and listened to this album almost every day for five months. I listened on the trains, walking down the cobblestone streets, and of course, in the bedroom (the best place for Zeppelin). “Whole Lotta Love” is a 23-minute love trip driven by Page’s guitar. “Going To California” and “That’s The Way” are soft yet equally relentless. And when it was time to dance and sip on some lush Italian red wine, “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” “Heartbreaker,” and “The Ocean,” were on blast. These unique recordings take me back to a time in my life when music was so essential. Away from home, it was all I had.
I truly think I was born in the wrong era. Even though I’ve been fortunate to see many of my favorite bands live, rarely has it been with their original line-ups. I’m envious of just about anyone who’s ever seen Zeppelin, mostly because it seems unlikely that there will ever be another chance, and with the great John Bonham gone, it’s certain that it will never come close to what it used to be. But honestly I’d still do anything to see Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones jam together in person, so I’m staying hopeful.
How The West Was Won is an album that craves a reaction. It effortlessly shows how well the band plays off each other. They were inspired to make music together, and this live album proves it. Take the time to relax after a long day and listen to it straight through. Unwind and venture back to 1972 for a front row fantasy of your own.