Jimmy Page started the project because he couldn't believe how bad Led Zeppelin sounded.
The legacy of the band he'd devoted much of his life to was being muddied by the way its classic studio albums sounded when reproduced on the ubiquitous MP3 players that are popular today.
Instead of accepting that future generations would have to hear a cramped, compressed version of Led Zep's sonic booms, Page has devoted several years to completely re-mastering the band's extensive catalog in a labor of love — "Physical Graffiti," which was released on Tuesday.
"This whole re-mastering process is a result of listening to Led Zeppelin on MP3. It almost sounds as if someone has got into the master tapes and done a really horrendous mix of it," Page said of the MP3 versions in a recent interview. "It just wasn't representative of what we'd done in the first place. So many textures were missing. The whole beauty of Led Zeppelin, the air of it, these instruments coming in here and here and over here, was just totally destroyed."
The re-mastering has taken several years, and the new editions include previously unreleased companion disks of outtakes, live performances and alternate versions of many songs. Page listened to hundreds of hours of tapes looking for gems. The 71-year-old guitar master, who wears his long silvery hair in a ponytail, is confident that the new versions will last and be easily adapted for the next round of technological innovation.
"At this point, we're prepared for whatever may come, as far as high-resolution digital," he said. "And we have the new versions on high quality vinyl, the CDs and digital. The object of the exercise has been achieved."
Page is part of a select group of British guitarists — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and a few others — who emerged in the mid-'60s to put a new take on American rock 'n' roll. They were for the most part self-taught, Page said, and the technology they relied on was primitive indeed: They would buy singles of American songs designed to be played at 45 rpm and played them instead at 33 rpm, the speed designated for long playing records, not singles.
Page listened to Elvis Presley's singles this way — to decode the guitar work — and Ricky Nelson, whose session guitarist was the revered James Burton.
"The way we all learned was from records," he said. "You'd put on the 45, slow it down to 33, and try to work out these solos, note for note. That's it. Everyone learned that way, as far as I can tell.
"I'd save up my pocket money and get every Ricky Nelson single, because you knew James Burton wasn't go to let you down, ever," Page added.
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