Does the world really need another Led Zeppelin collection that claims to be the comprehensive “Best of”? Jimmy Page himself sifted through the master tapes to bring us the guitarist’s definitive selection on Remasters in 1990. Then The Best of Led Zeppelin Volumes One and Two in 2002 was cheeky enough to suggest the great man had left some gaps. Now, to coincide with Led Zep’s one-off show on December 10 (whether it was a unique event remains to be seen) to honour Ahmet Ertegun, the recently deceased founder of Atlantic records, someone thought it was time to finally release a record which covers the greatness of this legendary band.
As it turns out, Mothership is an awesome collection. The 24-track, two-CD package goes further than any other to create a definitive compilation of the band’s output, digging out gems such as When the Levee Breaks and In the Evening, which have so far been absent.
It’s a tall order to attempt to present the essence of Led Zep’s prodigious output in one collection. Here, after all, is a band who pushed the musical boundaries and defined the 1970’s as much as the Beatles did the 60’s. Some fans will lament the omissions of songs such as That’s the Way, Lemon Song and Gallows Pole but if you were to include every stroke of genius the band came up with, then it would be a boxed set, not a 2-CD collection. This is why Mothership really stands out as a worthwhile exercise in attempting the near-impossible. Besides, can anyone really complain about those songs which didn’t make it onto the album when they look at the ones which did?
While the main aim of any compilation is to present the best selection of a band’s body of work, it should also attempt to recreate the energy and presence of the band. Mothership plays like a step-by-step lesson in how to be the greatest rock band ever. Listen to Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker and Rock’n’Roll at high volume and suddenly there’s a wiry, young Robert Plant in your living room, shirt open to the navel with his mane of curls in full flow. Play Dazed and Confused and there’s Jimmy Page playing a double-necked Gibson with a cello bow, bending strings and possibilities in a sequined, dragon-winged jumpsuit. Jump to Over the Hills and Far Away and John Paul Jones and John Bonham are there putting down a rolling, funky rhythm section which threatens to break the crockery.
Led Zeppelin weren’t hugely successful because of the constant touring, the money they made or the boundaries of debauchery they pushed (although these all contributed in their own way), but because they did everything bigger and better than anyone had ever done before. Attempting to put the immensity of such a band on two little compact discs seems like an act of futility only until you play those discs. What comes out of your speakers will tell you all you need to know about greatness.