Led Zeppelin-How The West Was Won. 

Label: Atlantic.

By the time Led Zeppelin embarked upon their 1972 North American Tour, it was official, they were the biggest and some said the baddest rock ’n’ roll band in the world. Their first four albums were well on their way to selling forty-nine million albums, and Led Zeppelin’s career could only be described as glittering, as they received an array of gold, platinum and diamond discs. It seemed that Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones could do wrong, and were invincible musically as these ‘20th’ Century musical gladiators prepared to do battle in arenas across the land of the free. 

Across America, music fans eagerly awaited the arrival of Led Zeppelin, who were at the peak of their artistic powers. They had warmed up with two concerts in Europe, playing at the Oude Rai in Amsterdam, Holland on the May the ‘27th’ and the Forest National in Brussels, Belgium on May the ‘28th’ 1972. This allowed Led Zeppelin to hone their setlist, which would feature songs from their first four albums and Over The Hills and Far Away, Dancing Days, and The Ocean from their fifth album Houses Of The Holy which would be released on the ’28th’ of March 1973, which was a long way away. Before that, there was the small matter of twenty sellout concerts in America. 

Led Zeppelin flew into Detroit on their own private jet, where they would start their North American tour at the city’s Cobo Center on the ‘6th’ of June 1972. This should’ve been the start of the highest profile tour for Led Zeppelin, who were the world’s most successful rock ’n’ roll band. Incredibly, that wasn’t the case.

Another British band, the Rolling Stones were also touring North America, and would steal the headlines. That was despite Led Zeppelin being a much more successful band since they released their debut album in 1968. Since then, both bands had released four albums, with the Rolling Stones sold just over six million copies in America, while Led Zeppelin’s first four albums would sell in excess of forty-nine million copies. Led Zeppelin was also capable of out rocking the Rolling Stones, who were still the media darlings. This must have been frustrating for Led Zeppelin, and their manager Peter Grant. So much so, that he had already decided to bring onboard a PR company to promote future tours. However, despite the Rolling Stones grabbing the publicity Peter Grant, was negotiating deals that other bands could only dream of.

Peter Grant was by 1972 the shrewdest and most ruthless manager in music, who always set out to get the best deal for Led Zeppelin. He knew exactly what Led Zeppelin were worth, and when it came to negotiating with the American promoters, he had no qualms about playing hardball to get the deal he wanted. If the promoters wouldn’t pay what Peter Grant wanted and knew Led Zeppelin were worth, and if he didn’t get it, he would head to the next city. Most promoters were desperate to bring Led Zeppelin to their city, and were willing operate on what were wafer thin margins. By 1972, it’s thought that Led Zeppelin were receiving ninety percent of the ticket price. No other band were receiving this, but no other band had Peter Grant to guard over them as they embarked upon their North American tour.

Having opened their North American tour in Detroit, Led Zeppelin headed crossed border to Canada, and played the Toronto Forum on the ‘7th’ of June 1972. After that, Led Zeppelin at their hard rocking best played Boston, Charlotte, Buffalo and Baltimore on consecutive nights, stopping for a break on the ‘12th’ of June 1972. By then, Led Zeppelin had played six of the twenty shows, and audiences were in agreement that they were witnessing a band who were at the peak of their power. Led Zeppelin usually hit the ground running, opening a seventeen song set with

Immigrant Song which gave way to Heartbreaker. After that, Led Zeppelin’s set usually included Over the Hills and Far Away, Since I’ve Been Loving You, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Dazed and Confused, Moby Dick and Whole Lotta Love which closed the set on a high.

The tour restarted on the ‘13th’ of June 1972, when Led Zeppelin played The Spectrum on Philly, before playing the next two nights at the Nassau Coliseum in New York. After two sellout shows in the Big Apple, it was onwards to Worcester, Portland and then two nights in Seattle on ‘18th’ and 19th’ of June 1972. Having played six nights in a row, Led Zeppelin decided to take a break before heading to Denver.

When the tour restarted at the Denver Coliseum on the ‘21st’ of June 1972, this was thirteenth of twenty shows that Led Zeppelin would play within a month. It was a gruelling schedule, but Led Zeppelin were about to hit the West Coast which meant they were into the home straight.

On the ‘22nd’ of June 1972, Led Zeppelin played at the Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, before playing in San Diego on the ‘23rd’ and Berkeley on the ‘24th.’ Each of these shows featured Led Zeppelin reach heights they would never scale again. That had been the case throughout this legendary tour. Fortunately, two nights of the tour were about to be recorded for posterity on the triple album How The West Was Won, which was recently remastered and reissued by Atlantic. 

When Led Zeppelin arrived in Inglewood, South West California, they had already played sixteen of the twenty concerts on their sellout North American tour. Despite only taking two nights out, Led Zeppelin were raring to go as the concert at The Forum on the ‘25th’ of June 1972 was one of two concerts that were being recorded, so that a live album could be released at a later date. However, it wasn’t just the one night that would be recorded, so would the concert in Long Beach two nights later.

It made sense to record the concert at the Long Beach Arena on the ‘27th’ of June 1972, just in case there were any technical problems in Inglewood. However, recording two concerts allowed the best performances to be cherry picked to ensure that How The West Was Won really featured Led Zeppelin at the peak of their powers.

Unfortunately, some bootleggers had also managed to record some of the concerts on Led Zeppelin’s 1972 North American tour and it wouldn’t be long before these recordings were circulating amongst fans. Incredibly, this included at least two soundboard recordings, which had taken place under the noses of Led Zeppelin’s road crew. This wouldn’t please Peter Grant, who was no fan of bootleggers, and was known to take a hardline attitude to the ones who were caught. In his eyes, they were essentially stealing from the band he managed. Little did Peter Grant know that on the ‘25th’ of June 1972 the Swinging Pig bootleg label were also recording their Burn Like A Candle release which was released later in 1972.

Following the gig at the Long Beach Arena, Led Zeppelin had just two shows left to play on their 1972 North American Tour. The eighteen shows had been their best on American soil, and Led Zeppelin could honestly say that they had conquered America. Ironically, the Rolling Stones continued to overshadow Led Zeppelin who would continue to win friends and influence people right up to the end of the tour.

An almost demob happy Led Zeppelin arrived in Tucson, Arizona on the ‘28th’ of June 1972 and took to the stage at the Tucson, Community Center. That night, Led Zeppelin switched between blues rock, hard rock and folk rock and sometimes combined elements of two of these genres. That night, Led Zeppelin worked their way through a set that featured a mixture of favourites and future classics before taking their bow and heading to the last show on their 1972 North American tour.

The twentieth and final concert took place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the ‘29th’ of June 1972. Led Zeppelin were about to play their twentieth show in twenty-four days and were riding a wave as they took the stage and unleashed a spellbinding performance. Just like the previous dates on the tour, nobody who saw Led Zeppelin at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum would forget such a memorable show.

Following Led Zeppelin’s 1972 North American Tour, many of the band’s fans thought that it was only a matter of time before the band released the live album that had been recorded at the LA Forum on the ’25th’ of June and at the Long Beach Arena two nights later on the ‘27th’ of June 1972. However, that wasn’t the case.

After Led Zeppelin returned from their 1972 North American Tour, there was no mention of the group releasing a live album. The tapes of the two concerts remained in Led Zeppelin’s vaults, while at least two bootleg recordings were released and the bootleggers profited with inferior sounding releases. This no doubt frustrated and angered Peter Grant who was already planning the release of Led Zeppelin’s next album.

By the time Houses Of The Holy was released on the ’28th’ of March 1973, there was still no sign of the live album that would eventually become How The West Was Won. Meanwhile, Houses Of The Holy was well on the way to selling eleven million copies in America alone, and became Led Zeppelin’s second album to certified diamond.

Over the next few years, the bootleg recordings of Led Zeppelin’s 1972 North American Tour grew in popularity and were regarded as a reminder of the group at the peak of their powers live. Meanwhile, Led Zeppelin continued to be a hugely successful band  outselling their rivals.

When Led Zeppelin released the double album Physical Graffiti was in February 1975, it was to widespread critical acclaim before the album sold sixteen million copies and was certified diamond. Just over year later in March 1976, Led Zeppelin released their seventh album Presence which topped the British and American charts. Despite its chart success, Presence ‘ only’ sold three million copies in America and although it was certified triple platinum, it was Led Zeppelin’s least successful album. However, the good news was the Led Zeppelin were at last going to release a live album.

This was the live soundtrack album The Song Remains The Same which was released in October 1976, and again, topped the British charts. However, in America The Song Remains The Same stalled at number two in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum four times over having sold four million copies. Led Zeppelin’s first live album, which wasn’t the album many fans had hoped for, had brought more success the band’s way.

So would In Through the Out Door, which was Led Zeppelin’s eighth studio album and sadly, would prove to be the last album the band released during their career. Just like Led Zeppelin’s last studio album Physical Graffiti, it topped the charts on both sides of the album after its release in November 1978. Eventually, In Through the Out Door sold six million copies and was certified platinum six times over. However, soon, chart placings, albums sales and platinum discs would mean nothing to three members of Led Zeppelin.

When there was no sign of John Bonham by 1.45pm on the ’18th’ of October 1980, his friend John Paul Jones and Led Zeppelin’s new tour manager went to check on the  charismatic and larger than life drummer. Sadly, when they discovered John Bonham, he was dead aged just thirty-two.

After the death of the John Bonham, the other three members of Led Zeppelin briefly thought of continuing with a new drummer.  Names like that Cozy Powell, Carmine Appice, Barriemore Barlow, Simon Kirke and Bev Bevan were considered, but John Bonham’s brothers in arms knew that Led Zeppelin wouldn’t be the same group without him. That was why on the ‘4th’ of December 1980 Led Zeppelin decided to call time on their career after eight successful albums that would eventually sell over ninety-one million copies on America alone.

Despite Led Zeppelin calling time on their career, they still had one album to deliver, so in November 1982 released Coda which was a collection of unreleased tracks. Sadly, Led Zeppelin’s final studio album sold just over a million copies and was certified platinum. This marked the end of end era, that began fourteen years earlier in January 1968 with the release of Led Zeppelin.  It had been a roller coaster ride for Led Zeppelin.

Following the release of Coda, Led Zeppelin never released another studio album, but over the next three decades released compilations, box sets and in November 1997 the BBC Sessions  which featured studio sessions and a live concert recorded for the BBC by Led Zeppelin. This was another welcome release, but still many of Led Zeppelin’s fans clamoured for another live album the recording of the 1972 North American Tour.

How The West Was Won. 

Eventually, nearly thirty-one years after Led Zeppelin recorded the songs that featured on How The West Was Won it as announced that the album would be belatedly released by Atlantic on the ’27th’ of May 2003. For many Led Zeppelin fans and critics, this was a day they had dreamed about.

While many Led Zeppelin fans and critics had heard the bootleg Burn Like A Candle, which was also recorded at the LA Forum on the ‘25th’ June 1972, they wondered what How The West Was Won sounded like? They knew it was quite different to Burn Like A Candle, as it was three CD set that featured eighteen tracks which were recorded at two venues. The first recording took place at the LA Forum on the ’25th’ of June, and two nights later on the ‘27th’ of June 1972, the tapes were running at Long Beach Arena. However, Jimmy Page who produced How The West Was Won, was determined that this landmark release would live up to the expectation of fans and critics.

To get How The West Was Won to the standard that Jimmy Page required took time and effort. At Sam West Studios in London, Jimmy Page listened to the tapes and realised the songs required extensive editing. Jimmy Page could’ve easily brought someone onboard to carry out the editing, but he spent days and weeks editing How The West Was Won which when it was eventually completed, was released as three CD set.

Straight away, critics young and old wondered if the album would be as good as they had hoped it would be? It was. In fact, How The West Was Won was even better than many critics had hoped and as it was released on the ’27th’ of May 2003 critics almost exhausted their supply of superlatives. No wonder, as How The West Was Won features Led Zeppelin in their prime as a live band.

When How The West Was Won was released, it topped the US Billboard 200 and Canada, but only reached number five in Britain which was where it started for Led Zeppelin. Elsewhere How The West Was Won reached the top ten in Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Japan and Norway. How The West Was Won was also certified gold in Brazil and Britain, but was certified platinum in Canada and America. The release of How The West Was Won was regarded as a success and belatedly the album that Led Zeppelin fans had waited thirty-one years for was released.

Disc One.

Opening How The West Was Won was LA Drone which lasts just fifteen-seconds before Led Zeppelin in their hard rocking prime show the different sides to their music over an eighteen song set. It features their trademark hard rocking sound and also blues rock and folk rock. However, a trio of old favourites, Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker and Black Dog open the set proper before Led Zeppelin play Over The Hills and Far Away from their fifth album Houses Of The Holy. It receives an enthusiastic reception before Led Zeppelin return to Led Zeppelin III for Since I’ve Been Loving which was recorded at Long Beach. This is followed by the Led Zeppelin classic from 1971 Stairway To Heaven which is extended to nearly ten minutes. However, it’s two tracks from Led Zeppelin III that close disc one  Going To California, That’s The Way and Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. That is only part of the story.

Disc Two.

A twenty-five minute medley recorded at the LA Forum opens with the folk rock of Dazed and Confused give way to the underrated Walter’s Walk from Coda and The Crunge from Houses Of The Holy. It gives way to What Is and What Should Never Be from Led Zeppelin II and Dancing Days from Houses Of The Holy which like the other songs from their forthcoming album was well received in 1972. However, a near twenty-minute version of the instrumental Moby Dick and closes disc two features a spellbinding performance from Led Zeppelin.

Disc Three. 

They open disc three with an epic version of the anthemic Whole Lotta Love which gives way to Rock ’N’ Roll from Led Zeppelin IV. By then, there’s no stopping Led Zeppelin who it’s obvious are at the peak of their powers as a live band. They showcase The Ocean from Houses Of The Holy before closing this barnstorming set with Bring It On Home which closes this legendary live album.

Following the release of How The West Was Won, it was described as one of the greatest live albums and in 2003 reissue of the year and album of the year. How The West Was Won is certainly an album that belongs in the collection of every Led Zeppelin fan, as it featured the band in 1972, when they were the biggest and some said the baddest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.

While Led Zeppelin would go on to enjoy further success after their 1972 North American tour, and would eventually sell in excess of ninety-two million albums by the time they released Coda, they never again reached the same heights as a live band. Even Jimmy Page felt that Led Zeppelin’s 1972 North American tour was their finest hour as a live band, and fortunately, two nights of that tour were reorder and belatedly released as  How The West Was Won in 2003 which is a classic live album.

Led Zeppelin-How The West Was Won.


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