The Garden Tapes

A study of the Led Zeppelin film and album The Song Remains The Same
by Eddie Edwards

The Garden Tapes » The Song Remains The Same » No Quarter


No Quarter

The later versions of No Quarter, such as those performed on the 1977 tour, contained some of the band's most fascinating and exciting instrumental improvisations. Many of those versions are masterpieces, but some of the eerie quality of the original arrangement was often sacrificed. To hear No Quarter at its most intense and atmospheric, look no further than the 1973 American tour, where it made its live debut.

The version in the original film is made up of three sections, one from each night. The original album version uses material from the first two nights only, but in four different sections.

Film first, with DVD timings in brackets:

  1. NTSC 0:30:47-0:33:31, PAL 0:29:33-0:32:11 The opening instrumentals and most of the first verse, up to immediately after "to build a dream for me and you" - 27th.
  2. NTSC 0:33:31-0:34:27, PAL 0:32:11-0:33:04 From there to the end of the verse, and the first few bars of Jonesey's solo where he's still playing the main theme - 29th.
  3. NTSC 0:34:27-0:41:08, PAL 0:33:04-0:39:29 From the beginning of the keyboard solo proper to the end of the song, but with a rather unpleasant cut in the instrumental section - 28th.

The cut in section 3 is at NTSC 0:35:57, PAL 0:34:31 and results in a loss of 1 minute 34 seconds of music. Presumably the reason for this cut had something to do with fitting in the music around the footage of Jonesey's fantasy sequence, but it's a tragic loss. We miss out on some vital and masterful tension-building, as the guitar joins the keyboard and drums, subtle at first, gradually becoming more prominent, until the signature nine-note motif announces a turning point, after which Pagey will begin to dominate the proceedings. Led Zeppelin could fit a lot of magical brilliance into 1 minute 34 seconds in 1973. Fortunately, all this is intact on the original album. Speaking of which:

  1. 00:05-03:27 We start the same as the film, and actually continue for a little longer before the first edit, at the very end of the first verse/chorus - 27th.
  2. 03:27-08:56 From Bonzo's crash as Jonesey starts the keyboard solo, through to quite near the end of the instrumental, including the section that was cut from the film - 28th.
  3. 08:56-09:51 The last part of the instrumental is easy to spot as being very different from the film. This and the return of the main keyboard theme - 27th.
  4. 09:51-12:10 From the return of the vocal, just as Robert sings "Walking side by side with death", to the end of the song, we're back in synch with the film - 28th.

In the film, the first edit is flawless but the second one (at NTSC 0:34:27, PAL 0:33:04) and the cut (at NTSC 0:35:57, PAL 0:34:31) result in slight loss of timing. Nothing too serious, but a little off-putting. On the album, as usual, the edits are virtually unnoticeable. Curiously, though, there are moments towards the end of the track, such as at 10:58 and 11:38, where slightly jumpy sounds from the cymbals give rise to suspicions of cuts or edits that do not actually exist! I really don't know what caused these odd glitches but this whole passage unmistakably matches the recording from the 28th.

The fragments from the 27th, particularly the syncopated, slightly funky section at the end of the instrumental (album, section 3) leave me with an overwhelming desire to hear the complete version from that night. That is unfortunately not possible because, as I'm sure you're sick of me mentioning by now, no boot tape has yet surfaced of the first part of the first night.

So, the two versions on the original 1976 releases had much in common, but also some notable differences, and there's no doubt whatsoever that the album version was vastly superior in both editing tidiness and musical content. A big moment, this, for the new releases, so let's look at them without further ado.

The version on the new DVD is essentially the same as the one in the original film. The same three sections from the three different nights are used, and the cut is still there, as we knew it would be because the visuals could not be altered. There are some minor differences to note, though. Just before Robert enters for the first verse, a very small timing error, in the shape of an extra quarter-beat, has somehow been introduced. There's no change of night or cut here, so it's a bit of a mystery, although synchronisation with the visuals must again be a possible explanation. Jonesey's slightly clumsy entry on the bass pedals later in this verse has been smoothed over a little. The edits between the sections are very similar to the originals, but the cut in the instrumental section, although in the same place, is a bit different. It's cleaner and better-disguised, but the timing is not quite right, and a 9/8 bar turns up instead of the usual 4/4.

We know by now that the new CD usually features the same audio as the new DVD, so it's with some trepidation that we move on to check it out. What we want this time, please, is the same music as on the original album, or something very close to it. Alas, our fears are well-founded. On the new CD, we get exactly the same version as on the new DVD. This means that, instead of the superbly original section from the 27th at the end of the guitar solo, we get (from 07:16 to 08:04) the less inspired gradual winding down and lead-in to the second verse from the 28th. But far worse than that, we get that horrific cut. The devastating loss caused by this cut has already been described above, so there's no need to repeat that sorry tale here. It's difficult to say what's more depressing, the fact that the cut is off-time and makes Bonzo sound as though he can't keep a beat properly, or the fact that it's there at all. Impossible to believe that something as unprofessional as that could be allowed on to a 2007 CD release, when it had been recognised more than thirty years previously that it was nowhere near fit for purpose. Beautifully remastered sound this new version may have, but it's not fit to lick the boots of the version on the original album.

For the record:

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