Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won

13 years ago today, Led Zeppelin hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart with a collection of live material which had been recorded 31 years earlier. If that’s not a rock band with staying power, we don’t know how you’d define the phrase.

Taken from the band’s performances at the L.A. Forum on June 25, 1972 and the Long Beach Arena on June 27, 1972, How the West Was Won was the first collection of live recording by Led Zeppelin to have been released since the band’s BBC Sessions compilation in 1997, but if you want to get technical, it was the band’s first proper concert album since the release of The Song Remains the Same in 1976. No matter how you look at it, though, it was still a pretty exciting development for fans. Not that the fans hadn’t been aware of the concerts and might well have even heard them before, given how often they’d made the rounds, but the actual soundboard recordings of the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena shows had never managed to leak out, which made How the West Was Won a pretty big deal.

Even though the sound quality was miles beyond any existing unofficial recordings, Jimmy Page nonetheless took to the studio and performed a certain amount of editing and audio engineering before the set was released. As such, they aren’t complete performances of those shows: a live cover of “Louie Louie” from the Forum didn’t make the cut, nor did versions of “Communication Breakdown,” “Tangerine,” and “Thank You.” Still, when the final product hit shelves, Page happily confirmed that Led Zeppelin was at their artistic peak when they hit the stage for those shows and said, “I think what we did on ... How the West was Won – that 1972 gig – is pretty much a testament of how good it was.”