To paraphrase James Thurber, the 1970s were the days of bootleg love. In an era before millions of iPhone videos from concerts could be streamed online, bootleg labels like Trade Mark of Quality (TMQ) had profitable businesses selling illegal recordings of entire rock concerts. The most popular band to be bootlegged was Led Zeppelin.
To this day, Led Zeppelin remains the bootleg king with an estimated 380+ different titles circulating. Many of these bootlegs are now available online, through YouTube or a number of other equally legally questionable outlets. The problem with most bootlegs is that they typically have absolutely horrible audio quality and sound worse than if they’d been recorded with a microphone being flushed down the toilet. Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, had a personal vendetta against bootleggers and was filmed in Song Remains the Same yelling at a man selling bootleg merchandise at the show. If Grant spotted bootleggers, he would break their tapes or, as he did at the Bath Festival in 1970, throw a bucket of water on the bootlegger’s recording equipment.
Many people, me included, believe Led Zeppelin’s live performances immensely outshine their recorded albums. With this month’s reissues of Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy available October 27, Jimmy Page wanted to remind people what a “fucking good band Led Zeppelin was.” However, what made Led Zeppelin a truly great band was only slightly referenced in the remasters. The second disc of the Led Zeppelin I reissue is a bootleg from their 1969 performance at the Olympia in Paris. The set included one of the earliest live performances of “Heartbreaker” and arguably John Bonham’s best take of “Moby Dick” that you will ever hear.
For the majority of fans who have heard Led Zeppelin’s albums before and aren’t audiophiles, these new reissues won’t sound noticeably different, particularly if played on a laptop or iPod. So, in an effort to give you something new – and to save you from having to sort through the mostly inaudible 380 recordings floating around – here are some of the best surviving Led Zeppelin bootlegs.
6. Listen to This, Eddie
The Forum, Los Angeles, June 21, 1977
Considered by many to be one of Led Zeppelin’s best performances, Listen to This, Eddie was a bootleg from the first of six nights at The Forum in L.A. when the concert lasted over three hours. The “Eddie” in the title allegedly refers to Eddie Van Halen, who criticized Jimmy Page in an interview around this time saying, “As a player, [Page is] very good in the studio [but] I never saw him play well live. He’s very sloppy. He plays like he’s got a broken hand and he’s two years old.”
Another great bootleg from the 1977 run of L.A. shows was For Badgeholders Only. “Badgeholder” was a slang term for a groupie, and on the record you can hear Plant asking if anyone can “find us a badgeholder?” For Badgeholders Only is also a great bootleg because that concert featured multiple sit-ins by The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon.
Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, BC, March 21, 1970
While the performance is excellent, there is little else that’s exceptionally noteworthy about Mudslide beyond the fact that it was the first Led Zeppelin bootleg ever released. Nowadays, finding an original 1970s vinyl is extremely rare, so record nerds keep your eyes out.
4. Don’t Mess with Texas
Texas Int’l Pop Festival, Dallas, August 31, 1969
Don’t Mess with Texas was one of the most popular bootlegs through the 1970s, simply because everyone was on their game that night (see: Robert Plant’s harmonica solo on the first song). During the 1960s, the band would frequently kick off shows with a cover of Jimmy’s old band, The Yardbirds’ popularized hit “Train Kept A-Rollin’” – which would later become an Aerosmith single.
Another staple of the 1960s Zeppelin shows was their “How Many More Times” medley, which featured an interchangeable lineup of rockabilly and blues songs. The Don’t Mess with Texas medley included “Suzy Q”, “Eyesight to the Blind”, “Lemon Song”, and “Bye Bye Baby (Baby Good-Bye)”.
3. TV Byen / Danmarks Radio
Gladsaxe Teen Club, March 17, 1969
Okay, technically this isn’t a bootleg, but it was never released as a product by the band, so we’re counting it! This is Led Zeppelin’s first-ever television appearance from their second Scandinavian tour, two weeks before Led Zeppelin I was released. Jimmy is pulling off a nice cardigan while Plant’s sporting a semi-fro (hair product apparently hadn’t been discovered yet). Just imagine being an impressionable youth in 1969 and seeing this band for the first time on your television. Page was using revolutionary pedal effects that rivaled only the famed Cream; Bonham’s drums are so stripped down that you can clearly hear every triplet and double pedal; and the swagger with which Plant introduces the band (“and myself, Robert Plant”) is surreal. It would have been life changing. That being said, all those Scandinavian kids just sitting crisscross and golf-clapping are really creepy.
2. Dancing Avocado
Fillmore West, San Francisco, April 24, 1969
Dancing Avocado is an hour-long concert comprised of only five songs (and the last one is a drum solo). It’s my favorite Led Zeppelin bootleg for three reasons:
1) It has almost studio-quality audio and is the best-sounding bootleg I’ve been able to find from any Zeppelin show.
2) The band played their song “As Long As I Have You”, which was never recorded in the studio.
3) During the first song, they kept having technical issues with the bass guitar, so around 11:50 the group starts into this insane, improvised jam that features call-and-response between Page and Bonham and some hilarious singing about their technical difficulties.
1. Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall, London, January 9, 1970
Alright, this one isn’t technically a bootleg either, but if you wanted to show someone who had never seen Led Zeppelin how great they were in their prime, this would be the one to watch. Robert Plant still had his voice, everyone had absolutely ridiculous outfits and hair, and their “How Many More Times” medley was at its best. This footage was professionally filmed, as Peter Grant’s original intention was to make a documentary. However, issues with the recording techniques caused it to never be officially released until the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD. Audio from these performances of “We’re Gonna Groove” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” were used as takes (with overdubs) for the album versions on Coda.