Friday 30th November 2007

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Robert Plant has joked that "Stairway to Heaven" should be renamed "Stairlift to Heaven."

Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) – Led Zeppelin’s singer Robert Plant has joked that the group’s comeback means their trademark song “Stairway to Heaven” should be renamed “Stairlift to Heaven.”

Fans of the U.K. rock band, who have been hoping for a reunion for three decades, are indeed in ecstasy. For Plant, 59, and his band mates, who have already sold more than 300 million albums, it could also signify a golden pension plan.

Led Zeppelin fell apart after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980. Thanks to bone-crunching songs such as “Whole Lotta Love,” the group’s influence was once viewed as equal to that of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

The group has new CDs, a DVD and a Web site. It put its back catalog online and joined a charity concert, featuring pals Jimmy Page on guitar and singer Robert Plant, with Bonham’s son Jason on drums and the estranged bassist, John Paul Jones.

More than a million fans entered an Internet ballot for the Dec. 10 gig at London’s 20,000-capacity O2. Tickets have been offered on EBay for as much as $10,000 each for “buy it now'’ sales. The demand may tempt Led Zeppelin to tour in 2008.

The group is “concentrating on the concert,” said its U.K. spokesman Chris Goodman of public-relations company the Outside Organisation. Still, the reunion is stirring speculation among Internet bloggers that the band is lining up venues for a tour.

Lucrative Returns

In the past year, the Who, the Stooges, the Spice Girls and the Sex Pistols have staged comebacks. Billboard reported that the Police grossed more than $171 million total and estimates that Led Zeppelin could take $3.2 million a night. Plant and Page toured in the 1990s, reporting $31.4 million revenue for 63 shows.

For those who say “Led Who?” the new CD compilation “Mothership'’ offers a great way to catch up. It has 24 songs – nearly every one that matters, as well as one that doesn’t (the cod-reggae “D’Yer Mak’er.")

“Mothership” improves on the similar “Remasters” double CD of 1992 by adding Bonham’s tour de force “When the Levee Breaks.” The remastering makes “Communication Breakdown” sound even louder, if that were possible. The demolition of the blues was revolutionary in 1969. It must have scared hippies senseless.

While the Beatles and the Stones dominated the charts, Led Zeppelin didn’t release singles. The group’s influence was subversive and ubiquitous. I’ve heard it everywhere, from a battery-powered radio blaring “Kashmir'’ in remote Peru last year to the thud of “Rock and Roll” from a party shattering the peace of a Tuscan seminary in the 1980s.

Plant Partnership

Is the comeback simply a nostalgia trip for aging heavy-metal pioneers? It’s more than that: The band plans new material and Plant has made an exceptional CD, “Raising Sand,” with U.S. country singer Alison Krauss. Their partnership does much to atone for Plant’s more questionable, sometimes misogynistic 1970s lyrics.

Led Zeppelin’s image has become unfairly skewed to focus just on the three-chord-riff bombast. Zep was loud and proud, pompous and imperious. It also had players with impeccable skills, and songs with sensitive passages such as “Over the Hills and Far Away.” Anyone wanting to sample that complexity should check out the 1976 live album “The Song Remains the Same,” featuring New York shows from 1973, released this month in an expanded form.

The DVD version intercuts the songs with fantasy videos, millionaire country estates, groupies, private jets and limos. This all fueled the anger and envy of the punk revolt of 1976.

As a time capsule, it’s priceless. Still, it’s not the best Zeppelin live album: The rival “How the West Was Won” has peerless performances and “BBC Sessions” is immaculate.

Like the ominous opening seconds of “Black Dog'’ (Page described it as “waking up the army of guitars'’), the Led Zeppelin money machine is gearing up for world domination again. Welcome back, guys.

Led Zeppelin is on Warner/Atlantic, Plant and Krauss on Rounder. Prices of the CDs are from $12.98 in the U.S. or 8.99 pounds in the U.K.


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