The Song Remains the Same (also known as TSRTS) is a concert film by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. The recording of the film took place during three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City, during the band's 1973 concert tour of the United States. The film premiered on October 21, 1976 at Cinema I in New York and in London two weeks later. It was accompanied by a soundtrack album of the same name. The DVD of the film was released on December 31, 1999.
Promotional materials stated that the film was "the band's special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamouring for — a personal and private tour of Led Zeppelin. For the first time the world has a front row seat on Led Zeppelin."
On the morning of July 20 1973, Jimmy Page and Peter Grant made a contact with Joe Massot, who had previously directed Wonderwall. Massot was already known to Grant as he and his wife had moved into a house in Berkshire in 1970, where they made friends with their neighbour Page and his girlfriend Charlotte. Grant had previously turned down offers by Massot to make a film of the band, but with the huge success of Led Zeppelin's 1973 concert tour of the United States, Grant changed his mind and offered him the job of director. As Grant recalled:
It all started in the Sheraton Hotel, Boston. We'd talked about a film for years and Jimmy had known Joe Massot was interested - so we called them and over they came. It was all very quickly arranged.
Massot agreed and hurriedly assembled a crew in time for Led Zeppelin's last leg of the tour starting on July 23, 1973 in Baltimore. He subsequently filmed the group's three concert performances at Madison Square Garden on the nights of July 27, 28, and 29, 1973. The film was entirely financed by the band and shot on 35mm with a 24-track quadraphonic sound recording. The live footage in the US alone cost $85,000.
The footage of the band arriving at the airport in their private jet airliner, The Starship, and traveling in the motor cavalcade to the concert was filmed in Pittsburgh, before their show at Three Rivers Stadium on July 24 1973.
For their three New York performances, the band members wore exactly the same clothes to facilitate seamless editing of the film, except for John Paul Jones who wore three different sets of attire on each of these nights, which created continuity problems. In an interview from 1997 Jones said that the reason he didn't wear the same stage clothes was that he asked the crew if they would be filming on those nights and was told no. "I'd think 'not to worry, I'll save the shirt I wore the previous night for the next filming'. Then what would happen is that I'd get onstage and see the cameras ready to roll."
As Led Zeppelin's popularity soared throughout the 1970s, Peter Grant became increasingly notorious for being brutally protective of his band and their finances. The Song Remains the Same infamously captures one such exchange. In the scene, Grant uses the words 'fuck' and 'cunt' eighteen times combined. When Warner Bros. approved the film they did so on the proviso that these words be 'bleeped' out. Clifton took the optical print and bleeped the words, meaning the words were inaudible and the film was given an appropriate rating. However, on every other print the words were retained and were fully audible.
In the scene where Peter Grant is driven to the police station to be questioned about the theft from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel, he has his arm outside the police car. According to an interview conducted in 1989, he explained the reason he wasn't handcuffed was that the policeman driving the car used to be a drummer in a semi-professional band which had supported The Yardbirds on one of its US college tours in the late-1960s. Grant had at the time been manager of The Yardbirds. The money stolen from the safe deposit box at the Drake Hotel was never recovered and no one has ever been charged.
The scenes of police chasing a half-naked intruder and of Grant berating the promoter for receiving kickbacks were both shot at the Baltimore Civic Center on July 23, 1973. Grant purportedly recommended the "Dazed and Confused" sequence wherein the camera zooms into Jimmy's eyes and cuts to the scene.
Some unused backstage shots filmed at Baltimore and at Pittsburgh later found their way into the promotional video for "Traveling Riverside Blues", released in 1990.
Clifton, in recognising that there were crucial holes in the concert footage, suggested that the entire show be recreated at Shepperton Studios in August 1974, on a mock-up of the Madison Square Garden stage. Close-ups and distance footage of the band members could then be slipped into the live sequences, which made up the bulk of the concert footage seen in the film. When it was agreed that the band would meet at Shepperton Studios for filming, Jones had recently had his hair cut short, so he had to wear a wig. Robert Plant's teeth had also been fixed between the 1973 and 1974 filmings.
In the May 2008 issue of Uncut Magazine, Page recalled the events surrounding the shooting of additional footage at Shepperton Studios:
... I'm sort of miming at Shepperton to what I'd played at Madison Square Garden, but of course, although I've got a rough approximation of what I was playing from night to night, it's not exact. So the film that came out in the '70s is a bit warts-and-all.
For both the film and accompanying soundtrack album, the songs were heavily edited, and until both the film and album were re-released in 2007, in some cases versions of song appearing in the film were different from the one heard on the album. A comprehensive study of how the audio sources for each song were edited is available at The Garden Tapes Songs performed by the group at the three Madison Square Garden concerts but not included in the original film include "Celebration Day", "The Ocean", "Misty Mountain Hop", "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Thank You". Some of these songs were included on the soundtrack album of the film and, later, on the Led Zeppelin DVD.
The film was finally completed by early 1976, 18 months behind schedule and over-budget. Peter Grant later quipped "It was the most expensive home movie ever made". It grossed $200,000 in its first week at the box office.
Following the film's completion, the band experienced a major falling out with Peter Clifton. Suspecting that he had 'stolen' negatives of the film, Peter Grant ordered that his house be searched. They did find some footage, but this turned out to be a collection of the best 'home movie' footage which Clifton had intended to give to the band members as a gift. Clifton was also annoyed at the decision to remove from the film's credits the names of all the people who had worked on editing, make up and effects. Unlike Massot, however, Clifton was invited to both the New York and London premieres of the film.
The film performed well at the box office, grossing an estimated $10 million by 1977. Despite this, the film was almost universally panned by critics for its perceived amateurish production and self-indulgent content, with the fantasy sequences in particular coming in for some of the harshest criticism. The film was particularly unsuccessful in the UK, where the band had not performed live for over two years as a result of being on tax exile. The band were thus unable to promote themselves at home, leaving them out of the public spotlight.
However, amongst fans the film has retained its popularity, largely because, until the release of the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, The Song Remains the Same was the only official live visual document that followers of the band were able to access. It became a cult favourite a late-night movie houses, and its subsequent release on video and then DVD has ensured a growing base of fans.
Many of these fans, and some members of the band itself, regard the performances filmed at Madison Square Garden as merely average for the time, coming as they did at the end of a long and exhausting tour, but nonetheless representative of the generally high standard of the band's live performances during this era. In an interview he gave with New Musical Express in November 1976, Page stated:
The Song Remains The Same is not a great film, but there's no point in making excuses. It's just a reasonably honest statement of where we were at that particular time. It's very difficult for me to watch it now, but I'd like to see it in a year's time just to see how it stands up.
Page made good on his promise. When reviewing material for the Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, he decided to include footage from this same series of concerts.
However, other members of the band were less charitable, with Jones later admitting that the film was "a massive compromise" and Plant denouncing it as "a load of bollocks."
For all of its technical faults, many today view the film as an interesting historical document that captured the band at a particular point in time when its popularity was peaking, and, on a more general level, as an accurate representation of the excesses of the music and show-business industries in the 1970s.
On November 20, 2007, Warner Home Video released a new DVD edition of The Song Remains The Same for the first time with all fifteen songs from the original Madison Square Garden concerts. This coincided with the reissue of the accompanying soundtrack to the film, available on CD. The DVD features newly remixed and remastered sound, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, and includes more than 40 minutes of added bonus material, including never-before-released performance footage of "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Celebration Day", plus performances of "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Ocean", a rare 1976 BBC interview with Robert Plant and Peter Grant, vintage TV footage from the Drake Hotel robbery during the New York concert stand, and a Cameron Crowe radio show. This version was released on standard DVDs as well as Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.
A Collector's Edition box set including a t-shirt with the original album cover, placards from the New York shows, and several glossy photographs was released as well.
Due to legal complications, the band decided not to change the video portion of the original movie for the rerelease. Instead, sound engineer Kevin Shirley created an entirely new mix of the three 1973 Madison Square Garden concerts so that the audio portion of the film would better match the on-screen visuals. The audio on the new CD release is nearly identical to the soundtrack of the new DVD release. One difference is that the songs included on the CDs that were not featured in the original movie are included as bonus tracks on the DVD.