How the West Was Won is a triple live album by the English rock group Led Zeppelin, released by Atlantic Records on compact disc on 27 May 2003, and DVD-Audio on 7 October 2003. These original performances are from the band’s 1972 concert tour of the United States, recorded at the L.A. Forum on 25 June 1972 and Long Beach Arena on 27 June 1972.
Guitarist Jimmy Page considers Led Zeppelin at this point to have been at their artistic peak, as is mentioned in the album’s liner notes. In an interview he gave to The Times newspaper in 2010, when asked which performances from Led Zeppelin’s career stand out to him now, he made reference to these gigs:
I think what we did on … How the West was Won – that 1972 gig – is pretty much a testament of how good it was. It would have been nice to have had a little more visual recordings, but there you go. That’s the conundrum of Led Zeppelin!
For many years, live recordings of these two shows only circulated in the form of bootlegs, and even then only certain audience recordings were available to fans and collectors (for example, Burn Like a Candle). Though several soundboard recordings of Led Zeppelin concerts were circulated amongst fans after having been stolen from Page’s personal archive some time in the mid–1980s, no soundboards of the 1972 Long Beach or LA Forum shows were taken, meaning the release of How the West Was Won was the first chance fans had of hearing the soundboard versions of these concerts.
The songs from the two shows underwent some extensive editing and audio engineering by Page at Sarm West Studios in London before being released on the album. Some songs which were played at the concerts, such as “Communication Breakdown”, “Tangerine”, “Thank You” and a rare version of “Louie Louie” from the 25 June show, were left off How the West Was Won.
For years, Led Zeppelin fans complained that there was one missing item in the group’s catalog: a good live album. It’s not that there weren’t live albums to be had. The Song Remains the Same, of course, was a soundtrack of a live performance, but it was a choppy, uneven performance, lacking the majesty of the group at its peak. BBC Sessions was an excellent, comprehensive double-disc set of their live radio sessions, necessary for any Zeppelin collection (particularly because it contained three songs, all covers, never recorded anywhere else), but some carped that the music suffered from not being taped in front of a large audience, which is how they built their legacy — or, in the parlance of this triple-disc collection of previously unreleased live recordings compiled by Jimmy Page, How the West Was Won. The West in this case is the West Coast of California, since this contains selections from two 1972 concerts in Los Angeles: a show at the LA Forum on June 25, and one two days later at Long Beach Arena. This is the first archival release of live recordings of Zeppelin at their peak and while the wait has been nigh on interminable, the end result is certainly worth the wait. Both of these shows have been heavily bootlegged for years and while those same bootleggers may be frustrated by the sequencing that swaps the two shows interchangeably (they always prefer full shows wherever possible), by picking the best of the two nights, Page has assembled a killer live album that captures the full, majestic sweep of Zeppelin at their glorious peak.
And, make no mistake, he tries to shove everything into these three discs — tight, furious blasts of energy; gonzo freak-outs; blues; and rock, a sparkling acoustic set. Like always, the very long numbers — the 25-minute “Dazed and Confused,” the 23-minute “Whole Lotta Love,” the 19-minute “Moby Dick” — are alternately fascinating and indulgent, yet even when they meander, there is a real sense of grandeur, achieving a cinematic scale attempted by few of their peers (certainly no other hard rock or metal band could be this grand; only Queen or David Bowie truly attempted this). But the real power of the band comes through on the shorter songs, where their sound is distilled to its essence. In the studio, Zeppelin was all about subtle colors, textures, and shifts in the arrangement. On-stage, they were similarly epic, but they were looser, wilder, and hit harder; witness how “Black Dog” goes straight for the gut here, while the studio version escalates into a veritable guitar army — it’s the same song, but the song has not remained the same. That’s the case throughout How the West Was Won, where songs that have grown overly familiar through years of play seem fresh and new because of these vigorous, muscular performances. For those who never got to see Zeppelin live, this — or its accompanying two-DVD video set — is as close as they’ll ever get. For those who did see them live, this is a priceless souvenir. For either group, this is absolutely essential, as it is for anybody who really loves hard rock & roll. It doesn’t get much better than this. (by by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
John Bonham – drums, percussion, background vocals, co-lead vocals on 10.)
John Paul Jones (bass, keyboards, mandolin, background vocals)
Jimmy Page (guitar, mandolin, background vocals)
Robert Plant (vocals, harmonica)
01. LA Drone (Jones/Page) 0.15
02. Immigrant Song (Page/Plant) 3.41
03. Heartbreaker (Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant) 7.23
04. Black Dog (Jones/Page/Plant) 5.40
05. Over The Hills And Far Away (Page/Plant) 5.07
06. Since I’ve Been Loving You (Jones/Page/Plant) 8.01
07. Stairway To Heaven (Page/Plant) 9.36
08. Going To California (Page/Plant) 5.36
09. That’s The Way (Page/Plant) 5.53
10. Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp (Jones/Page/Plant) 4.52
11.1. Dazed And Confused (Page)
11.2. Walter’s Walk (Page/Plant)
11.3. The Crunge (Page/Plant/Bohnham/Jones) 25.25
12. What Is And What Should Never Be (Page/Plant) 4.41
13. Dancing Days (Page/Plant) 3.42
14. Moby Dick (Bonham/Jones/Page) 19.20
15.1. Whole Lotta Love (Page/Plant/Bohnham/Jones/Dixon)
15.2. Boogie Chillun (Besman/Hooker)
15.3. Let’s Have A Party (Robinson)
15.4. Hello Marylou (Mangiaracina/Pitney)
15.5. Going Down Slow (Oden) 23.08
16. Rock And Roll (Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant) 3.56
17. The Ocean (Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant) 4.21
18.1. Bring It On Home (Dixon)
18.2. Bring It On Back (Bonham/Jones/Page/Plant) 9.30