The Led Zeppelin Sunshine Woman Controversy

Nope… it’s not about a copyright lawsuit…

(This is another light-hearted post to fill the time while I’m working on the police post. There’ll probably be more light-hearted stuff until I finally have that finished, sourced, and ready to post.)

So… I think at this point it’s obvious that I’m a pretty big fan of Led Zeppelin, and I will generally shell out the absolute maximum limit of what I can afford to purchase basically anything and everything they release officially.

I have a bit of a soft spot for their BBC sessions, from 1969-1971, because that was how I first heard Led Zeppelin. My first Led Zeppelin official release was their 2-disc BBC sessions release, and my very first unofficial recording/bootleg was A Secret History of Led Zeppelin, which was an early compilation of BBC sessions that were not on the official release, plus live tracks from other shows during their 1969 tour (I cannot put into words what it felt like listening to that CD for the first time, but, amazingly, I still feel that every time I put the CD on, and I absolutely love it). Later, Empress Valley, a Japanese bootleg label, came out with The Complete BBC Sessions, which I also have (one of only two “silvers” I ever purchased, and I will never purchase any again because of how guilty I felt [Led Zeppelin should have gotten that money]; I’ve gotten and get all the rest of my bootlegs either for free or, at most, the cost of shipping and blank CDs [for trades]).

So you can imagine how excited I was when an expanded edition of the BBC Sessions was announced. I was all set to preorder it, but then I saw that the music from the Alexis Korner sessions, including the song Sunshine Woman, were included. Now this is interesting, because the official tapes for that show were either wiped or went missing. We only have the sessions because they were recorded off of the radio, so the audio quality isn’t official-level quality. When it was first announced, there were a lot of questions about the music from the Alexis Korner sessions, the main one being the audio quality. And I decided to hold off on preordering the set until more information came out, because, technically, I already have the complete BBC sessions in the Empress Valley release, and the quality is actually surprisingly good for an unofficial release.

Well, Sunshine Woman was recently released online, and I am… unimpressed. If you can get Soundcloud to work, and you’re interested, here’s a link to listen.

Notice anything about the quality?

Of course, I belong to the Led Zeppelin emailing list For Badgeholder’s Only. One of the members, Pascal Beausoleil, sent an email breaking down what source Warner Music likely used for the track. I’m quoting the email, with permission, in full here. It’s… not good:

Regarding the new official version of “Sunshine Woman” and that annoying glitch at 0:55…

Warner clearly didn’t use the best available source.

Here is a little investigation conducted over the last few days to support that statement…

The sources

First of all, let’s present the four different versions that were used for this investigation:

Version A
This version was taken from a 2006 Empress Valley release called Led Zeppelin – The Complete British Broadcasting Corporation Radio Sessions; probably zero mastering effort on this version; a lot of noise above 7k; sounds 100% like a flat transfer; this version does NOT have the glitch around 0:55. Empress Valley claim that they obtained this transfer from an “aircheck master” that was taped from a shortwave broadcast. That claim sounds perfectly plausible. This is a full-length version of the song and, as with every other version here, there is practically no music above 7k due to the limits of the technology used for the original broadcast.

Version B
This version was found on YouTube at It was originally uploaded on June 1, 2010. This version shares the same analogue-to-digital transfer as Version A, as they both stay perfectly synchronized until the end when played simultaneously in a digital multitrack session; EQ has been drastically modified (for the better), with the huge amount of noise above 7k totally removed; however, a continuous and constant interference noise located around 11.1k makes its appearance on this version. Wisely, a little more than one second of silence (with tape hiss) has been edited out from the very beginning of the digital track. The dynamic range value is the same for both versions (DR 8) with only a slight variation of 0.03—let’s say untouched. The glitch IS THERE at 0:55, and the end of the song has been abruptly chopped off without any fadeout! Therefore, approximately 1.5 seconds of music is missing, mainly harmonica and drums. Overall, this version sounds better than Version A, thanks to the EQ. In fact, I strongly believe that this version (Version B) is nothing more than a tweaked version of Version A.

Version C
This version is the new 2016 official release from Warner. It sounds exactly like Version B: very similar EQ choices (almost untouched); same analogue-to-digital transfer as Version A and Version B; no significant change in the DR value—and yes, the audible glitch IS THERE at the very beginning of 0:55. As with Version B, the last 1.5 seconds of music at the end is missing, but Warner has applied what I would call “a not very smooth fade-out” to hide the abrupt ending heard in Version B. The continuous interference located around 11.1k in Version B is still there, but to be honest, it is present at a very low volume, and is totally inaudible unless you isolate the frequencies. But because it was a crucial element in demonstrating the connection between Version C and Version B, it has its importance in this investigation.

Version D
A brand new mastering that I made myself, using Version A as a master and Version B as a direct reference. The result? I was able to recreate a version that sounds exactly like Version B and Version C, but without the annoying glitch at 0:55; without losing the last 1.5 seconds of music; and without having to apply an unorthodox fade-out to hide the abrupt cut, as Warner had to do on the new release. No interference has been introduced at 11.1k, and it took me 10 minutes to complete the entire process.

The mastering

Here are the EQ changes that need to be applied to the Empress Valley version (Version A) to achieve the sound of Version B and Version C:


It is now clear to me that the new official version from Warner (Version C) was created from a previously altered source that was encoded at least six years ago (Version B): a source that is nothing more than a tweaked version of the same analogue-to-digital transfer used by Empress Valley four years earlier in 2006, but with the addition of an unwanted and audible glitch at 0:55, and that is missing 1.5 seconds of music at the end of the recording.

Unanswered questions

Does the CD version or lossless file that was used to encode Version B contain the same glitch at 0:55, or is it “exclusive” to this specific YouTube upload? The glitch is somehow reminiscent of the sound that results from a digital error generated when something goes wrong in the encoding process of an MP3. I don’t want to say that MP3 encoding is definitely the source of the glitch, but that’s what it sounds like to me.

And what about the 1.5 seconds of music missing at the end? Is this edited ending present anywhere else than on the 2010 YouTube version or on the new official release?

As a fan and as a customer who pre-ordered the new release, I would be very disappointed to learn that the official product was sourced directly from a 2010 YouTube upload, while at the same time, an unaltered, undamaged version of the same digital transfer (Empress Valley) was very easy to find (and it still is) in lossless format on the internet. Sadly, once you’ve heard the glitch or the comparison with the inappropriate fade-out, it’s like a curse… It will keep distracting you and it will tarnish the playback experience of the track.

I think that Warner should act immediately and at least replace the file for the official online distribution of the new BBC Sessions release. It would be a very easy thing to do, and honestly, I think it has to be done.

This song might be the last original creation from Led Zeppelin’s catalogue to see an official release; it is therefore of historical value and does not deserve a defective production.

Now, I absolutely understand that, with the quality available, one can only do so much to enhance it. But the fact that Warner used a version that includes the aforementioned glitch and is missing 1.5 seconds of music at the end (which also means it’s probable that this comes from a lossy, MP3 source) is not okay, especially since, as Pascal noted, this may very well be the last original creation from Led Zeppelin’s catalog to see an official release. I’m not happy, and at this point probably won’t be purchasing the set unless they rectify this.

And I’ve never actually decided to not purchase an official Led Zeppelin release, so this is a tad new to me. I’m not stressing over it. I’m just disappointed, is all. And yeah, you probably have to be as obsessive as me over Led Zeppelin’s music and over audio quality to care about this at all, but still…

Warner should do better, and honestly, I expected better of Jimmy Page.

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