Why Led Zeppelin Fired the 1st Director of ‘The Song Remains the Same’

The 1976 Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains the Same received worse reviews than the band’s albums. In the New York Daily News, Kathleen Carroll called it “a hopelessly pretentious piece of trash.” Over in the Times, the reviewer said the stage antics of Robert Plant looked like “a sheep trying to seduce a telephone pole.”

Yet Zeppelin’s loyal fans saw the film as soon as they had a chance. (Many saw it a second time.) As with all other things Zep, The Song Remains the Same became a box-office success. But even the band had issues with the finished product.

During the making of The Song Remains the Same, the band decided to replace the original director. After that point, the production dragged on another two years before making it to the screen. And there were still continuity problems in the final cut.

Led Zeppelin fired Joe Massot after seeing a cut of ‘The Song Remains the Same’

A cameraman films guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant as they perform at a Led Zeppelin show at Madison Square Garden.
A cameraman films Jimmy Page and Robert Plant as they perform at a Led Zeppelin show at Madison Square Garden, July 1973. | David Redfern/Redferns

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If you’ve seen The Song Remains the Same, you’ll recall the concert footage coming from Zeppelin’s three-night stand at Madison Square Garden in July ’73. Director Joe Massot, who’d done 1968’s Wonderwall (featuring music by George Harrison), shot that footage.

Massot had brought his crew to a few earlier Zeppelin concerts on the tour to test out camera angles and other matters. So they arrived at the Garden with a practice run under their belt. Given the length of a typical Zep performance (about three hours), you’d think a crew could get what it needed at three shows.

It didn’t work out that way. When Zep manager Peter Grant and the band looked at the dailies, they saw they had a problem. “We quickly realized there were huge gaps in the filming,” Jimmy Page recalled in an interview from Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (2012).

Sometime by early ’74, the band realized it needed a way to fix the film. So they decided to shoot the fantasy sequences that make the movie such a fascinating document decades later. Around that time, they fired Massot and brought in another director to finish the job.

Massot’s concert footage was missing entire verses to songs

Members of Led Zeppelin look off-camera at a film premiere
Led Zeppelin appears at the UK premiere of the concert film ‘The Song Remains The Same’ in 1976. | G Morris/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

When Page spoke about gaps in the filming, he wasn’t referring to vanity shots. Massot’s crew had missed major stuff. “The crew hadn’t covered the basic things like filming the verses to certain songs!” Page recalled in Light and Shade.

Page offered a theory as to what happened. “We surmised that some of them were probably stoned — simple as that,” he said. “Nearly everyone was stoned at the time, but at least we did our job.” The screening of a rough cut, arranged by Massot, was the final straw.

Zeppelin brought in Peter Clifton to clean up the film. In order to establish some semblance of continuity, Clifton had the band perform a show on a soundstage to fill in the gaps. So if you notice John Paul Jones’ hair getting longer and shorter over the course of the film, bear in mind it took several years to shoot.