Classic Album: Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

Contains some of the band's most original and visionary tracks
Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
"What we talk about is creating something as notable as Beethoven’s Fifth. Not just something that would be remembered in 50 years but something so mammoth that it would last forever." Robert Plant, on ‘Physical Graffiti’.

It was September 1980 when John Bonham was found dead - choked to death on his own vomit after a mammoth drinking session. He was 32 years old. For many, including the band, that was the end of Led Zeppelin. Without their drummer the greatest rock band of the previous decade simply called it a day. "We could not have gone on without him," said Jimmy Page. "It would have been dishonest. Nobody else could have fitted into his role."

How things change. Almost three decades later Led Zeppelin are back, with a Bonham on the drums and a hell of a lot of money in their pockets. The return of one of the most influential, groundbreaking and legendary bands of the 20th Century is more than just a "reunion". Led Zeppelin didn’t implode in an explosion of musical differences like The Beatles or stagger on like Mick and Keith when they should have been putting their feet up in their Buckinghamshire mansions – they finished at the height of their fame and vowed never to return. It makes the return of The Who look like the return of The Spice Girls.

Thus, choosing a stand out album from a career that produced some of the greatest albums ever made is a tricky prospect. However, ‘Physical Graffiti’ is more than just a ‘later years’ album. It is a bold statement from a band who had failed to deliver on their previous release. The muted reception for ‘Houses Of The Holy’, released two years previously in March 1973, meant that their position as the greatest rock band in the world was under attack. The release of ‘Physical Graffiti’ reasserted their kingly status. It also contains some of their most original and visionary tracks.

A double album, ‘Physical Graffiti’ was made up of tracks that had been sitting around for a few years as well as new recordings. In February 1974, right in the middle of Britain’s three-day week, Zeppelin met at their Hampshire recording retreat of Headley Grange, where they thrashed out new songs and resurrected previously unreleased old tracks. Of course, the compulsory power cuts that affected the rest of the country didn’t stop Led Zeppelin – the band simply had their own generator installed. The resulting album is an eclectic collection of the raw and the refined, as well as the progressive and the classic. It is an album that showcases a band at the height of their power.

After two solid and typically bluesy tracks in the form of ‘Custard Pie’ and ‘The Rover’, Side A begins to offer the listener something really special with ‘In My Time Of Dying’ – a blues jam that develops into eleven minutes of pure Zeppelin brilliance. An infectious guitarline is sped up and slowed down by a slideguitar refrain that allows Plant to groan out lyrics into a wall of noise as blues riffs battle with each other into a crescendo of sound. It typifies everything that is great about Led Zeppelin. ‘Houses Of The Holy’, a track clearly intended for placement on the previous album bridges the gap between the raw Blues of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and the Rhythm and Blues of ‘Trampled Under Foot’ a song with a riff so funky you can actually dance to it.

However, what follows is one of the most innovative and unique tracks of the Zeppelinera; ‘Kashmir’. The famous refrain (played by Southall’s Pakistani string orchestra) is repeated throughout the song, helping make ‘Kashmir’ perhaps Zeppelin’s most dark and sinister track. It is definitely one of their most intricate and successful arrangements and a true mark that during ‘Physical Graffiti’ the band had reached a creative highpoint.

Side B continues in the same vein with the innovative introductory droan of ‘In The Light’ – a song which combines Eastern influences with futuristic keyboards, a classic guitar line and an unprecedented break in the middle which sounds like nothing Zeppelin had ever done before. ‘Bron-yr-aur’ then provides some relaxed, down time which sits well next to ‘Down By The Seaside’, a song that showcases the fantastic melodies Zeppelin were capable of when not deafening anyone within earshot. ‘Ten Years Gone’ again uses intricate melodic techniques as well as a riff lifted straight from ‘Dear Prudence’ – proof that Zeppelin were much, much more than simply the world’s greatest blues tribute act.

What follows is another groundbreaking nod to the future. ‘The Wanton Song’ features a Zeppelin riff which is above averagely heavy, a Hammond organ break and the dirtiest, rawest, most strained vocal line Plant had recorded at the time. It is the mark all rock bands have to beat – listen to it now, unaware that it is Zeppelin, and you would think you were listening to Death From Above 1979.

As if too aware that they were recording the sound of the future, ‘Boogie With Stu’ and ‘Black Country Woman’ are clear tributes to the past and Zeppelin’s blues roots. ‘Sick Again’ then closes the album in classic form with each member of the band individually doing what they do best. And it is this fact, that each member of the band was a master of their own instrument, which makes Led Zeppelin such a colossal force even today.

Words by Simon Cooper

Tracklist

Released: 24th February 1975
Produced by: Jimmy Page

Disc 1
01. Custard Pie
02. The Rover
03. In My Time Of Dying
04. Houses Of The Holy
05. Trampled Under Foot
06. Kashmir

Disc 2
01. In The Light
02. Bron-Yr-Aur
03. Down By The Seaside
04. Ten Years Gone
05. Night Flight
06. The Wanton Song
07. Boogie With Stu
06. Black Country Woman
07. Sick Again

Musicians
Robert Plant : vocals.
Jimmy Page : guitar.
John Paul Jones : bass guitar.
John Bonham : drums.

1975: In The News
• Margaret Thatcher is elected leader of the Conservative Party.
• The Vietnam War ends when the government in Saigon surrenders to the Vietcong.
• Lord Lucan is named the as the murderer of his children’s nanny by an inquest jury. He had disappeared the previous year.
• The Spanish dictator General Franco dies at the age of 82.
• Arthur Ashe is the first black man to win Wimbledon.

1975: The Albums
‘ABBA’ Abba
‘Blood On The Tracks’ Bob Dylan
‘The Original Soundtrack’ 10CC
‘Nighthawks At The Diner’ Tom Waits
‘KC And The Sunshine Band’ KC And
The Sunshine Band

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