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24 February 2010 18,518 views 7 Comments


35 years ago today February 24th 1975 Led Zeppelin’s sixth album Physical Graffiti was unleashed on an eagerly awaiting Zep public. This 15 track double album stands for many as their premier recorded statement. Over three decades on, it remains the perfect one stop summary of every ingredient that makes Led Zeppelin THE outstanding rock band of yesterday… of today and tomorrow… 

I vividly remember the pure excitement of investing in the new Led Zeppelin album that day 35 years ago. Feasting my eyes on that incredible sleeve, and the first drop of the needle on that magnificent Swan Song emblazoned vinyl.     

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, we present a special TBL Archive Extract – this offers some background to the album’s recording, a look at the creative process involved in the making of the album and a couple of retro reviews that recreates the high regard that Physical Graffiti was held in when it first appeared. 

The NME journalist Nick Kent in his review of the album famously described the band at the time as the ‘’Quintessential doyens of the kamikaze dissbuster game.’’

Put more simply Led Zeppelin in 1975 were pretty good!

Now read on….       

First to backtrack: the background to the construction of the record:

For this inaugural Swan Song release, Led Zeppelin finally succumbed to the double album format. A combination of new material recorded early in 1974 at Headley Grange, coupled with a summary of strong material from previous sessions, made up the contents of this blockbuster release.

            After the hugely successful 1973 American tour, Led Zeppelin unwound, did some home movie work for their film, and took their time approaching their next recording sessions. It wasn’t until November that they returned to Headley Grange with Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio for location recording, but the sessions came to a halt fairly quickly and the time was given over to Bad Company, also managed by Peter Grant. At the time the reason given was that John Paul Jones was ill, but it later emerged that Jones had wanted to quit the band as he was fed up with touring. He even suggested – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that he’s been offered a position as choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral. Peter Grant urged caution, suggesting that Jones was overwrought from the incessant touring and should take a rest from Zeppelin for a few weeks. Jones changed his mind and sessions resumed at Headley Grange after the Christmas holidays.

            Once re-united, it was a case of pooling ideas. Mostly what they had were, as Robert later described them, ‘the belters’. “We got eight tracks off,” he explained in the spring of 1974, “and a lot of them are really raunchy. We did some real belters with live vocals, off-the-wall stuff that turned out really nice.”

            Similar to the sessions for the previous two albums, the location recording technique gave them ample time to develop material along the way. Plant again: “Some of the tracks we assembled in our own fashioned way of running through a track and realising before we knew it that we had stumbled on something completely different.”

            .Those eight tracks, engineered by Ron Nevison, extended beyond the length of a conventional album and this prompted them to construct a double set. This was achieved by reassessing the material recorded for earlier albums, from which seven further tracks were added. The whole package was mixed down by the late Keith Harwood at Olympic, and released as Physical Graffiti in 1975. It was a massive outpouring of Zeppelin music that proved to be the definitive summary of their studio work.

            The sleeve design is one of their most elaborate. The front cover depicts a New York tenement block (actual location: 96 St. Marks, NYC), through which interchanging window illustrations reveal such candid shots as the group dressed in drag, and Bonzo in tights for the Roy Harper St. Valentines Day gig.

            The title Physical Graffiti was coined by Page to illustrate the whole physical and written energy that had gone into producing the set. The release date was timed to coincide with their 1975 tour campaign which commenced in America in January. Minor delays kept it from appearing until late February. When it did appear the demand was staggering.    

            Physical Graffiti made what had by now become Led Zeppelin’s customary entry at number one on the UK chart, while America just went Graffiti mad. It entered every US chart at number three, then a record for a new entry, before lodging itself at the top for six weeks. Even more remarkable was the fact all five previous Zepp albums returned to the Billboard chart. No other rock act had ever been so well represented.

            It had been two years since their last album, but the waiting had been worth it. Led Zeppelin had delivered. It still stands as their finest recorded achievement. Given the luxury of the double format, Physical Graffiti mirrors every facet of the Zeppelin repertoire. The end result is a finely balanced embarrassment of riches. Through light and shade, from a whisper to a scream, this one has it all.   

*The following piece was originally written for TBL 13 in late summer 1997. It was my response to hearing the then newly surfaced tape of outtakes from the Physical Graffiti sessions (sometimes described for good reason as the ‘’Ohmygod!’’ tape and subsequently issued on a variety of underground CD’s notably Brutal Artistry via Midas Touch – cover above). For me this 33 minute tape unlocks the whole extraordinary creative process that went in to making the double album so special. It seems an appropriate archive extract to re- present 35 years to the day that these songs first came into our lives….  


Early 1974. England off the back of an enforced three day week. TV shutting down at 10.30 (try explaining that to the Sky satellite generation!). Limited food rationing. The Miners battle with Ted Heath. An energy crisis looming. Dark days indeed.

But not for everybody. Down in a quiet Hampshire village there was an abundant use of energy going down.- energy of both a physical and musical kind that would shape the future of the group of musicians ensconced inside the 18th century workhouse they were using to record.

This was Led Zeppelin’s lost year. The one that “Didn’t really happen” as Jimmy Page put it so modestly.

In truth it very much did happen. Not in the public glare that had seen them perform Over 70 live gigs the previous year. Instead this was a period of re-evaluation. The sabbatical. The re-assessment. The year of the no show – of record label launches guest-appearance jam sessions. The year of no to Knebworth, but yes to pleasing themselves.

‘’It was in those dark early months of 1974 that Led Zeppelin laid down the tracks that would formulate the backbone of their  next record release. – the double album known as Physical Graffiti that would emerge the following February. Many, myself included, consider it to be their premier recorded statement – a summary package that reflected every colour of the spectrum. Free from the constraints of touring, that period of recording inside Headley Grange with the Ronnie Lane mobile unit parked  outside, proved to be one of the most fruitful and creative spells of their career.

A relaxed atmosphere-that would yield fresh experimentation. As Plant put it at the time “Over a period of a month we managed to spend at least three days a week, recording, in between various calamities and the Roy Harper Valentine gig. Some artists like to sit down and plan an album. We just can’t do that. Our music is more an impromptu thing. You know, it drops out of your mind, it falls out of your .head, and onto the floor, and you pick it up as it bounces. That’s how it works. But what else can you expect We hire this recording truck and trudge off to some, crude old house in the country. The last thing you expect is the music to fall right into place. But eventually it does”.

Anything that can take us back to that period that takes us closer to the process that brought forth such an embarrassment of riches is very welcome indeed.

Therefore anticipation has been high on the collecting circles over the past few months that a previously unheard batch of outtakes from these 1974 sessions was about to emerge. We were not to be disappointed.

There has been previous outtake material from this era – bootlegged a decade or so on The Tangible Vandalism vinyl release. The bulk of the tracks featured were early rehearsal run thoughts. But the emergence of this tape of newly discovered alternate takes offers a whole new dimension on the way it was down in that workhouse in those energy crisis fuelled months.

This 33 minute remnant from that lost year is a startling discovery. As illuminating in its way as any live or studio material that has emerged in this decade. And easily the most important studio find since the Studio Daze CD. It emerges with these credentials because it tells us much more than we already know about the creativity of the group during that period. And the underlining link throughout the tracks is the performance of one John Henry Bonham.

Listening to his powerhouse contributions to these studio performances it’s not hard to see why  years after his untimely demise he remains the greatest rock drummer of all time. It’s so obvious he was at the centre of so much of their develop­ment during this period. As Plant recalled years later “Some of the great stuff came from Bonzo taking a hold of the thing and making it work from a drums point of view”

“It was just an amazing drum sound” as Page acknowledged at the time of the Remasters box set release. “Nobody else could have created that sex groove and many have tried”.

The material here is made up of the following components: Two basic tracks complete aside from their eventual overdubs, one instrumental backing track, one completely alternative version and a run through of a legendary unreleased Page led instrumental. That stark description almost devalues the epic proportions of what this tape offers. As for the actual sound quality, well it’s far removed from previous extracts from this era. Not quite A1 but most acceptable – full and rounded with just a hint of top end. Allegedly this was a tape owned by Robert Plant and given to an associate of the band during their 1975 US Tour.

So let’s dissect this alternate Graffiti:

Arriving on a Night Flight -Early 1975

Trampled Underfoot and Custard Pie are the complete songs delivered minus overdubs. In this starker content both of them seem to present a much gutsier edge than the officially released versions. That’s not to say they’re superior- just different. One thing’s immediately apparent. The raw aggression of both these deliveries make Led Zeppelin sound like the greatest garage band in the universe – grunge long before grunge was even thought about. As Robert commented at the time of the Swan Song launch, “There’s a lot of fire about this album. People have been saying what’s happening to the real Zeppelin. I suppose the word is raunch really. Well there’s a lot of that pres­ent again. We did some real belters with live vocals some really off-the-wall stuff”.

And “Raunch” is an apt description for this version of Trampled Underfoot. Basically what we get here is the finished master minus any guitar overdubs and mixed in a way that presents Robert’s vocal in a grittier style. His vocal is mixed in a double track method that exposes the roughness of his vocal chords at that time. This of course is the early ’74 Headley Grange period – possibly post Plant vocal chord operation, (see page 100 of The Concert File for the full story). As previously noted, Bonzo is just magnificent driving his way through the tempo while John Paul Jones’ clavinet is also much more prominent in the mix, enhancing the Stevie Wonder technique of that period (check out Stevie’s Talking Book album) that the song is allegedly influenced by. In the spring of 1974, Page took this master into Olympic Studios, duly added the guitar overdubs, and came out with one of the most instant numbers of the entire album. A future stage favourite, another UK single that wasn’t and another career milestone. I mean, who could have imagined them coming up with this hybrid mix of rock and funk (as Nick Kent observed there was a definite Kool and the Gang influence at play here) say around the time of the third album?

There were new developments afoot and Trampled was one of the most successful.

Custard Pie meanwhile found them reaffirming their blues roots (reference points include Blind Boy Fuller’s I Want Some Of Your Pie and Bukkla White’s Shake Em On Down) in a concoction of out and out riff led energy that cooks and smoulders from the moment Page kicks in some very 60s Kinks like licks.  The version here is again near to finished master minus overdubs mixed with more echo and featuring an entirely different Plant harmonica solo and has a full ending. It lacks the ARP synth effect employed by Page on the overdubs but this mix does present Jonesy’s clavinet effects clearer than ever before. It had me leading off on a tangent on how this must have looked in the studio (house!) at the time – and if there had have been an accompanying video shot, would we not be looking at the jovial Plant strutting around Jimmy’s Gibson shadowed by a grinning Jonesy and Bonzo mouthing out the words in sheer bliss, knowing that they have stumbled on an instant groove – a groove that allowed them to just kick in and recreate within four walls what their ever increasing audiences were subjected to time and time again on stage. This Custard Pie outtake sounds like it could have been recorded on any night of their ’73 tour, capturing all the vibrancy of their best live work. The fact that they managed to capture that vibe whilst ensconced in the Headley workhouse is a testament to their total compatibility for the mobile studio recording methods.

“One day when we were rehearsing for some album that we really didn’t know too much about, Bonzo came in with this really nice driving tempo. Really laid back sort of “shoom shoom”. And we thought mandrax? No. And having been travelling a little bit to get the feel of foreign lands, the song developed from that ‘shoom shoom’… and with a touch of the east, a little bit of cholera on the arm… and what we had left was Kashmir”. (Robert Plant from the Earls Court stage, May 24th 1975)

That “shoom shoom” tempo is heard in possibly greater effect than ever before on the instrumental version of Kashmir presented on the tape. This is not the Driving To Kashmir Page Bonham demo mentioned by Jimmy in the celebrated Trouser Press interview in 1977 (though who knows – maybe that will surface one day). What we get is a complete instru­mental run down beginning with Bonzo’s “1234” count in. This version’s backing track sounds very much like the finished version. However it’s a real novelty to hear just the three of them (Jonesy on bass) bearing down incessantly on that classic mesmeric riff. It’s much easier to hear Jimmy scrubbing across the strings while in the percussion department the whole thing is a startling exercise in Bonham expertise with that phased timpani ringing out. At around 3.18 you can make out Robert briefly joining in the background. At the end of the slower mid part ((i.e. where the “woman talking to ya” ad lib would appear) there’s a supreme moment as the three of them grind to a halt for a about a second before Bonzo crashes them back in and that riff kicks in again.

If they ever get around to doing that Anthology film, I want to hear this version of Kashmir blaring out as the camera pans around that stairway in Headley Grange, recalling the moment when that “shoom shoom” tempo came alive.

In an interview conducted mid-way through the sixth album sessions, Robert commented that they may have come up with what might loosely be described as The New Zeppelin Classic  i.e. a successor to Stairway. “Well we’ve got the ground work for another one. I’ve got to get myself on one of those Edwardian steam boats and go choogling around Hong Kong Harbour. Maybe sitting in a ricksaw could do it. All I know is that I’ll need to be 100 per cent in the right place to get it done. It may not be ready for this album. We’d like to think it will wind up being a monumental track… Maybe it is already”

Though that statement could have been applied to more than one of the new tracks (not least of which the Swan Song epic), it’s conceivable that In The Light might have been the song he was describing.

At the time of release, In The Light was said to be Jimmy’s favourite track of the whole set. It’s a shame they never got around to performing a proper live version. Of all the band’s more epic constructions, this opus is perhaps the most underrated and underplayed. More recently it’s gained something of a renewed prominence – indeed Robert inserted lyrics form the track within several of the CallingTo You /Whole Lotta Love medleys on the 95/96 world tour. The arrival of this complete alternative version only adds credence to the fact that this really is one of their most outstanding compositions.

The genesis of In The Light has of course already been exposed by the In The Morning/Take Me Home early run through in the Tangible Vandalism album. Those versions were attempts on both the lyrics and the structure of the piece. This new delivery of In The Light is a complete alternate version (which could be loosely termed The Elizabethan arrangement) and put simply sounds magnificent.

I first played this back after returning late at night after being interviewed for The Concert File by Bob Harris. The combination of the sheer adrenaline from that encounter with the Whispering legend, coupled with the heavy nostalgia of discussing Zeppelin’s Whistle Test connections etc. made this initial playback a truly memorable one – on a par with the first time I heard Achilles Last Stand. It’s one of those performances that inspires open mouthed appreciation. And here’s why:

Firstly rather than the electric keyboard drone of the official version, this take is driven by an almost Elizabethan harpsichord keyboard motive from Jonesy – one of those great underplayed Jonesy contributions (Other examples: the keyboard effect on the slowed down part of the 79/80 live versions of In The Evening and the mock phantom of the opera closing arrangement of the live Over Europe version of All My Love). That in itself is a major discovery. Then Robert comes in with the opening lyrics slightly phased ala the studio Song Remains. The lyrics here are completely different to both the In The Morning/Take Me Home variety and the finished official version. They are also less sophisticated than the “Sing a song of salvation” theme of In The Morning and the “If you feel that you can’t go” on rap of the official take. Basically Robert seems to be expressing the virtues of the sunny weather as opposed to the rain (“Sunshine brings laughter, rain clouds bring me down”) and as I sit here constructing this on a wet August bank holiday I can relate to that!

The sketchy nature of the lyrics hint that this version may even have been the very first attempt at a guide vocal before they further experimented with the In The Morning/Take Me Home lyrical ideas.

Following the phased intro it then all clicks into the familiar bombastic riff exercise and it’s Bonzo again leading the way pushing the singer’s confidence along. The guitar and drum tracks sound almost identical to the finished master and were probably retained for the final mix. There are some vocal alterations on the chorus with Plant first repeating the “In the light” phrase twice and then changing it to “With the light” on the final refrain. He comes in slightly early with the “Shoo wop a do… everybody needs the light” line before the finale which is minus the multi dubbed guitar parts that so enlightened the released take.

This provides further opportunity to marvel at Bonham’s drum patterns as they crash around the kit “Oh” exclaims the singer before it all grinds to a halt. Suffice to say this is a marvellous alternate take with Jonesy’s Elizabethan links shedding new light on an old friend. Given a little work on the lyrics it could have rightly taken it’s place proudly on the album. As it was they scrapped this version and started again this time placing the emphasis on the drone effect. The fact that it was discarded says much for their insistence to further experiment and strive for new sounds during this period.

As for this alternate take – one has to wonder why Page did not recall it for active duty on Coda – it also strikes me it would also have made a great bonus on the new Whole Lotta Love CD single.

Instead it was left to languish without our knowing. It also begs the question -how many other great complete studio alternate takes of their songs do they have lining the archive?

Finally there is another legendary unheard classic to dissect. Before we get to discuss what’s now emerged – it’s worth back-tracking the rather turbulent history of this Page led instrumental.

Following the completion of their 1973 US tour, it was reported that the group were contemplating ideas for their next album. One of them allegedly centred around a long instrumental which would be based upon Page’s Yardbirds tour de force White Summer. At the official launch of Swan Song the following May, Page was giving out the story that the label name had been adapted from the aforementioned instrumental epic which was being recorded for their new album “I’d been recording this long instru­mental and somebody shouted ‘what’s the title’. I shouted back ‘Swan Song’ and everybody stopped and said what a good name that would be for the album. From there it got carried over to being the name for our label”.

That was the last that was heard on this project for some time.- Physical Graffiti being released the following February with no room for the in-progress epic. However Page did refer to it again after the release of Presence. Talking to Chris Welch in October 1976 he had this to say:

“I’ve spoken before about a long piece I’d written. It was to have gone on Presence. I had it all planned out and arranged but it was too dangerous to rely on because of the time factor. I knew how much time would be needed for overdubs and it wasn’t the sort of thing John Paul Jones and I could put together. I wanted to orchestrate the guitar and put it through various treat­ments. The original idea was to have four sections coming back to the same theme each time. There would be four separate melody lines dealing with the seasons. Robert will do the lyrics. I know I can work the whole thing out from the trial runs I’ve laid down. Its a really exciting prospect.”

Swan Song therefore may well have been in contention for the album they would have recorded in the fall of 1977 – before the tragic events that curtailed the US tour. Whatever finished state it was in, that number remained in the can and it’s again surprising that Page felt no desire to try and complete it for the 1982 posthumous release Coda.

However the basis of Swan Song was eventually deployed in a composition co- written with Paul Rodgers known as Midnight Moonlight. This was the epic number released on The Firm’s debut album – and premiered on the US leg of the ARM’S tour in late 1983 when it was introduced as Bird On A Wing. A nine minute marathon, it did carry elements of instrumentation that Page had used on the live versions of White Summer as far back as 1970.

The released version of Midnight Moonlight should have heralded a new triumph for Jimmy in his new collaboration with Rodgers – but like much of The Firm’s output it promised more than it delivered. It did contain some beautiful moments but ultimately emerged as a mish mash of ideas hampered by a poor production and excessive female backing vocals. It did work better as a live vehicle notably on the 1988 Outrider tour where Jimmy’s renewed fluency hinted at the true potential of this long talked about masterwork.

That potential is now exposed better than ever before with the arrival of two takes of the Zeppelin studio version.

Previously Swan Song had only been exposed by an acoustic demo that surfaced from Jimmy’s private home recording tapes. The versions here appear in a primitive mixed and overdubbed state hinting that full completion was not all that far way.

Version One on this new tape opens with Page’s acoustic drifting – and then Jones/Bonham rhythm section kick in – with all the deft syncopation that is and was Zeppelin. Bonham again adding a vital swing to the whole movement of the piece. The pace lets up for Jimmy to solo on the refrain that would become the Bird On A Wing chorus. Indeed it’s a moment of sheer delight when the familiar chords are delicately applied. The second segment kicks back in with Page again leading the descending riff (incorporating the bass acoustics to be heard on Ten Years Gone) eventually introducing some simply beautifully drifting overdubs – hinting again at the majesty this piece would have embraced in a full tilt Zeppelin classic arrangement. It’s also apparent that the addition of suitable Plant lyrics and vocals would have greatly enhanced the track – giving rise to Page’s 1976 comments of the song being divided into differing sections.

Swan Song as recorded in 1974 is a tantalising glimpse into what can now rightly be described as the great lost epic. As wonderful as these excerpts are – there’s still the overriding factor that this piece was clearly in an incomplete state, and despite Jimmy’s recall of the idea years later, it remains something of an unfinished symphony. It would be great to see Jimmy and Robert return to the tape and properly complete the song for inclusion on a future Page/ Plant release. The chances of that though are pretty remote… so we are left with these Swan Song sixth album session outtakes revealing a hint at what might have been.

So ends this illuminating peep behind the Graffiti windows. One could argue that much of this material was never considered for mass listening and are clearly work in progress tapes. But as was revealed so conclusively by The Beatles Anthology series – such outtakes material can often reveal a texture and atmosphere that admirably compliments the officially released versions – and most importantly offers vital evidence into the creative procedure that duly made these songs what they were.

That fact can certainly be said of this tape – which like all the vital unreleased material really does add more colours to the canvas that was so clearly exposing the new sound of Led Zeppelin back in the early months of 1974.

Dave Lewis 25.8.97

 Originally written for Tight But Loose 13

Copyright Dave Lewis/TBL 2010

Currently out of print – reprint planned


96 St Marks  New York April 1995 Pic:Dave Lewis

And finally on this 35th anniversary …here are a couple of original reviews of Physical Graffiti – the first is from Melody Maker – the second from Zig Zag.

Have a read of this, then go and seek out the double album with the distinctive interchanging window sleeve…play it from start to finish and wish it a very happy birthday…

Led Zeppelin: Pure Genius

LED ZEPPE­LIN: ” Physi­cal Graffiti ” (Swan Song SSK 89400 — double al­bum) .


NO OTHER top band in the world gets as much stick as Led Zeppelin.

Every time they bring out an album there’s six months of carping because it’s not full of re-makes of ” Whole Lotta Love “; followed by an­other six months of moaning because they haven’t played any live dates; finishing up with a final six months of complaints about the time it’s taken them to make the new album. Then, of course, it all starts over again.

Not this time, though, I suspect. By allowing themselves the luxury of a double album, they’ve managed to cram in a bit of everything and in enough quantity to keep that vocal minority of moan­ers at bay.

For once they will have to admit that the wait since ” Houses Of The Holy ” has been worthwhile; some may even be moved enough to recognise “Phy­sical Graffiti ” for what it is; a work of genius, a superbly performed mixture of styles and influences that encompasses not only all aspects of Led Zep’s record­ing career so far but also much of rock as a whole.

This is not just a collec­tion of great tracks, but a perfectly balanced selection of music that weighs heavy rock with acoustic, ballad with out-and-out rocker in such a way that you can play the album non-stop day and night without ever needing to pause for a bit of peace.

And for one of the world’s heaviest bands, that’s some achievement.

“Physical Graffiti” has not just been “worth the wait”, it had to take a long time to produce music of this calibre.

Unlike so many bands today, who hurl out albums like they were frisbees in Hyde Park, Led Zep can be bothered to take the time and trouble to make this one even better than the last one.

They are, if you like, one of the few “progressive” bands left — you remember them, the groups who were always going to move for­ward and keep exploring new

Zeppelin have, and still are doing just that. They estab­lished their base with heavy blues/rock on “Led Zeppelin 1”, and have constantly sought to build on that, investigating new fields; from the folky “Battle Of Ever­more” to the reggae in­fluenced “The Crunge”.

Now they’ve taken elec­tronic space rock for “In The Light”, one of the two most immediately striking cuts on “Physical Graffiti”. ,

It opens with eerie key­boards that sound like they belong to the Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, before moving on to more familiar Zeppelin riffing.

What marks it as the work of true musical craftsmen, though, is the linking: those space sounds are not just a frill tagged on for the hell of it, but .properly joined to the core of the song, first led in by Robert Plant’s voice, then led out for a reprise in the middle by Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar.

“Kashmir”, hits you just as immediately. It’s in a (Com­pletely different vein: heavily orchestrated, with a chopping string riff which builds up to a crescendo at the end of each verse. The nearest equivalent is the work of the classical composer Moondog, who uses the same richly- descriptive style.

So effectively is it used though on “Kashmir” that it actually sounds like you’re travelling on a caravanserai through the East.

And Plant is at his magnificent best, letting his voice be gradually enveloped in the rich orchestral text­ures and then suddenly soaring through,, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.

Certainly this is one of the most imaginative and out­standing numbers Led Zeppelin have ever cut.


But the band’s strength does not always rest on the new. They take that old, old theme of the blues on “In My Time Of Dying” and came up with a fresh approach, by constantly changing the pace, veering from the breakneck to the dead slow.

The song is never frac­tured: Plant holds a note here, John Bonham continues a drum pattern there, and it joins together as tight as a clam.

And if it’s heavy rock you want, Zeppelin can drive a number along like no other band on earth. Listen to them roar through ” Custard Pie”, “Night Flight” and “Sick Again”, always giving that little bit extra that’s the sign of class — a bubbling keyboard here, a nifty riff there, an intricate pattern elsewhere.

They can be wistful (“Down By The Seaside”), fun (“Boogie With Stu”), acoustic (“Bron-Yr-Aur”), me­lodic (“The Rover”) — just about anything in fact. They can take as long as they, like with the next album: “Phy­sical Graffiti” will last 18 months or 18 years. And then some.




Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti

John Tobler, ZigZag

NOW I SHOULD make clear in this context that I’m not by nature a fan of this band in the same way that I like Van Morrison or Love. My position is one of deep respect, mind you, and while I was heard to say some harsh things about Beck copyists, etc, when the first album came out, such notions no longer seem to apply. I feel that I would have to perform a masterpiece of justification if I wanted to put L.Z. down, and in all honesty, there’s no fuel for that particular fire.

I suspect that someone somewhere will go into that old thing about making one great album out of two flawed same, as used with the Beatles’ White Album and so on, but again, I can’t subscribe, and this is where the review really starts. There are fifteen tracks on display here, and three of them, accounting for about a third of the playing time, appeal to me so much that were they on one side of the record, I would find it difficult to play anything else until I knew them from every direction. Specifically, these are ‘In My Time Of Dying’, ‘Houses Of The Holy’, and best of all, in a class shared with only a dozen or so tracks in my entire musical existence, ‘In The Light’.

That’s not to write the rest off in a terse few words but for my part, the record would be breaking down fresh barriers if it was all as good. It’s a question of stand-outs, and if you can imagine putting ‘She Loves You’ on the first Beatles album, you’ll see what I mean. Without my three choice cuts, the album would be of very good quality. Perhaps a little routine, but certainly to be among the critics’ choices at the end of the year. With the tracks included, it gets a distinct lift off, and while it’s just as certain to figure similarly in critical and public polls, we’re all getting a bonus for which we should be grateful. I would say with certainty that prolonged playing will produce several more tracks which will become highly pleasing, but it all comes down to what makes the biggest initial impact. And that’s not to say that the three I’ve mentioned have a singalong chorus.

Beyond saying “Get it if you’re even vaguely into this type of confection,” there’s not much to add. Jimmy Page as producer has to be one of the most tasteful people there is, and he continually rejects the temptation to fall into Black Sabbath traps, He also plays the guitar with consummate brilliance, and perhaps that’s part of the key to Led Zeppelin. They are all musicians of the highest calibre, and the length of time taken to produce this package is a testimony to the fact that second best for them is as bad as nowhere. One for your lists.

© John Tobler via



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  • Mike said:

    I’ll never forget how I got the “New” Led Zeppelin album for my 18th birthday.
    For some reason, P.G. wasn’t released until Feb 27th in Brooklyn.
    The first place that opened up was Titus Oaks on Flatbush Ave.
    I had worked the night shift and left work at 8:00am,took the bus and was waiting when they opened at 9:00. Picked up my copy and took it to my friend Gordon’s. He always had the most insane stereo he could assemble.We shifted the foundation of his house that morning.

  • DaveCarrera4 said:

    1975 was a great year, chicks and cars and Zep were all I could think about and I was getting my Zep album collection going, and remember buying PG at a department store in Port Huron, MI. It would be two years until I would see my heros at the Pontiac Silverdome. I had maybe II and Houses before buying PG in 1975. That album firmed up my addiction to Zeppelin. It is still my favorite album of all time. The guts of those tracks are still up in your face for every play. Bonham was nothing short of phenomenal – truly the pistons of the machine, and Page’s multiple layers of guitars could not have been a note more or less better. Houses, Trampled and Kashmir all on the same side, man that was liquid sex in a bottle spilled all over the vinyl. Sometimes the lyrics presented a challenge, and I still to this day haven’t figured them all out. I make up my own lyrics to fit. Plants singing was like an instrument in that way. There will never be anything to replace this album – no better music to my ears. I raise a Guinness to the best rock band in the world, thanks for many years of dumbfounded bliss.

  • Colin Hunter said:

    I recall this being the second Zeppelin album I bought in 1978 (i was a late starter). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I played Kashmir again and again and again-I’d never heard anything like it.
    The whole album still sounds as fresh today as it did then and if you’re very feeling slow put on Night Flight and that incredible opening soon picks you up!

  • John Webster said:

    I am sitting here reading this great article whilst listening to Brutal Artistry 11 and Totall Tangible. Havn’t listened to them for a long time so your article really helps with the listening. Adds so much to the hearing. Thanks Dave

  • Tony Walsh said:

    Oh wow! I’m now going to play In my time of dying, In the light and of course Kashmir, then i’ll put the album on from the begining and smile.

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    What a great story that is!
    Incredible to think it was 35 years ago and it still holds up every bit as well as it did back in 1975.
    Physical Graffiti always has the light….

  • Michael Brazee said:

    I remember when Physical Graffitti came out. I was a junior in college (State University of New York at Buffalo) and we stayed up all night playing bridge. (Last time I ever played that game). The local FM station played the album in its entirety at maybe 11:00 pm.
    I was waiting outside the record store (Record Theater) waiting for them to open at 10:00 am. Dog-tired, I went in and was quite possibly the first person in Buffalo to procure said album. Walked across the street to the parking lot, crossed it and went to my dorm room. Caught a couple hours sleep, went to my only class that day, got back to my room and then finally played it, and then played it, and then played it, and then (well you get the idea). My first favorite was Night Flight. Just loved the energy. But when I would listen to In the Light, and hear Hey did you ever believe that I would leave you standing out in the cold, the hairs on my arms would just stand up.

    It was quite possibly that moment that I was trying to re-live when Them Crooked Vultures came out. And Jonesy still playing the Clavinet. And it did not disappoint.

    Everybody Needs the Light!

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