February 24th 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of what was Led Zeppelin’s most ambitious and eclectic album, Physical Graffiti. This was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album since their 1969 eponymous debut. However, Physical Graffiti was a first for Led Zeppelin.

Physical Graffiti the first double album that Led Zeppelin had released. Originally, though Physical Graffiti was meant to  be a single album. However, the eight songs overran. So, Led Zeppelin decided that Physical Graffiti should become a double album. Considering the circumstances, this was an ambitious project.

Houses Of The Holy, released on February 28th 1973, Led Zeppelin’s previous album, proved to be the last album they released on Atlantic Records. Led Zeppelin who were then one of the biggest bands in the world, decided to form their own record label, Swan Song. It’s first release would be Led Zeppelin’s sixth album Physical Graffiti, which will be reissued on 23rd February 2015 by Atlantic Records.

Just like the five previous Led Zeppelin rereleases, Physical Graffiti will be available in various formats. There’s double CD, double album and various box sets. It’s Led Zeppelin nirvana. The version I’m reviewing is a deluxe three CD version. It features the original artwork, plus the newly created negative artwork for the companion audio. The newly remastered version of Physical Graffiti features on CDs one and two. Then on CD three are previously unreleased studio outtakes. 

Among the previously unreleased studio outtakes on disc three of Physical Graffiti are initial/rough mixes of Brandy and Coke (Trampled Under Foot) and In My Time Of Dying. Other tracks include an early version of Sick Again and a rough mix with overdubs of Houses Of The Holy. For anyone interested in Led Zeppelin, they’re a fascinating insight into how a song evolves. Especially, the early/in transit version of Make It Through, the sunset sound mix Boogie With Stu and the Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix of Driving Through Kashmir. These tracks are a treasure trove for dedicated fans of Led Zeppelin. They’re also the finishing touch to this lovingly compiled, newly remastered version of Physical Graffiti, which celebrates one of Led Zeppelin’s biggest selling albums.

Having released their fifth album in February 1973, Led Zeppelin returned to the studio in November 1973 at Headley Grange. Led Zeppelin had hired Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording studio. However,  things didn’t go well. The recording session ground to a halt, and Bad Company who were about to record their eponymous debut album, used the studio time. It wouldn’t be until January 1974, that Led Zeppelin returned to the studio.

In January 1974, Led Zeppelin resumed the recording of Physical Graffiti. During January and February 1974, Led Zeppelin recorded eight tracks at Headley Grange. 

Just like previous albums, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant played a huge role in the writing of Physical Graffiti. They wrote four albums and cowrote the other four. Custard Pie, Ten Years Gone, The Wanton Song and Sick Again were penned by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. In My Time Of Dying was credited to Led Zeppelin. Trampled Under Foot and In The Light were written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant with John Paul Jones. The other track recorded during that session was Kashmir, which John Bongam wrote with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. These eight tracks were produced by Jimmy Page and were destined to become Physical Graffiti. However, there was a problem.

With the eight songs that became Physical Graffiti recorded, Led Zeppelin took a listen to the finished album. They were pleased with what they heard. Just like previous albums, Led Zeppelin had improvised during the sessions. The result was Led Zeppelin at their hard rocking, raunchiest best. In interviews, Robert Plant referred to these tracks as “belters.” Other tracks saw Led Zeppelin’s music move in a different direction. Physical Graffiti, a mixture of the old and new, looked like being one of their most exciting releases. However, there was a problem.

Unfortunately, the eight tracks on Physical Graffiti were too long to fit on one album. For most groups, this would’ve been a disaster. Not Led Zeppelin. They decided to release a double album. By then, double and triple albums were commonplace. Better still, Led Zeppelin didn’t even need to return to the recording studio.

Over the last five years, Led Zeppelin had recorded more music than they needed. In the Led Zeppelin vaults, were a number of completed tracks. So, Led Zeppelin got to work, and chose another seven songs.

The seven songs had been recorded between 1970 and 1972. The earliest song was, Bron-Yr-Aur, an instrumental recorded in July 1970, during the sessions for Led Zeppelin III. Night Flight and Boogie With Stu were recorded between December 1970 and January 1971, while Down By The Seaside was recorded in February 1971. These three tracks were recorded during the Led Zeppelin IV sessions, but didn’t make the final album. The Rover, Houses Of The Holy and Black Country Woman had been recorded in May 1972, when Led Zeppelin were recording Houses of the Holy. For some reason, these tracks didn’t make the album. Two years later, however, Led Zeppelin were having second thoughts. They would feature on Led Zeppelin’s sixth album Physical Graffiti.

With the seven songs from the Led Zeppelin vaults chosen, Physical Graffiti, which was now a double album, was scheduled for release on 24th February 1975. This was nearly two years since Led Zeppelin had released Houses Of The Holy. A lot had happened since then.

This included Led Zeppelin leaving Atlantic Records. They then formed their own label, Swan Song in May 1974. It was a vehicle for Led Zeppelin to release their albums and merchandise. Later, Bad Company, The Pretty Things, Dave Edmunds, Mirabai, Maggie Bell and Sad Cafe would sign to Swan Song. However, Atlantic Records continued to distribute all Swan Song’s releases, included Physical Graffiti.

Before the release of Physical Graffiti, the album was sent to critics. The first thing they saw was the now legendary album cover. It featured a photograph of a New York City tenement block. It was taken by Peter Corriston and made the 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place, New York one of music’s most famous landmarks. Inside Physical Graffiti’s famous cover, was the thirteen track double album. 

When critics heard Physical Graffiti, most were won over by Led Zeppelin’s latest album. Critical acclaim accompanied Physical Graffiti’s release. However, a couple of high profile critics weren’t as won over as their colleagues. Unfortunately, one of the dissenting voices were Billboard. They weren’t as impressed as most critics. Neither were Led Zeppelin’s old nemesis, Rolling Stone magazine. 

Just like Billboard, Rolling Stone didn’t give Physical Graffiti a glowing review. This was nothing new. Rolling Stone had previous. Ever since Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album, Rolling Stone had never been won over by Led Zeppelin, who currently were on their tenth American tour. However, despite Rolling Stone’s review, Physical Graffiti was a huge commercial success.

Even before the release of Physical Graffiti on 26th February 1975, advance orders were huge. On both sides of the Atlantic, Physical Graffiti reached number one. Physical Graffiti was certified double platinum in Britain and sixteen times platinum in America. This meant Physical Graffiti sold eight million copies in America alone. The commercial success and critical acclaim continued across the world. 

In Canada, Physical Graffiti reached number one. Physical Graffiti was certified gold in Argentina, France and Germany. From Australia through Austria, France, New Zealand, Norway and Spain, Physical Graffiti reached the top ten. This resulted in Physical Graffiti becoming Led Zeppelin’s second biggest selling album. No wonder. 

Physical Graffiti was a fusion of Led Zeppelin old and new. On Custard Pie, The Wanton Song, Sick Again and Houses of The Holy, Led Zeppelin were back to their hard rocking best. This was the Led Zeppelin that had sold over thirty million albums. From there, seamlessly, Led Zeppelin switched between musical genres. 

On Kashmir, a future Led Zeppelin classic, genres melted into one. This was orchestral rock with an Eastern orchestral twist. Then on In The Light, Led Zeppelin moved in the direction of prog rock. Trampled Under Foot was a mesmeric marriage of musical genres. After its uber funky introduction, Led Zeppelin get into a groove and hit their hard rocking best. It’s a spellbinding fusion. Still, Led Zeppelin continue to change direction.

Boogie With Stu and Black Country Woman see Led Zeppelin roll back the years, with some acoustic rock ’n’ roll. Then Led Zeppelin show their softer side on the ballad Ten Years Gone. Bron-Yr-Au is an acoustic instrumental that Led Zeppelin recorded in 1970. It’s two wistful minutes of music. Then on the soft rock of Down By The Seaside, the melancholy sound continues. Again, it shows Led Zeppelin’s softer side. On their journey through musical genres, Led Zeppelin aren’t afraid to kick loose.

Paying homage to their bluesy roots, Led Zeppelin unleash In My Time of Dying, eleven minutes of blues rock. A slow burner, it’s well worth the wait when eventually, Led Zeppelin unleash their bluesy licks. It’s Led Zeppelin at their best as they strut their way through this blues rock Magnus Opus. That’s not the end of the hard rocking Led Zeppelin. Night Flight sees Physical Graffiti head in the direction of country rock, as Led Zeppelin finish what can only be described as genre hopping album.

Featuring thirteen tracks, spread over four sides of vinyl, Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s most ambitious and eclectic album. From Led Zeppelin’s usual hard rocking style, Physical Graffiti took diversions via acoustic rock ’n’ roll, balladry, blues rock, country rock, prog rock and soft rock. There was even the fusion of orchestral rock and Eastern influences that was Kashmir, a Led Zeppelin classic. With such an eclectic album, it’s no surprise that Physical Graffiti won over to critics, cultural commentators and record buyers.

Released to widespread critical acclaim, and having sold over ten million copies, Physical Graffiti was well on its way to becoming a classic album. That’s why Physical Graffiti was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1976.

When the nominations for 1976s Grammy Awards were released, Physical Graffiti was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. Sadly, it was a case of close but no cigar. However, after this, Physical Graffiti was hailed a classic by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and somewhat ironically, Rolling Stone magazine. According to these musical institutions, Physical Graffiti is one of the best 100 albums ever released. That’s definitely the case.

Physical Graffiti, which will be reissued by Atlantic Records on 23rd February 2015, is without doubt a classic album. Although it was released forty years ago, Physical Graffiti is a truly timeless album, one that has stood the test of time and has gone on to inspire several generations of musicians. That’s why Physical Graffiti deserves to find its way into any self respecting record collection. 

With Physical Graffiti having just been remastered now is the perfect opportunity to do so. There are various formats available. However, probably the best value for money is the Deluxe Edition Box Set of Physical Graffiti. It features the original double album on the first two CDs, and on CD three, are previously unreleased studio outtakes. For fans of Led Zeppelin, the newly remastered version of Physical Graffiti, is the opportunity to either discover, or rediscover what is regarded as Led Zeppelin’s final classic album Physical Graffiti.

Despite releasing three further albums, 1976s Presence, 1979s In Through The Out Door and 1982s Coda, Led Zeppelin never scaled the heights of Physical Graffiti. Everything from car crashes, excess’, tax exile and sadly, the untimely death of Jon Bonham meant that Led Zeppelin never reached the heights of Physical Graffiti. Sadly, Physical Graffiti, an ambitious, eclectic and  timeless album, proved to be the final classic album of Led Zeppelin’s nine album career.





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