Classic Album: Led Zeppelin-Physical Graffiti.

When Led Zeppelin released Physical Graffiti in on the ‘24th’ February 1975 it was the sixth album of their career. It was also the most ambitious and eclectic album that they had released since rereleasing their eponymous debut on the ’12th’ of January 1969. By then, Led Zeppelin had sold over sixteen million albums in America alone. Despite that, Physical Graffiti was a first for Led Zeppelin.

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

They had released their previous album Houses Of The Holy on February ‘ 8th’ 1973 and it 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 was their sixth album Physical Graffiti.

Having released their fifth album in February 1973, Led Zeppelin returned to the studio in November 1973 at Headley Grange. They had hired Ronnie Lane’s mobile recording studio. but things didn’t go well and the recording session ground to a halt. This was a disaster for the group

All wasn’t  lost and Bad Company who were signed to Swan Song were about to record their eponymous debut album and used the studio time. However, Led Zeppelin wouldn’t return to the studio until January 1974.

In January 1974, Led Zeppelin resumed the recording of Physical Graffiti. During January and February 1974, the group 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 tracks 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 Bonham wrote with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. These eight tracks were produced by Jimmy Page and were destined to become Physical Graffiti.

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 but 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  vaults, were a number of completed tracks and the the group chose another seven songs that would become Physical Graffiti.

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 were recorded in May 1972 when Led Zeppelin were recording Houses of the Holy but didn’t make it onto the album. Two years later the group had a change a heart and they featured on Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, Physical Graffiti.

With the seven songs from the Led Zeppelin vaults chosen, Physical Graffiti was now a double album which was scheduled for release on the ‘ 4th’ February 1975. This was nearly two years since Led Zeppelin had released Houses Of The Holy and a lot had happened since then.

This included Led Zeppelin leaving Atlantic Records and in May 1974, forming their own label, Swan Song. 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 and 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 as Rolling Stone had “previous.” Ever since Led Zeppelin released their eponymous debut album in 1969 Rolling Stone gave the the group’s albums less than glowing reports. They had yet to be 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 and was certified double platinum in Britain and sixteen times platinum in America. This meant Physical Graffiti sold sixteen 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, which was a future Led Zeppelin classic musical genres melted into one. This was orchestral rock with an Eastern 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 twenty million copies worldwide 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.

Forty-five years after the release of  Physical Graffiti it’s a truly timeless album that deserves to be called a classic. It’s also an album that inspired several generations of musicians and continues to so. Physical Graffiti is album that deserves to find its way into any self respecting record collection. 

Despite releasing three further albums, 1976s Presence, 1979s In Through The Out Door and 1982s Coda, Led Zeppelin released an album as good as Physical Graffiti. Everything from car crashes, excess’, addiction, tax exile and sadly, the untimely death of drummer Jon Bonham meant that Led Zeppelin never again reached the heights they did on  Physical Graffiti. It was their first double album and was one of the group’s finest hours. Sadly, Physical Graffiti which was an ambitious, eclectic and  timeless album, proved to be the final classic album of Led Zeppelin’s nine album career.

Classic Album: Led Zeppelin-Physical Graffiti.




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