Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
Speaking to NPR when it was reissued this year almost 40 years to the day after its original release, Led Zeppelin guitarist and principal Jimmy Page called it “the mother of all double albums.” This is, perhaps, a bit immodest, but at least close to true. Its competition would be a short list; Exile On Main St., Blonde on Blonde, The White Album, Quadrophenia...
It’s also the Led Zeppelin album casual fans might not get to—or through. I, II, III, IV, and Houses Of The Holy are no-brainers. Physical Graffiti is where the band stretched its legs and started challenging listeners more. Part of its range stems from how it departed from a set time period in its development. Only eight out of 15 songs on it were recorded for its release. The other seven ranged as far back as the recording sessions for Led Zeppelin III. It was the band saying, “This is who we are now, mixed with who we’ve been”—though fans at the time may not have been clued into this. Regardless, it was them presenting everything they were about to the record-buying public.
No surprise, then, that this album has immense range. Among the new songs, you’ve got down-and-dirty rock on the album’s openers and closers, “Custard Pie” and “Sick Again”; funk in “Trampled Under Foot”; prog weirdness in “In The Light”; truly astounding slide-guitar pyrotechnics in “In My Time Of Dying”; experimentation with Middle Eastern textures in “Kashmir”; proto-metal in “The Wanton Song”; and a sweeping ballad in “Ten Years Gone.” The Houses Of The Holy outtakes “The Rover,” “Houses Of The Holy” and “Black Country Woman” slot perfectly among all this—and who else would put out an album called Houses Of The Holy and then slip a song called “Houses Of The Holy” on their next album? Among the Led Zeppelin IV outtakes, “Down By The Seaside” defies categorization, with a breezy verse and chorus befitting its title but with a rock bridge that shouldn’t fit the song at all but somehow works perfectly. “Night Flight,” meanwhile, is a baffling slice of country rock that recalls The Band, while “Boogie With Stu” features the Rolling Stones’ Ian Stewart, always welcome. Finally, the shimmering acoustic instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” takes us back in time five years to the writing sessions for Led Zeppelin III; a perfect excursion.
The funny thing is that, as brilliant as this mixing of eras of the band was, the band had shot itself in the foot. They mined a vein similar to their contemporary material here on their next album, Presence. Without the older material breaking up such intensity, fans reacted adversely.