Without a doubt it is my favorite and shows a depth and diversity of this historic rock band not reached by any of the previous releases. Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s true coming of age and a masterpiece of rock that still stands today.
It released on February 24, 1975, a full two years after the previous album, Houses of the Holy. The long hiatus from recording was to give bassist John Paul Jones some time off from touring. Had circumstances been a bit different at the time, JPJ could’ve ended up choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral.
After the time off he returned to the band ready to record.
Jones reflects on this period:
I didn’t want to harm the group, but I didn’t want my family to fall apart either. We toured a huge amount in those early days. We were all very tired and under pressure and it just came to a head. When I first joined the band, I didn’t think it would go on for that long, two or three years perhaps, and then I’d carry on with my career as a musician and doing movie music.
The band returned to Headley Grange in January of ’74 and laid down eight tracks in short order.
Robert Plant talks about these tracks:
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.
Because the eight tracks extended beyond the length of a conventional album, it was decided to include several unreleased songs which had been recorded during the sessions for previous Led Zeppelin albums. The instrumental “Bron-Yr-Aur” was recorded in July 1970 at Island Studios, London, for Led Zeppelin III. It was named after Bron-Yr-Aur, a cottage in Gwynedd, Wales where the members of Led Zeppelin spent time during the recording of Led Zeppelin III. “Night Flight” and “Boogie with Stu” were recorded at Headley Grange and “Down by the Seaside” at Island Studios, all for Led Zeppelin IV. “The Rover” and “Black Country Woman” were recorded at the same sessions as “D’yer Mak’er” at Stargroves using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in May 1972. “Houses of the Holy” was also recorded in May 1972, but at Olympic Studios. The group’s fifth album,Houses of the Holy, took its title from this song despite the decision not to include the song on that album.
Jimmy Page explains:
We had more material than the required 40-odd minutes for one album. We had enough material for one and a half LPs, so we figured let’s put out a double and use some of the material we had done previously but never released. It seemed like a good time to do that sort of thing, release tracks like “Boogie With Stu” which we normally wouldn’t be able to do… This time we figured it was better to stretch out than to leave off.
Within two weeks of release Physical Graffiti was at the top of the US Billboard chart. It is 16x Platinum in the United States.
By comparison, Led Zeppelin’s next album, Presence was a commercial failure at 3x Platinum and a peak at #1 for two weeks on the U.S. Charts after which it was quickly replaced by The Rolling Stones, Black and Blue.
It’s hard to fathom a “two week, #1 album” as a failure but Physical Graffiti set the bar very high for Zeppelin.
At 37 years old Graffiti stands the test of time and still gets play in this old rock and roller’s music machine.
The album cover is a photographic image of #96 & #98 St. Mark’s place in Manhattan’s East Village.