At the height of their powers, Zeppelin release their greatest, most testosterone-fuelled statement yet
Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album might never have come about were it not for Peter Grant managing to convince John Paul Jones not to quit the band. Grant advised him to take “a few weeks off” before making any final decision. Fortunately, the time away did just the trick. A rejuvenated Jones returned refreshed and ready to go, rejoining the group for recording sessions at Headley Grange.
Eight songs were completed, however not all would fit on a single disc, hence the decision to issue a double album, using leftover tracks from their previous records to fill the extra space. After the album’s release Robert Plant commented: “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.”
As far as double albums go, at least by Led Zeppelin’s standards, Physical Graffiti had it all. From the dance-funk of “Trampled Underfoot,” the delightfully bucolic “Bron-Yr-Aur” (a LZ III outtake), to the Exile era Stones sounding “Boogie With Stu,” Graffiti was and remains Zeppelin’s most diverse offering yet.
The funky and salacious “Custard Pie” sees Plant howl and wail on his harmonica in convincing Chicago blues fashion, while the band are on auto pilot during “The Rover,” a song which unknowingly offers a slight hint at Percy’s solo career only several years later. Originally titled “Driving To Kashmir,” propelled by Bonham’s thunderous thumping and Jones’s swirling, Eastern string arrangement, “Kashmir” is undoubtedly the album’s highlight, and the band’s very own Laurence of Arabia. Plant wrote the lyrics while holidaying in the south of Morocco in 1973, and has a somewhat ethereal, almost supernatural quality to it, one which they would never equal again.
Another song of epic proportions is “In My Time Of Dying,” a monster blues with plenty of prehistoric slide guitar and drumming, so loud it could topple St. Paul’s Cathedral. Based on a 1928 song by Blind Willie Johnson known as “Jesus Make Me My Dying Bed,” Led Zeppelin manage to plunder and thunder in a manner that would likely have frightened the shit out of the man who wrote it.
“In The Light” is a slow burner, full of aching vocals by Plant, and more guitars than there are stars in heaven. “Down By The Seaside” was recorded during sessions for House Of The Holy, a whimsical heavy-rocker, followed by “Ten Years Gone,” an ambitious marathon of a number inspired by a relationship Plant had when he was still trying to find his way as a singer, and on which Jimmy Page overdubbed no less than fourteen guitars.
What would have been side four kicks off with the rollicking “Night Flight,” perhaps the most commercial track here, before Page and Bonham blow a hole through your speaker cloth with a ferocious “The Wanton Song.” Originally titled “Never Ending Doubting Woman,” “Black Country Woman” is a celtic-blues recorded in the garden of Mick Jagger’s Stargroves estate in 1972. Bonham’s fierce drumming dominates the next track “Sick Again,” a muscular metal-belter powered by Page’s meaty licks and Jones’ solid as Stone Henge bass playing.
Let it be said that Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s crowning glory, and a blockbuster upon release. At this point double albums were nothing new, and even if the record company had any doubts or reservations, the band were so popular they could have issued a triple set and still got away with it. As it was, the demand was monumental. Immediately it went number one in the UK, while the US went loony over everything ‘Graffiti.’ What would be their first album in two years would prove to be a triumph, and arguably the group’s last great effort. Sell out American tours would follow, although little did they know that the party was about to come to a crashing halt.