Today in 1975 Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album, Physical Graffiti, was released. The double album was Zeppelin’s inaugural release on their new Swan Song label. Eight of the fifteen tracks were recorded in 1974; the remaining seven were leftover tracks that didn’t make it onto previous albums. Case in point: “Houses of the Holy”, recorded in 1972 as the title track for that 1973 album, appears on this album. The album title was coined by Jimmy Page to represent the physical and written energy that had gone into producing the set. The release date was originally timed to coincide with the January start of their 1975 US Tour, but minor delays kept it from appearing until late February. In addition, recording sessions had been delayed when John Paul Jones reportedly considered quitting the band (apparently in favor of becoming the choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral). In reality (and lucky for us) he just needed the time to reset after Zeppelin’s demanding tour schedule, and he was eventually convinced to remain with the band.
The sleeve design really only works on the double-LP format. Its idea stems from the jacket of the 1973 album Compartments, by easy-listening vocalist Jose Feliciano. Feliciano’s version featured a brown tenement building with cut-out windows, a pull-out card and hidden pockets. For Zep’s version, their designers used a typical NY brownstone tenement block, currently located at 97 St. Marks Place in New York City (the bottom floor of which is currently home to a vintage clothing store called Physical Graffiti). The actual building has one more story that has been cut off for the album cover. The cover has 64 windows, through which an eclectic gallery of celebrities and icons can be seen (printed on the album inner sleeves). Amongst the pictures there are Lee Harvey Oswald, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marlene Dietrich, Neil Armstrong, Elizabeth Taylor, King Kong, Charles Atlas, Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Mary and Laurel & Hardy. Other images include the group in drag, band manager Peter Grant, groupies, nuns, airships, angels, and vintage advertisements.
It had been two years since a Zeppelin album release, and when the album did appear, the demand was staggering. It made by now what had become Zeppelin’s customary entry at #1 on the UK charts, and entered the US charts at #3 (a record at the time for a new entry) before staying at the top for six weeks. Even more remarkable was the fact that when it finally hit stores, all five previous Zeppelin albums again rose to the Top 100 as well. No other rock act had ever been so well represented in the Billboard charts.
Custard Pie – A nice rocker with a vintage Page riff and keyboard by Jones. Has its roots in Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some of Your Pie” (1939), Bukka White’s “Shake ‘em on Down” (1937) is quoted in the lyrics, and the entire first verse is drawn from Sleepy John Estes’ “Drop Down Mama” (1935).
The Rover – From sessions for the 1970 third album. First rehearsed as an acoustic blues piece, this was subsequently recorded as a full band number during the Houses of the Holy sessions. It was remixed, with the powerful guitar solo added in 1974.
In My Time of Dying – This 11-minute feat borrows the lyrics from a 1927 Blind Willie Johnson song called “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed”, a traditional blues song that’s been covered by many musicians since the early ’60s, including Bob Dylan on his 1962 debut album. The cough heard at the end is Bonham, as Plant takes note and uses it as the last word of the song.
Houses of the Holy – Title track from sessions for the 1973 fifth album. A basic rocker with a clipped beat and an easy riff. Has some nice improvisation from Page. The title refers to the many venues the band would play in, dubbed by Plant the “houses of the holy”.
Trampled Underfoot – Sheer funk, this one is played with relentless spirit and drive. This shocked a lot of fans, as Zeppelin had never done anything like this before. The lyrics are based on Robert Johnson’s 1936 “Terraplane Blues”, in the sense that they use the vocabulary of motor cars as a sexual metaphor.
Kashmir – Unquestionably the most impressive track on the album, this went a long way towards establishing Zeppelin’s credibility with any still-skeptical rock critics. The music grew out of a 1973 Page/Bonham demo, an Plant wrote the lyrics while vacationing in Morocco just after the 1973 US Tour. Jones scored the Eastern string arrangement, and outside session musicians were brought in (a rare occurrence on a Zeppelin session) to add more strings and horns. The real beauty of the song lies in Page’s Moorish chord riff that carries the song.
In the Light – From sessions for the 1971 fourth album. This is largely a creation of Jones, using a VCS synthesizer. There are also some bowed guitars at the beginning to give a drone effect.
Bron-Yr-Aur – From sessions for the 1970 third album. A short acoustic guitar instrumental, capturing Page in a reflective and relaxed mood, done with a Martin guitar tuned to C6. The song title is the name of the 18th century cottage where Plant spent childhood holidays, and where he and Page stayed in 1970 to write much of Led Zeppelin III.
Down By The Seaside – From sessions for the 1970 third album. Originally intended to be an acoustic piece, it was finally later recorded as electric during sessions for the fourth album, but deemed below standard and held over. The trembling guitar and electric piano work give it a pleasant country rock touch.
Ten Years Gone – A Plant narrative about a decade-old love affair that still digs deep. Page uses 14 guitar tracks to overdub the harmony section on the piece, which was first intended to be an instrumental. In live shows in 1977, Jones used a unique 3-necked acoustic guitar together with special bass pedals to help recreate the sound. But it eventually became just too much to handle and the song was discarded from live sets.
Night Flight – From sessions for the 1971 fourth album. This has a brisk boogie-rock rhythm, with some swirling guitar playing off a warm organ sound from Jones.
The Wanton Song – A thrusting Plant tale of carnal delights. Page uses backwards echo on the solo and puts the guitar through a Leslie speaker cabinet to create a Doppler effect with a Hammond organ. A nice barrage that grinds the listener into submission.
Boogie With Stu – From sessions for the 1971 fourth album. This features Ian Stewart, the Rolling Stones’ tour manager and boogie specialist, playing piano (hence the song title). Heavily based on Richie Valens’ 1958 hit Ooh My Head, the track credits are listed as “John Bonham/John Paul Jones/Jimmy Page/Robert Plant/Ian Stewart/Mrs. Valens” (the “Mrs. Valens” refers to the mother of Ritchie Valens). Note: Ritchie Valens’ “Ooh My Head” is itself largely a copy of Little Richard’s 1957 “Ooh My Soul”.
Black Country Woman – From sessions for the 1973 fifth album. Always on the lookout for unusual recording locations, Zep recorded this acoustic country-style number in the back garden of Mick Jagger’s home (Stargroves). The take was nearly shelved when a plane cruised overhead, but Plant tells the engineer to leave it in (the exchange can be heard at the beginning of the song).
Sick Again – The Los Angeles groupie scene was the inspiration for this mid-tempo rocker based on Plant’s still-vivid tales of the 1973 US tour. A suiting exit, it’s powered by a series of meandering Page riffs and some serious Bonham hammering. A careful listen will reveal Bonham coughing out loud at the end of Page’s sonic finale.
From rehearsal tapes that have surfaced, the genesis of “In the Light” can be heard in a composition called “In the Morning”. “Custard Pie” also appears in a radically different form, and an untitled riff-worked jam carries the same chord changes as “Hots On For Nowhere”, which would appear on Zeppelin’s Presence album in 1976.
Certified Gold March 6, 1975
Diamond Award November 15, 1999
Certified Multi-Platinum (x16) January 30, 2006