Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin Review
Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album turned into a double set almost by chance. The recording sessions at Hedley Grange yielded eight songs which took the bank over the limit for a normal LP. Therefore the decision was made to include unreleased material from the sessions for Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy. The additional tracks, including the unused title track from Houses of the Holy, gave us the double album we know today.
The straightforward hard rock of Custard Pie kicks the album off. An infectious Jimmy Page riff that stays in the head is augmented by some fine work on the keyboards from John Paul Jones. Robert Plant’s narrative is all about “chewin’ a piece of your custard pie”. Careful, Bob, you’ll rot your teeth. Led Zeppelin’s musicianship and delivery elevate this track above the level of corny rocker, which also features fine harmonica and guitar solos from Plant and Page respectively.
John Bonham’s heavy drums and a darker and heavier riff introduce us to The Rover. This splendid heavy rocker was held back from Houses of the Holy and the sleeve notes allude to difficulties in resurrecting the track.
In My Time of Dying is based on an old gospel song and had previously been released in various forms by several musicians, most notably Bob Dylan. Led Zeppelin’s version on the Physical Graffiti album is surely the most recognisable and at around twelve minutes it’s a significant piece of work. Starting with Jimmy Page’s slow slide guitar, the song suddenly picks up the pace and doesn’t let up for ten minutes. All four components of Led Zeppelin are firing on all cylinders here and special mention must go to John Bonham for this is his finest moment to this reviewer’s ears. The song ends on a humorous note with the “cough” ending. In My Time of Dying is one of the best songs Led Zeppelin ever recorded and I’ll even forgive them for not crediting any of the other, either known or unknown musicians’ contribution to the song in the liner notes.
Houses of the Holy with its repetitive riff provides a little light relief before the heavy funk assault of Trampled Under Foot. Exceptional musicianship, with Jones taking centre stage, and a narrative very much of the seventies using cars as metaphors.
The members of Led Zeppelin name Kashmir as one of their crowning achievements and who could possibly disagree. It apparently took two years to complete with origins dating back to 1973. Musically, it is based around Jimmy Page’s ascending guitar riff and John Bonham’s commanding drum signature over which John Paul Jones added orchestration. Lyrically, Plant discusses life as a series of adventures and gives one of the best performances of a glittering career. If it’s possible to define Led Zeppelin in one song, this would probably be it. The bombast belying a more subtle side and combining a number of number of influences.
Side two of the Physical Graffiti album starts with the successful experimentation of In The Light. John Paul Jones was the catalyst for this track and the synthesized song structure owes much to his skill as a composer. The intro to the song is notable for Jimmy Page using a bow to play an acoustic guitar.
Bron-Yr-Aur is a delightful, brief interlude left over from the Led Zeppelin III sessions. Down By the Seaside is a gentle rocker originally intended for Led Zeppelin IV and shows yet again how versatile this band was.
Ten Years Gone is another epic, complex piece of music with a distinctive guitar melody that Pearl Jam surely owe a debt to on their song Black from Ten. The subject is as weighty as the music and Plant gets the vocals just right.
Night Flight’s organ-led hook was constructed by John Paul Jones and weaves a yarn about draft evasion. An early example, to be revisited on In Through the Out Door, that Led Zeppelin weren’t completely reliant on Jimmy Page’s guitar.
Wanton Song’s fairly direct approach to it’s subject matter matches the heavy guitar work perfectly before we get the only songs on the album that sound like out takes; Boogie With Stu and Black Country Woman. Of these two, the former is notable for Ian Stewart’s Piano work, while the latter is the stronger track.
The album comes full circle at the end with a song to end in the same way it started, with a heavy rocker about sex. Sick again is Robert Plant’s somewhat sympathetic view of the groupies he encountered on US tours. Jimmy Page’s heavy riffing fizzing to an end before scratching out and thus bringing Physical Graffiti to an end.
Physical Graffiti is perhaps the definitive Led Zeppelin album as it showcases the breadth of styles and moods they were capable of. Hard rock, heavy metal, acoustic, electric, country, blues, soul, world music, funk – it’s all on here. From grand movements like Kashmir to tight, punchy little rockers like Custard Pie, Led Zeppelin could do it all. The immediate songs give an instant hit and stay with you rather than become stale and the deeper cuts that take a little longer to get into are so rewarding. There is so much melody on Physical Graffiti and the cliché that it reveals something new after every listen holds true.
They may have nicked a few ideas from the blues but Led Zeppelin had their own ideas too and every song on Physical Graffiti is stamped with their authority. One of Led Zeppelin’s most endearing qualities is despite all of their American influences from the blues (not to mention Robert Plant singing in a fake American accent), and the eastern influences, Led Zeppelin are a very English band.
Physical Graffiti is a monumentally brilliant album and even though it has a couple of week points on side two, I’ve been listening to it for over 25 years and still can’t fault it.
Rated Sound gives Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin 10/10.
Physical Graffiti (1975) by Led Zeppelin Track Listing
1. Custard Pie
2. The Rover
3. In My Time Of Dying
4. Houses Of The Holy
5. Trampled Under Foot
7. In The Light
9. Down By The Seaside
10. Ten Years Gone
11. Night Flight
12. The Wanton Song
13. Boogie With Stu
14. Black Country Woman
15. Sick Again