It had been nearly two years since Led Zeppelin had released a studio album when Physical Graffiti made its appearance February 24, 1975. It would become their second most successful commercial release, selling 16 million copies in the United States alone. Rolling Stone would name it to their list of The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.
Zeppelin’s contract with Atlantic had expired and they decided to form their own label, Swan Song. In addition to themselves, the label would become the home for such artists as Bad Company, Dave Edmunds, The Pretty Things, and Maggie Bell before folding during 1983. Today it is just used exclusively for reissues.
The album jacket cover of the original vinyl release was very innovative. It pictured an actual tenement building in New York City located at 96 and 98 St. Mark Place. The inner sleeve allowed you to change the pictures in the windows.
Physical Graffiti was a long, sprawling double album which reached out in a number of musical directions. Led Zeppelin’s albums were always an attack on the ears and senses and this double dose is almost overwhelming. The length allowed the group to try new things and also reach back into their past for some forgotten, unused material.
I have always found the first disc the stronger of the two with three of the tracks ranking among their best. The album begins with “Custard Pie” with blues riffing and wah-wah guitar by Page. The lyrics are filled with sexual innuendo and are an immediate attention grabber. “In My Time Of Dying” clocked in at over 11 minutes and was the longest studio track of their career. It had the sound and feel of improvisation which was always a good thing for the group. “Kashmir” remains one of my favorite Zeppelin tracks. Page’s playing is some of the best of his career as the tonal shifts and sophistication are phenomenal.
“Houses Of The Holy” was written for their previous album but was left off at the last minute; oddly, it was still the title of that album. This mid-tempo rock track features heavy bass riffs. I have read the song was never played live by the group. “Trampled Under Foot” is another solid rock song.
You have to dig a little deeper on the second disc. “In The Light” constantly reminds me just how good a keyboard player John Paul Jones was but it is Page’s use of a violin bow to play his acoustic guitar that makes the song unique. “Ten Years Gone” is a nice example of Page’s production prowess as he continually overdubs his guitar parts. “Boogie With Stu” was resurrected from 1971 when the Rolling Stone keyboardist, Ian Stewart, sat in on a studio jam. “Sick Again” is an ode to the teenage groupies that used to follow the band.
Physical Graffiti may not be cohesive and is a little excessive but it remains another definitive statement by Led Zeppelin. It is also another brilliant example of heavy rock music at its best.