Swan Song 200
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 41
Certified Gold: 3/6/75
Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin's bid for artistic respectability. This two-record set, the product of almost two years' labor, is the band's Tommy, Beggar's Banquet and Sgt. Pepper rolled into one.
In a virtual recapitulation of the group's career, Physical Graffiti touches all the bases. There's a blues ("In My Time of Dying") and a cosmic-cum-heavy ballad ("In the Light"); there's an acoustic interlude ("Bron-Y-Aur") and lots of bludgeoning hard rock, still the band's forte ("Houses of the Holy," "The Wanton Song"); there are also hints of Bo Diddley ("Custard Pie"), Burt Bacharach ("Down by the Seaside") and Kool and the Gang ("Trampled under Foot"). If nothing else, Physical Graffiti is a tour de force.
The album's -- and the band's -- mainspring in Jimmy Page, guitarist extraordinaire. His primary concern, both as producer and guitarist, is sound. His playing lacks the lyricism of Eric Clapton, the funk of Jimi Hendrix, the rhythmic flair of Peter Townshend; but of all the virtuoso guitarists of the Sixties, Page, along with Hendrix, has most expanded the instrument's sonic vocabulary.
Physical Graffiti only confirms Led Zeppelin's preeminence among hard rockers. Although it contains no startling breakthroughs, it does affford an impressive overview of the band's skill. On "Houses of the Holy," Robert Plant's lyrics mesh perfectly with Page's stuttering licks. On "Ten Years Gone," a progression recalling the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" resolves in a beautifully waddling refrain, Page scooping broad and fuzzy chords behind Plant, who sounds a lot like Rod Stewart. Elsewhere, the band trundles out the Marrakech Symphony Orchestra (for "Kashmir"), Ian Stewart's piano and even a mandolin (both for "Boogie with Stu").
Despite some lapses into monotony along the way ("In My Time of Dying," "Kashmir") Physical Graffiti testifies to Page's taste and Led Zeppelin's versatility. Taken as a whole, it offers an astonishing variety of music, produced impeccably by Page. On Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin performs rock with creativity, wit and undeniable impact.
They have forged an original style, and they have grown within it; they have rooted their music in hard-core rock & roll, and yet have gone beyond it. They may not be the greatest rock band of the Seventies. But after seven years, five platinum albums and now Physical Graffiti, the world's most popular rock band must be counted among them.
- Jim Miller, Rolling Stone, 3-27-75.
Long awaited double package from the group many feel is the best rock band in the world is a tour de force through a number of musical styles, from straight rock to blues to folky acoustic to orchestral sounds. Certainly the most versatile thing the foursome has yet come up with, with Robert Plant's distinctive vocals and Jimmy Page's absolutely brilliant guitar work the highlights. Yet don't overlook bassman and keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, also two of rock's finest. Zeppelin, known as the epitome of hard rock, don't so much play a song as they attack it, be the song a rocker or a ballad. The difference between this and some of the earlier LPs is that the attack is always well planned. The set is certainly the most controlled they have yet come up with, the songs may offer the best indication of the scope of their talents, and the package is one of the few double sets of the past several years that actually merits being a double set. There is going to be the usual criticism, for Zeppelin have always been a band that people like to criticize. People will say there aren't enough rockers, there aren't enough ballads, there aren't enough old things, new things, etc. The band, when one comes down to it, is now one of the most universally appealing rock acts in history, has changed admirably with the times, and recovered beautifully from one somewhat below par LP several years back to become the premier rock band of today. Best cuts: "In My Time Of Dying," "Houses Of The Holy," "Trampled Underfoot," "Bron-Yr-Aur," "Down By The Seaside," "Ten Years Gone," "Black Country Woman," "Boogie With Stu," "Sick Again."
- Billboard, 1975.
Harder than Exile on Main Street and three times as convincing.
- Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone, 12-15-77.
I suppose a group whose specialty is excess should be proud to emerge from a double-LP in one piece. But except on side one -- comprising three-only-three Zep classics: "Houses of the Holy," "Trampled Under Foot," and the exotic "Kashmir" -- they do disperse quite a bit, not into filler and throwaway ("Boggie with Stu" and "Black Country Woman" on side four are fab prefabs) but into wide tracks, misconceived opi, and so forth. Jimmy Page cuts it throughout, but after a while Robert Plant begins to grate -- and I like him. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
A lengthy two-disc set whose bluesy workouts (plus such new explorations as the Middle Eastern "Kashmir") mark it as the most "Zeppelinish" of Led Zeppelin albums. * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Physical Graffiti is a sprawling, double-length effort that features the enduring epic "Kashmir." * * * * 1/2
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
The mighty Led Zep covers more territory than most bands would imagine in a lifetime on this four-sided opus that recalls the summer of '75, when every Camaro had the epic "Kashmir" blaring from the speakers. From "Custard Pie," which sets the tone with a bounce and a smirk, and slide guitar rave-ups ("In My Time of Dying") to the shining rhythmic brilliance of "The Wanton Song," it's bash-and-strut R&R, but it just works. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
By 1975, Led Zeppelin had reached their absolute zenith. Indeed it was the day and age of the utmost rock grandiosity, and Zeppelin were at the pinnacle of the rock spectrum in all terms of excess as well as success. Having come off an incredibly successful, lengthy North American tour, which was as legendary for its stunning theatrics as it was for the band's lavish and decadent touring lifestyle, Zeppelin resided at the very top of the hard-rock heap and in many ways had fully usurped the titans of the previous decade: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan (a fact the critics were never quite willing to grant them). But the one thing Zeppelin to this point had never done was release a double album. They'd toyed with folk and classical embellishments, blues affectations, and progressive airs, not to mention the most molten of heavy-metal; on Physical Graffiti they made use of all these idioms in a way that even their longtime detractors had to admit showed a newfound "maturity" for this band of rogues. But what very few people realized at the time was that Physical Graffiti was more or less a compilation.
Like other patchwork LPs from the same era, such as Miles Davis's Get Up with It or Dylan's The Basement Tapes, it wasn't so much a thematic entity as it was a tossed-together assemblage of odds and ends left over from a finite period of recording activity. Therefore it's very hard to say exactly what Physical Graffiti "represents" -- instead it's more accurate to see it almost as a microcosm of all the various idioms the band was working on at the time (perhaps, in some cases, to less-than-serious effect). In fact, like the Rolling Stones's Exile on Main Street, the expanse of available tracks in many ways highlights the growth of the band itself during those pivotal years of the early seventies. The fact that this LP was cobbled together probably because Jimmy Page was tired after the overwhelming tour in 1973 hardly matters. Far from an afterthought, Physical Graffiti is a double album that gets better with age.
A great deal of the material here was recorded during the sessions for the previous LP, 1973's Houses of the Holy. An odd distinction of Physical Graffiti is that it in fact houses what would've been the title cut from that LP, if Page had chosen to include it. As it turns out, "Houses of the Holy" works brilliantly here and sets the precedent for the LP's midtempo stomp. One thing that's apparent all over the aptly named Physical Graffiti is the awesome power of drummer John Bonham, whose center-heavy sound set the groove for the whole band. Other songs, like "The Rover," "Night Flight," and "Sick Again," epitomize the staggering power of Zeppelin in this era, at a time when they were pretty much riding the world with one big erection. "Boogie with Stu," a tossed-off tribute to erstwhile Rolling Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart that dates back to 1971, is a bombastic nod to Zeppelin's rock 'n' roll roots complete with one of Robert Plant's most absurd falsettos and some Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano playing from Stewart himself (who sits in, as does Ritchie Valens's widow).
Of the tracks that were recorded somewhat nearer to the LP's release, two in particular stand out: "Trampled Underfoot," the only single released from Physical Graffiti, is absolutely Zeppelin at their best -- a sexual innuendo, disguised as an automobile metaphor, backed up by absolutely pile-driving force by the whole band. This song belongs to John Paul Jones, whose funky organ playing, reminiscent of another Stones fave, Billy Preston, makes the track absoutely writhe with licentious intent, bursting into an orgasmic conclusion that has Plant once again yelping like a eunuch coyote. Bonham is absolutely thunderous on this track, as is the whole band. Zeppelin diden't always live up to their pretensions of being the absolute rock gods, but on this track they evoke a power that is truly mystical.
And speaking of the mystical, Physical Graffiti also contains what may be, after "Stairway to Heaven," the band's most legendary opus, the 8:31 "Kashmir," the last track recorded for the LP in 1974 and one reflecting Robert Plant's continued fascination with Eastern mysticism. Not surprisingly, Zep's take on the whole thing is somewhat of a colonialist stance, but what else would you expect from these English lords? Although Zeppelin themselves would probably feel more at home in a castle than in the tenement slums that adorn the LP sleeve, Physical Graffiti is about as down to earth as they ever got, and as a double dose of their feudal bombast, it's a surprisingly consistent affair.
Physical Graffiti was voted the 71st greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
This last great Led Zeppelin album, is -- like most double LP's of the era -- a bloated beast. But its self-indulgent swagger is the very thing that makes it so much fun -- and one of the heaviest records of the 1970s. Powered by John Paul Jones' jittery clavinet, "Trampled Under Foot" is viking funk; "In My Time of Dying" is eleven minutes of slow-blues lava. The sprawl of Physical Graffiti also let Jimmy Page and Robert Plant bring Zeppelin's less obvious gifts -- English folk and hillbilly romp -- out from behind the wall of amps. Plant would later cite the mighty Arab-influenced march "Kashmir" as one of Zeppelin's greatest achievements.
Physical Graffiti was chosen as the 70th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Arriving nearly two years after its predecessor, Physical Graffiti was the final confirmation -- if confirmation was needed -- that Led Zeppelin were more than just any old supergroup. The album topped the US and UK album charts, and shortly after its release the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue of six albums was simultaneously on the top 200 album chart -- a feat never before accomplished.
Physical Graffiti was Zeppelin's first double album and their first release on Swan Song, the record label established by the band in 1974. A number of tracks, notably "Kashmir" and "In My Time Of Dying" -- redolent of the lengthy blues songs they had recorded in their early career -- became live favourites, and featured heavily in a series of dates at London's 21,000 capacity Earl's Court arena, the biggest gigs the band had played in the UK up to that date.
Elsewhere on the album they even managed to pump some funky vibes into the rock composition, "Trampled Under Foot." There was still room for a lighter touch, and the second record features some classic if unlikely Zeppelin songs, including the bar-room boogie "Boogie With Stu," the acoustic instrumental "Bron-Y-Aur," and the hauntingly melodic "Ten Years Gone."
As of 2004, Physical Graffiti was the #7 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
While Led Zeppelin could never be blamed for the macho homogeneity of the heavy metal they inspired, Physical Graffiti was an album of truly ambitious scope and lusty abandon. The sixth Zeppelin album, and the first on their own Swan Song label, Physical Graffiti has a nomadic spirit, consisting of sessions interrupted by a bout of illness on John Paul Jones' part and their inability to find a free studio for any length of time.
Its four sides of vinyl allowed Zep to experiment at length. The innovative die-cut sleeve (each window revealing an image printed on the inner sleeve) housed raw, rootsy rock 'n' roll ("Boogie With Stu"), precious folk minatures ("Bron-Yr-Aur"), funk-metal ("Trampled Underfoot"), mordant prog ("In The Light"), and giddy pop ("Down By The Seaside").
Inspired by Page and Plant's recent trip to Morocco, the colossal "Kashmir" was a shuddering beast of faux-mysticism and exotica, John Paul Jones' droning synth-strings forming modal melodies as John Bonham pounded away, monolithically. Epic jam "In My Time Of Dying," written as they recorded it, was a blur of Jimmy Page's murderous slide-guitar, the band roaring like a force of nature (a clear influence on The White Stripes). "Ten Years Gone" was the most surprising -- a touching, sentimental lament from Robert Plant for the love he left to join the band -- Page's closing solo proving how tender Zeppelin could be, when they deigned.
Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin's last true peak, and remains a truly dizzying achievement.
- Stevie Chick, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Main Page | The Classic 500 | Readers' Favorites | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web