The way we review album series is sometimes back to front, considering the last two in this series of Led Zeppelin reviews are 5th & 6th studio albums to be release by the rock colossus that is the mighty LZ. When this album was first recorded for their newly formed Swan Song record label, the original eight tracks recorded were longer than the length that a standard album could hold in 1975. Therefore, they decided to add on some unreleased tracks from 'Led Zeppelin III', 'Led Zeppelin IV' & 'Houses of the Holy' (including the unused title track from 'Houses....'). The recording session was also delayed a bit as bass player John Paul Jones temporarily left the band (only to come back), also the length of the album and the way that the band recorded added to the time it took for the album to be released. However, according to singer Robert Plant & guitarist Jimmy Page, 'Physical Graffiti' represents the band at the height of the creative and expressive powers. It has been held as one of their best album, so how have the last forty plus years been to this album since it was released?
01 - Custard Pie
Full of double-entendres and more blues references than your local blues bar, 'Custard Pie' opens the album in the only way a Led Zeppelin album could be opened; full of energy, sexual imagery and a blues riff that lays the foundation for other songs to come on the album, it is sometimes overlooked for other songs on the album. This might be rightly so, due to those other songs being monumentally huge, but it is still a good opening for this album.
02 - The Rover
'The Rover' was originally recorded during the 'Houses of the Holy' sessions, but you would be pushed to guess that to be honest. It is a song about the nomadic lifestyle of the band and how they are never settled in one place, it was not a song that the band seemed to perform in its entirety. I always liked this song, it was not the most obvious song from the album, but it spoke to me in ways that other LZ songs could not. The riff at the beginning just keeps on giving and it is a song which should be given more praise.
03 - In My Time of Dying
A traditional song which has song writing credits for all four of the members of Led Zeppelin (as well as Blind Willie Johnson), despite being a traditional gospel that had already been recorded by other artist, namely 'Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed' by the aforementioned Blind Willie Johnson, Bob Dylan’s 'In My Time of Dyin'', and John Sebastian’s 'Well, Well, Well'. It is also the longest studio song by LZ, coming in at eleven minutes and six seconds in length. It has been crafted into a blues sermon, it is a captivating number and your attention does not wonder as the solos, slide guitar, hard drumming, walling and pounding bass take over the world. It is a beautiful version of this blues standard, it is easy to be lost in that riff and to find yourself tapping along to it for hours after it has finished.
04 - Houses of the Holy
The original title track for 'Houses of the Holy', it was removed as it did not fit in too well with the rest of the album. Some people say it is a song about sexual rites of passages, some people say it is about the larger arenas and auditoriums that the band were starting to play as they became more famous. To be honest, I always thought it was about sex and getting your end away, nothing has changed that opinion and I doubt anything ever will. It is a mid-temp number and I can see why it was kept off the album that took its name, but it is still one of my favourite songs from Led Zeppelin as it keeps its simple and it is to the point!
05 - Trampled Under Foot
A funk rock song inspired by 'Terraplane Blues' by Robert Johnson, this song is about sexual temptations and uses car metaphors once again to talk about sex. It is such an obvious statement that I am sure it can be seen from out of space. It is a one of the most recognisable riffs of the bands catalogue and it has that clavinet chord running all the way through (which bass player John Paul Jones has admitted was inspired by 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder). It is a classic, one of their best and still it is not the best on this record.
06 - Kashmir
This song is the perfect representation of Led Zeppelin, some people say it is 'Whole Lotta Love', some say it is 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You', some say 'Stairway to Heaven'; no, with the greatest respect to those opinions and songs, it is 'Kashmir'. The band themselves has all said it is one of their best moments, Robert Plant says it is the definitive LZ song and I agree with him on this one. It contains everything you expect from a Led Zeppelin song; OTT lyrics, a powerhouse of a drum performance, the bass sounds so powerful and the guitars are in charge of everything. Even Puff Diddy's use of the riff for the song 'Come with Me' has not ruined this number, it is the best song on this album and the best song ever created by Led Zeppelin.
07 - In the Light
The second part of this double album starts with 'In the Light', this is based on an earlier song that they had wrote called 'In the Morning'. After the grand tour-de-force of 'Kashmir', it is a steady progressive rock number that is another favourite of the band, but it was one that they never performed live as a band, due to John Paul Jones vetoing the idea as he could not replicate the opening sound of the song outside of the studio. I like this song, but it is not one of my favourite off the album to be honest as it feels a little too light for me.
08 - Bron-Yr-Aur
'Bron-Yr-Aur' is a short instrumental which was original recorded for 'Led Zeppelin III', it is the shortest song that the band recorded and it is also one of the gentlest that they laid down. It is a song that is very simple, a gentle number that allows the listener to reminisce about the past and not to be lost in those moments either. The rising and falling riffs are a joy to the ears and it makes a powerful, yet gentle impact on the listener; an under rated number for my money.
09 - Down by the Seaside
The first of three outtakes from 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'Down by the Seaside' sounds like a cross between a Southern Blues number and a psychedelic nightmare. I have never made peace with this number, it has always jarred in my head for the most part and only comes to life when the hard rock section of the song kicks in. But that is short lived and I am left wondering why it was included on this album and glad it was kept off 'Led Zeppelin IV'.
10 - Ten Years Gone
A song that was originally meant to be an instrumental, but was changed into a song about Robert Plant's formed girlfriend who said it was her or the music; it is a choice which obviously worked out well for Mr Plant, but it could have also worked out for the worst as well (what if their album had not been picked up, things like that happen all the time). It is a slower rock song, it has many overdubs and it sounds spectacular and understated. I love the riff that runs through this, I have also wondered what an instrumental version of this song would sound like.
11 - Night Flight
Another outtake from 'Led Zeppelin IV', this song is about a man trying to avoid an army draft and being on the run. It is one of the few songs by Led Zeppelin not to have a guitar solo and it is a standard hard rock/blues number that the band could turn out time after time. It is a decent number and I can see why it was not included in 'Led Zeppelin IV', but having it on this album is not a bad thing either as it has a good riff at its core and it makes for some charming pace.
12 - The Wanton Song
This is a standard rock song about a man being done rock, it has a riff that is reminiscent of 'Immigrant Song' and 'Trample Under Foot' with neither of the other songs charms. It is ok and it does the job, but it is not one that I rush to listen to that often if the truth be told.
13 - Boogie with Stu
The last of the tracks recorded during the 'Led Zeppelin IV' sessions, this one has the most charm with a live improv that had Ian Stewart (former member and road manager of the Rolling Stones) on the piano on this 12-bar blues jam session. It might seem like a throwaway song, but it has a wonderful vibe to the song and it sounds so natural and free. It is a brilliant number that makes the world a happier place just for existing.
14 - Black Country Woman
The final of the studio outtakes from previous sessions, this song was original recorded during 'Houses of the Holy' and it is a stomping acoustic blues number that still gives me shivers all these years later from when I first heard it. It is a loud acoustic song, you cannot call it a gentle piece and it has such a large amount of energy that it will start a party in an empty room. What a song, what a performance.
15 - Sick Again
Ending the album is this song which gives the band's view on the groupies who surrounded the band at the time that the album was recorded. In the modern age, this song will seem a little sleazy in place and I can see why. But it is also showing that the band felt sorry for these girls who were throwing themselves at the band and how they were trying to let them down gently. It has a great riff and ends the album with a large degree of thunder.
'Physical Graffiti' for me is the album that best represents all sides of Led Zeppelin; it covers all their styles and apart from a few tracks which has not aged too kindly, it represents their best overall work as well. It holds their greatest song 'Kashmir' (no arguments there), it has the best beginning from the band and whilst I would have trimmed it down by two songs, it has the most consistent feeling for me. Such a classic album, definitely in my top twenty albums ever created.
Top track - Kashmir
You can purchase Physical Graffiti here on Amazon.
You can visit the Led Zeppelin website here.
You can visit the Led Zeppelin Facebook here.
You can stream Physical Graffiti on Spotify here.
You can stream Physical Graffiti on Deezer here.
You can stream Physical Graffiti on Tidal here.