ON THIS DATE (37 YEARS AGO)
February 24, 1975 – Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Physical Graffiti is the sixth studio album by Led Zeppelin, released on 24 February 1975 as a double album. Recording sessions for the album were initially disrupted when bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones considered leaving the band. After reuniting at Headley Grange, the band wrote and recorded eight songs, the combined length of which stretched the album beyond the typical length of an LP. This prompted the band to make Physical Graffiti a double album by including previously unreleased tracks from earlier recording sessions.
Physical Graffiti was commercially and critically successful; the album went 16x platinum (though this signifies shipping of eight million copies, as it is a double album) in the US alone.
ALBUM SLEEVE DESIGN
The album’s sleeve design features a photograph of a New York City tenement block, with interchanging window illustrations.
The album designer, Peter Corriston, was looking for a building that was symmetrical with interesting details, that was not obstructed by other objects and would fit the square album cover. He said:
“Physical Graffiti, the used clothing store in the basement of 96 St. Mark’s Place
We walked around the city for a few weeks looking for the right building. I had come up [with] a concept for the band based on the tenement, people living there and moving in and out. The original album featured the building with the windows cut out on the cover and various sleeves that could be placed under the cover, filling the windows with the album title, track information or liner notes.
The two five-story buildings photographed for the album cover are located at 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place in New York City. To enable the image to fit properly with the square format of the album cover, the fourth floor (of five) had to be cropped out, making them appear as four-story buildings in the image. The whole image underwent a number of small tweaks to arrive at the final image. The buildings to the left and right were also changed to match the style of the double front. Tiles were added on the roof section along with more faces. Part of the top right railing balcony was left out for a whole window frame to be visible. The front cover is a daytime image, while the back cover is the same image but at nighttime.”
Mike Doud is listed as the cover artist on the inner sleeve, and either the concept or design or both were his. He passed away in the early 1990s, and this album design was one of his crowning achievements in a lifetime of design. In 1976 the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package. (Doud would later win a Grammy for best album cover of the year in 1978).
Physical Graffiti was the band’s first release on their own Swan Song Records label, which had been launched in May 1974. It was a commercial and critical success, having built up a huge advance order, and when eventually released it reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart. Shortly after its release, all previous Led Zeppelin albums simultaneously re-entered the top-200 album chart.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 70 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
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.
He has always exhibited a studio musician’s knack for functionalism. Unlike many of his peers, he rarely overplays, especially on record. A facile soloist, Page excels at fills, obbligatos and tags. Playing off stock riffs, he modulates sonorities, developing momentum by modifying instrumental colors. To this end, he uses a wide array of effects, including on Physical Graffiti some echoed slide (“Time of Dying”), a countryish vibrato (“Seaside”), even a swimming, clear tone reminiscent of Lonnie Mack (the solo on “The Rover”). But his signature remains distortion. Avoiding “clean” timbres, Page usually pits fuzzed out overtones against a hugely recorded bottom, weaving his guitar in and out of the total mix, sometimes echoing Robert Plant’s contorted screams, sometimes tunneling behind a dryly thudding drum.
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.
All songs written and composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, except where noted.
1 “Custard Pie” 4:13
2 “The Rover” 5:37
3 “In My Time of Dying” (Traditional; arr./adap. Page, Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham) 11:04
1 “Houses of the Holy” 4:02
2 “Trampled Under Foot” (Page, Plant, Jones) 5:37
3 “Kashmir” (Page, Plant, Bonham) 8:32
1 “In the Light” (Page, Plant, Jones) 8:46
2 “Bron-Yr-Aur” (Page) 2:06
3 “Down by the Seaside” 5:13
4 “Ten Years Gone” 6:32
1 “Night Flight” (Jones, Page, Plant) 3:36
2 “The Wanton Song” 4:07
3 “Boogie with Stu” (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant, Ian Stewart, Mrs. Valens) 3:53
4 “Black Country Woman” 4:24
5 “Sick Again” 4:42