Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The #98 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era--"Physical Graffiti" by Led Zeppelin

Physical Graffiti was released on February 24, 1975 on their own Swan Songs label, a division of Atlantic Records.  It has a lot of great tracks but as I've said before, it's tough to put together a double album of top-notch songs.  What happened was the group got together in November of 1973 at their favorite hideout Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England.  Peter Grant produced the album while Ron Nevison was the engineer for the project.

"When we started out we were just cutting tracks for a new record. I left the project before they started pulling in songs from Houses of the Holy and getting them up to scratch. So I didn't know it was a double [album] until it came out."

Zeppelin wrote and recorded eight songs, but the length exceeded the limit of an LP at the time.  Led Zep initially recorded at Headley but used Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio for the tracks on the album.  They had to turn in studio time and give it to Bad Company (who used the time to record their debut album) after getting started because bass player John Paul Jones was considering quitting the band to become choir minister at Winchester Cathedral.  

The band took a break until after Christmas, in which time Jones changed his mind and stayed with the group.  Rather than cut the length of the songs, the group decided to release a double album, with the remainder of the second album to be filled by songs they had recorded earlier but decided not to use on previous albums.  Most of the time when an artist gets in this situation, they either cut the length of the existing songs or spend more time writing new songs that match the quality they are looking for.  

Mixing was done on the album by Keith Harwood at Olympic Studios in London.  The album cover is quite imaginative, featuring a New York City tenement block (located at 96 and 98 St. Mark's Place) with interchangable window illustrations.  Peter Corriston was the designer of the cover.  Ian Stewart played piano on "Boogie With Stu".

The album has sold 8 million copies (It is certified as16 million in sales because it is a double album and is thus counted twice.)  No doubt it is loved by the people that own it--I'm one of them.  Where the album falls short is in airplay--there are three tracks that have received any substantial airplay and those are the legendary "Kashmir", the single "Trampled Under Foot" and "Boogie With Stu" out of 15 on this double album.  But three songs do not an album make and frankly, there are more than one or two substandard tracks on the album.  The Zeppelin has far greater albums than this one.  

Another factor that held this album down was, that while it spent six weeks at #1, it then tumbled out of the Top 10, with only 12 weeks there, and only 41 weeks on the chart altogether.  This tells us that at the time, the word of mouth about the album was not good, it didn't get those word of mouth sales that are so important.  As fans have discovered Led Zeppelin in the years hence, they bought all the albums they could, elevating Zeppelin's sales through the roof.

Side One:
1.  "Custard Pie" (Jimmy Page & Robert Plant) --4:13
2.  "The Rover" (Page & Plant) --5:37
3.  "In My Time of Dying" (Traditional; arranged and adapted by Jimmy
      Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones & John Bonham) --11:04

Side Two:
1.  "Houses of the Holy" (Page & Plant) --4:02
2.  "Trampled Under Foot" (Page, Plant & Jones) --5:37
3.  "Kashmir" (Page, Plant & Bonham) -- 11:04

Side Three:
1.  "In the Light" (Page, Plant & Jones) --8:46
2.  "Bron-Yr-Aur" (Page) --2:06
3.  "Down By the Seaside" (Page & Plant) --5:13
4.  "Ten Years Gone" (Page & Plant) --6:32

Side Four:
1.  "Night Flight" (Jones, Page & Plant) --3:36
2.  "The Wanton Song" (Page & Plant) --4:07
3.  "Boogie With Stu" (Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant,
       Ian Stewart & Mrs. Valens) --3:53
4.  "Black Country Woman" (Page & Plant) --4:24
5.  "Sick Again" (Page & Plant) --4:42

Physical Graffiti got an average Track Rating of 8.55, influenced by the few substandard cuts alluded to earlier.  However, that was strong enough to earn it a place in the all-time Top 100 at #98.

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