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Rock and Roll Saturday – “Physical Graffitti”

October 22, 2011

For this week I figured I had to pick a Led Zeppelin album. And frankly, that’s a pretty tough choice. “Led Zeppelin I” was nothing short of a rock masterpiece the minute it left the press. Zeppelin established themselves as a hard rock band with it’s roots in the blues. Page and Plant breathed new life into Willie Dixon’s You Shook Me and I Can’t Quit You Baby. I loved it the first time I gave it a spin. Between Dazed and Confused and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, I was hooked on Zeppelin from day one.

I Can’t Quit You, Baby, so I’m gonna put you down for awhile.
Said you messed up my happy home, Made me mistreat my only child.
— Led Zeppelin I

And then to follow that up with LZ II, which included the band’s first #1 single, Whole Lotta Love. This is the song that really introduced the masses to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones. Me… I was already a fan. With the hard driving Livin’ Lovin’ Maid, the soft ballad Thank You, and the closing trio on side two, Ramble OnMoby Dick, and Bring It on Home, Led Zeppelin II solidly set the band in the stratosphere of rock.

With a purple umbrella and a fifty cent hat,
Livin’, lovin’, she’s just a woman.
Missus cool rides out in her aged Cadillac.
Livin’, lovin’, she’s just a woman.
— Led Zeppelin II

LZ III came along to mixed reviews as the band drifted more towards a rockzy, folkzy, acousticy sound which largely failed to resonate with fans and critics worldwide. Other than the Immigrant Song and Gallows Pole, this piece of vinyl was lost in mediocrity .

Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,
Think I see my friends coming, Riding a many mile.
Friends, did you get some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me, my dear friends,
To keep me from the Gallows Pole?
What did you bring me to keep me from the Gallows Pole?
— Led Zeppelin III

The fourth album, LZ IV saw a return to the band’s rock and blues roots that got them to the top of the heap in the first place. Stairway to Heaven is listed globally as one of the greatest rock songs ever, and that’s saying something. As good as Stairway was it was surrounded by some top notch rock on both sides of the platter that could stand on it’s on. Aside from Stairway one of my favorites on the album is the old Memphis Minnie, When The Levee Breaks. Add to that, Black Dog, Battle for Evermore, and Misty Mountain Hop, and you’ve got some of Zeppelin’s best music.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
— Led Zeppelin IV

Which bring us to Houses of the Holy. (LZ V)

Although a commercial success, HOTH launched to mixed reviews. If I was ranking the bottom of the Zeppelin gene pool it would be a close second between LZ III and HOTH for the cellar dweller. (That’s without considering albums 7, 8, & 9) This album was the first release that featured all Zeppelin original material and I think suffered from over-production. D’yer Mak’er was the bright spot from the recording session.

Where’s that confounded bridge?
— Robert Plant (The Crunge)

My album pick for Led Zeppelin this week is… Physical Graffitti. (Actually that’s not really true because I just can’t pick a favorite so I sort of  highlighted them all, including the lesser of the bunch.) This two album set was Zeppelin’s sixth studio album. In my ever so humble opinion, I think this was Led Zeppelin truly coming of age.

The recording sessions for Physical Graffiti initially took place in November 1973 at Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England. The album was an extremely commercial success going 16x platinum. I wore out two complete vinyls. I can tell you as I have been sitting here writing this, I’ve tripped back down memory lane with PG in the headphones. I don’t think there’s a bad cut from start to finish. The song writing is pure Zeppelin. Page’s guitar never sounded better, and the production was not overblown. If I had the put two words together to describe Physical Graffiti it would be UNDERSTATED FINESSE.

Some of my favorites from this twin-vinyl are of course Kashmir, Ten Years Gone, Trampled Under Foot, In My Time of Dying, The Wanton Song, and the marvelous solo instrumental by Jimmy Page , Bron-Yr-Aur.

I’m never gonna leave you. I never gonna leave
Holdin’ on, ten years gone
Ten years gone, holdin’ on, ten years gone
— Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

I could keep on going with Presence from 1976, In Through the Out Door ’79, and their last album Coda in 1982, the ninth and final studio album, two years after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. None of these ever reached the heights of the previous six.

“Coda was released, basically, because there was so
much bootleg stuff out. We thought, “Well, if there’s
that much interest, then we may as well put the rest
of our studio stuff out”.
— Jimmy Page

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