by Dylan Looney
Even though the group formally parted ways after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, the legacy of Led Zeppelin continues to reach a new generation of fans, many of whom were introduced to the band by their parents or even grandparents. Recently, one of the most celebrated pieces of their discography, Physical Graffiti, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Seeing as I own a copy of the album on CD, (purchased unscratched from a flea market for 50 cents, might I add) I decided to celebrate by giving it a listen.
One of the most remarkable things about the success of the album is that half the tracks are merely previously unreleased tracks left off the albums for which they were initially recorded. With most artists, this can be seen as scraping the bottom of the barrel, but Graffiti shows why Led Zeppelin isn’t like most artists. While the album was recorded over four years and during sessions for four different albums, the overall sound maintains a strange eclectic yet unified feel. This is a testament to the band’s musical diversity. For example, the straight rocker “Houses of the Holy” (which, oddly enough was cut from the band’s previous album, also titled Houses of the Holy) fits quite nicely between the eleven-minute, slide-driven blues epic “In My Time of Dying” and the positively funky “Trampled Under Foot.” In turn, “Trampled” gives way to the next track, the orchestral, larger than life “Kashmir,” which is arguably the centerpiece of the entire album. A listen to the looming riff of “Kashmir” shows that it’s no wonder Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs sampled it for the soundtrack of the 1998 Godzilla movie. It simply sounds huge.
My personal favorite from the album is the second track titled “The Rover.” In this track, the band shifts seamlessly from a swaggering, bluesy riff into an emotional chorus, in which Robert Plant sees “A new world rising/from the shambles of the old.” Other musical mood swings are found on other tracks on Graffiti, such as the excellent “Down by the Seaside,” which changes from a laid-back mellow vibe into a much darker tone and returns at the drop of a dime. Similarly, “In the Light” shows the band’s progressive side, as they nearly dip their toes into Pink Floyd territory. The track opens the second disc of the album with Plant’s voice and some keyboards for a very haunting effect before the rest of the band comes thundering in for yet another roller coaster of a song. All in all, I would have to say that what makes Physical Graffiti stand out to me is its ability to beautifully mix light and darkness, softness and heaviness, electric and acoustic (or major and minor for you musical people out there). Now that I think about it, it’s probably what makes Led Zeppelin stand out from their 70s rock peers and has allowed them to influence so many musicians throughout four decades.
Just like many other albums celebrating an important birthday, Physical Graffiti has been remastered and re-released with a deluxe package containing demos and rough versions of a few tracks, including “Kashmir” and “In the Light.” Even if the $120 price for the Super Deluxe Edition is a little steep, I would still recommend giving the album a listen for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of Led Zeppelin beyond classic rock radio staples like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Black Dog.”