40 years ago today hard rock overlords Led Zeppelin released their landmark double album Physical Graffiti. The band had already cemented its place in classic rock’s premiership league on previous releases, but in many ways Physical Graffiti is the quintessential Zeppelin record. Everything about it is epic, from its double LP length, to its intricate packaging – featuring the cutout windows of a Lower East Side tenement, to the breathe of the material itself. Both guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant assess it as the band’s most important work, an opinion which is backed up by its tremendous commercial success and the reputation it holds amongst other musicians.
The group recorded the bulk of Physical Graffiti, including such future Zeppelin standards as “Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot,” in early 1974, however, the finished recordings went well over the single LP mark. The decision was then made to clean out the vaults of unreleased material, some going back to sessions from 1970’s Led Zeppelin III, to fill it out and make it a double LP. Rather than being mere filler, the quality of the unused tracks gave the final release a grandoise scope, which included some of the group’s heaviest riffs alongside casually tossed off folk and blues exercises and some of their most accomplished instrumental passages. In honor of the album’s 40th anniversary we’ve ranked all 15 of its songs, however, keep in mind there are really no bad tracks, which is quite a feat considering it’s running time goes over 80 minutes.
Boogie With Stu
The closest thing to a filler track on Physical Graffiti, this outtake from the band’s eponymous fourth album finds Zeppelin jamming on Ritchie Valens’ “Ooh, My Head” with famed Rolling Stones road manager and sometime pianist Ian Stewart, who was on site while the band used the famed Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.
This delicate instrumental acoustic guitar piece was recorded for Led Zeppelin III and is named after the cottage in Wales where most of the album’s music was written.
Down By The Seaside
One of Zeppelin’s mellower outings, this song’s country rock vibe was influenced by the band’s love of California hippy rockers such as Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash. It was recorded during sessions for Led Zeppelin IV.
Robert Plant’s lyrical homage to the infamous teenage groupie queens of Los Angeles, this song was the album’s final track and finds them rocking out in sleazy grandeur, as befitting the subject manner.
One of an unbeaten streak of killer Zeppelin album openers, this hard rocking boogie shaker borrows lyrics from blues greats Robert Johnson and Bukka White among others.
Ten Years Gone
The layers of dynamic guitar overdubs in this plaintive ballad showcases Jimmy Page’s skills as a producer and the song also contains one of his most beautiful guitar solos.
In My Time Of Dying
The most epic of all Led Zeppelin’s blues songs, this uncredited Blind Willie Johnson cover is also the longest studio recording in the band’s catalog and clocks in at just over 11 minutes.
Inspired by Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” this song is built around a clavinet figure courtesy of John Paul Jones and is an example of Zeppelin at their funkiest. It’s relentless groove and screaming guitars even helped it break into the Billbaord top 40 upon its release, peaking at #38.
A predictable but still deserved #1. “Kashmir” is Led Zeppelin at their most sonically expansive; a hypnotic guitar figure, Arabic melodies, synthesized horn lines and one of John Bonham’s most devastatingly simple, but heavy beats. All four members have expressed their feeling that the song captures Zeppelin at their best, and it has rightfully been a fixture of classic rock radio and was featured in every concert the band ever performed, following its release.
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