My very good old friend Ben has excellent musical taste. He is a Stones man, not a Beatles man but his knowledge of Dylan songs is brilliant and our duet of “Desolation Row” after a few pints of London Pride has to be heard to be believed. He recently told me that, in his opinion, “Physical Graffiti” is one the best albums ever and I have been very pleasantly surprised to listen to the variety on this double album. I thought it was going to be a bit one paced but the range of styles here is brilliant.
This album was released on 24th February 1975. I was at Royal Holloway College at the time and I kept a diary. Here are some of the things that I did on that day. I went to some boring Maths lectures in the morning. I lost 3-2 to Paul at squash in the afternoon. I ate scrambled eggs on toast in W444 for my evening meal. I went to folk club in the evening with Paul, Julie, Dave, Joy and Dave. Gay wasn’t well. There were two bands on – City Waites and Pugwash. I wrote that the concert was okay but went on too long. I got a lift back to my Hall of Residence from Ian Monk. Today I can’t remember anything at all about City Waites, Pugwash or, indeed, Ian Monk.
Up until yesterday, I have completely ignored all Led Zeppelin albums and barely know any songs apart from the obvious “Stairway To Heaven”, “Whole Lotta Love” and “Immigrant Song”.
John Paul Jones learned to play guitar by listening to jazz and blues musicians, including Big Bill Broonzy and Charles and Mingus. Despite this, his first big break came when he joined The Shadows after Jet Harris and Tony Meehan left. He then became a session musician and arranger – he worked out the string arrangement for “She’s A Rainbow”. I recently found a great YouTube clip of David Rawlings singing a song called “Going To California” on which John Paul Jones is playing mandolin. When reading about “Automatic For The People”, I saw that he worked out some of the excellent string arrangements for that album.
John Bonham died when he was thirty two having consumed forty shots of vodka in the preceding twenty four hours. At his Secondary Modern school, his Headteacher told him that he would end up as either a dustman or a millionaire. After his death, Led Zeppelin broke up.
Robert Plant’s haircut was just right when he was a young man and looks ridiculous on an older man. He has been a lifelong Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter.
Jimmy Page learned guitar by playing a mixture of folk, skiffle and blues. In an interview in “Guitar World”, he described the blues records he listened to as a teenager. “I had lots of favorites. Otis Rush was important. “So Many Roads” sent shivers up my spine. There were a number of albums that everybody got tuned into in the early days. There was one in particular called, I think, “American Folk Festival of The Blues”, which featured Buddy Guy: he just astounded everybody. Then of course, there was “B.B. King Live At The Regal”. The first time I heard any of these people – Freddie King or Elmore James – it just knocked one flat.” A number of songs on Led zeppelin records are derivative of much older blues songs and Jimmy Page’s first group membership was with Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. He is quoted as saying that “I wanted Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music.” Jimmy Page played guitar on hundreds of sessions in the Sixties including some of my favourite songs – “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Them, “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, “Tobacco Road” by The Nashville Teens etc etc etc…..
I certainly have to be in the right mood to appreciate rock music these days. Most mornings, I prefer to listen to Molly Tuttle or Kathleen Edwards but today this album is really resonating. There are fifteen tracks on the album and eight of them were recorded in early 1974, specifically for the new album. These songs are “Custard Pie”, “In My Time Of Dying”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Kashmir”, “In The Light”, “Ten Years Gone”, “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again” The members of Led Zeppelin realised that these eight tracks would fill three sides of an album and so they added material that had been left over from previous recording sessions to fill out a double album.
The longest track on the album is “In My Time Of Dying”, lasting over eleven minutes. I’ve played it six times today and I’ve really enjoyed it. Jimmy Page plays slide guitar and John Bonham’s drums are drenched in reverb. John Paul Jones plays a fretless bass. The song credits all four members of the band as composers. The song is derived from a traditional gospel music song (sometimes called “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed”) which was first recorded (but never officially released) by the Reverend J. C. Burnett, a Baptist minister from Mobile, Alabama, in 1925. (Presumably, whilst stuck there, he had the Memphis blues). Again. His version influenced Blind Willie Johnson’s version, also recorded in 1927. Charlie Patton recorded it as “Jesus Is A-Dying Bed Maker” in 1929 and Josh White used Charlie Patton’s version to record the song as “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed” in 1933. In 1962, Bob Dylan reworked Josh White’s version as “In My Time Of Dyin'” on his first album.
Here’s a picture I took at the site of the Dockery Plantation in Mississippi in 2004. The inscription says “Dockery Plantation. Established by Will Dockery in 1895 and operated 1937-1982 by Joe Rice Dockery. Included a post office, a commissary and cotton gin. The plantation once employed Charlie Patton, a legendary blues musician, who inspired such greats as Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, B.B. King and Elvis Presley.” They forgot to mention Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin.
“Trampled Under Foot” features John Paul Jones playing a clavinet which is an electrically powered clavichord. A clavichord is a medieval keyboard instrument. Keith Hill makes modern clavichords and he states that “At their very best, clavichords should have the sound of thought.” Right on Keith. Stevie Wonder made extensive use of a clavinet in many of his songs including “Superstition” and “Higher Ground”. Billboard described “Trampled Under Foot” as “the most commercial single that Led Zeppelin have put together in several years”. It is thrilling, in my opinion. The lyrics were inspired by Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” which uses a a classic car as a metaphor for a woman that Robert Johnson has cheated on. “Trampled Under Foot” also uses a car as a metaphor but the song is about giving in to sexual temptation. This song also gives the title to Barney Hoskins book about Led Zeppelin.
“Kashmir” is generally considered to be one of Led Zeppelin’s finest songs. Dave Lewis (semi-official chronicler of the band) has said “Unquestionably the most startling and impressive track on “Physical Graffiti”, and arguably the most progressive and original track that Led Zeppelin ever recorded. ‘Kashmir’ went a long way towards establishing their credibility with otherwise sceptical rock critics. Many would regard this track as the finest example of the sheer majesty of Zeppelin’s special chemistry.” The guitar riff is in triple meter and the vocal is in quadruple meter. Frank Peterson is a German music producer who has formed a group called Gregorian who perform chants of popular songs in a Gregorian style. Here is their version of “Kashmir”.
Producer Rick Rubin gave his opinion about “Ten Years Gone”: “A deep, reflective piece with hypnotic, interweaving riffs. Light and dark, shadow and glare. It sounds like nature coming through the speakers”. Robert Plant was asked about the lyrics in 1975: “Let me tell you a little story behind the song “Ten Years Gone” on our new album. I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, “Right. It’s me or your fans.” Not that I had fans, but I said, “I can’t stop, I’ve got to keep going.” She’s quite content these days, I imagine. She’s got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports car. We wouldn’t have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn’t relate to me. I’d be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I’m afraid. Anyway, there’s a gamble for you.” So she’s got a washing machine that works by itself? I bet that’s not the main reason she’s happy. You don’t have to admire a musician to appreciate their music. Consider Van Morrison. This is a lovely song which I can appreciate, even if I don’t especially like the story behind its composition.
I’m very pleased to have investigated this album. Discovering and writing about new music has been the one redeeming feature of the last six months.
Long may this isolation continue.