By the time Led Zeppelin released Physical Graffiti in 1975, they no longer needed to prove anything. “All of us knew that it was a monumental piece of work, just because of the various paths that we’d trodden along to get to this,” says the group’s guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, in one of the music rooms at London’s Olympic Studios where the double-LP was originally mixed. “It was like a voyage of discovery, a topographical adventure.”
After refining the band’s blend of heavy-hitting blues-rock and introspective English folk on their five previous records, Led Zeppelin made Physical Graffiti their victory lap. They were now successful enough to operate their own record label, Swan Song, and the album — their first offering on the imprint — was their lengthy battle cry. Clocking in at a little over 80 minutes, Physical Graffiti contained some of their hardest-rocking tunes (“The Wanton Song,” “Custard Pie,” “Houses of the Holy”), trippiest epics (“Kashmir,” “In the Light,” “Ten Years Gone”) and sweetest rock & roll diversions (“Black Country Girl,” “Boogie With Stu”). The record showed Led Zeppelin at both their most excessive and most impressive.
Now, along with the rest of Led Zeppelin’s canon, Page has given Physical Graffiti an overhaul — remastering the original LP and compiling an album-length bonus disc of alternate mixes and early sketches of the songs on the record. Some are subtle, like the understated rough mix of “Houses of the Holy” and overdub-free version of “Trampled Under Foot” (titled “Brandy and Coke”), and others are drastic, such as “Everybody Makes It Through,” a psychedelic draft of what would become the LP’s portal to other worlds, “In the Light.”
When Page recalls the first rumblings of the album, he remembers the excitement he felt about returning to Headley Grange, the 18th century English estate where the group had recorded its landmark fourth LP. “I knew what we could do at Headley Grange after having had such a rewarding and productive experience there before,” he says. “I knew the secrets of what could be done there.”
What was it about returning to Headley Grange that excited you?
I knew how we did the drums in the main hall for [the fourth album’s] “When the Levee Breaks.” And some numbers would come out of thin air, like for example the way “Rock & Roll” did on the fourth album and then on Physical Graffiti, “Trampled Under Foot,” which came out of thin air like that, just starting out of a riff. I was basically musically salivating on the way there. I was just looking forward to the whole process of everybody being there and just having a whole run at basically working out whatever material I had had or anyone else might’ve had.
You had written music at home prior to the sessions. Were you living in Aleister Crowley’s former estate at that point?
No, I wasn’t at Crowley’s house. I lived in the countryside in Sussex, and it was a really interesting house. At the top of the house, I had a multitrack studio put in, and it gave me a chance to work on textures. I had the whole of “Ten Years Gone,” all of the guitar orchestration, prepared in that house. I came up with “The Wanton Song” and “Sick Again,” and I had the whole concept of the “Kashmir” basically there.