With the 40th anniversary and reissue of Physical Graffiti approaching next week, Jimmy Page previewed seven previously unreleased tracks from the album’s new deluxe version and answered fans’ questions Thursday in an exclusive Yahoo Live stream event from London’s Olympic Studios, the very place where the landmark double-album was mixed.
After fans were treated to first listens of such classic tracks as “Brandy & Coke” and the initial rough mix of “Trampled Under Foot,” as well “Driving Through Kashmir,” a rough orchestral mix of the album track, Page took questions from Mojo magazine editor Phil Alexander and fans on a wide variety of topics. Addressed in the hour-long chat was the writing and recording of the album, the inspiration behind its title and cover, meeting Elvis Presley, and how one particular track literally saved a fan’s life after he suffered a stroke a decade ago.
Dressed in all black with his gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, Page affably fielded the questions, tossing off revelations about the legendary album’s backstory and inspiration.
He revealed that Physical Graffiti differed from the veteran British band’s previous five albums, because the band finally had some time off from the continuous grind of recording and touring and entered the studio armed with plenty of material. “It never felt like a year off to me,” Page revealed. “People say, ‘You had time off,’ [but] I remember working… I was really excited, I was chomping at the bit to get in [the studio], because I had quite a lot of material that I wanted to bring to the party.”
Some of that material, such as early versions of such seminal tracks as “Houses of the Holy,” “In the Light,” and “Boogie With Stu,” can be heard on the deluxe edition’s bonus disc. As Page noted, “You can hear just how well we’re working as a band” on the demos.
The guitarist/composer/producer also noted that the fact that Physical Graffiti was the first release on Swan Song, Led Zeppelin’s own label, was also particularly gratifying. “It was cool to have your own label,” he said, “because you could have people on there you respected,” adding the label’s initial signings included Bad Company, the Pretty Things, and Dave Edmunds.
Page said the band having its own label also gave Led Zep creative freedom. “To actually have your first release [on your own label] and to get to the point when it was a double-album and the mother of all double-albums” was a thrill.
Along with the dramatic, world music orchestrations of “Kashmir,” Physical Graffiti also allowed the band to “get a little retro,” Page said, with such tracks as “Boogie With Stu,” “Down By the Seaside,” and “Night Flight,” all songs that had initially been cut during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV, “but clearly they couldn’t have replaced any of the songs on the fourth album.
Speaking of going retro, Page recalled when he and the rest of Led Zeppelin — singer Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham — had the pleasure of meeting Elvis Presley. “We got invited to his suite and we were all sort of sitting around there and he came in a connecting door and it was this fantastic moment, because we wouldn’t have been there without him. Elvis had just done so much. I was so aware of the fact of how brilliant he was, how incredibly he looked and his own musical vision. The stuff that he did with Scotty Moore and Bill Black just changed everything, didn’t it?”
The fans from around the world lucky enough to gain entry to the event at Olympic Studios appeared to be as thrilled to see Page as the members of the Led Zeppelin had been to meet the King — and a chosen few were given the opportunity to ask the Zep mastermind questions.
One women asked Page who came up with the album title and what it represents. “I’m only smiling because it’s me,” Page laughed. “I came up with the title.” He explained how he merged the two distinct words to form the title. “Around that point in time, there had been graffiti around London — not the sort of graffiti you see now, like hip-hop sort of graffiti; this was more slogans and things, like a quotation from William Blake.” When he presented the title to his band members, “there was no question about it. They got it. It was real physical music and it was graffiti in so much as you’re laying it onto the walls of the building you’re recording in… and also onto the magnetic tape, just physical thrusting.”
As for the album’s famous die-cut cover, Page explained the idea was an extension from the wheel that graced the cover of Led Zeppelin III. “The reality of that was that you’d never actually see everything that was on the wheel,” Page said. “I’m sure the record company sort of cursed the whole idea… It was a bit sort of mischievous saying, ‘Right, let’s try the same idea, but we’re going to make it a bit more user-friendly so you can actually see everything that’s on the inside.'”
Perhaps the most emotional part of the session came when a fan named Mark Harrison revealed to Page that the song “In the Light” helped him a decade ago when he was in the hospital after suffering a stroke. Page, visibly moved, said, “Thank you… it’s such an inspirational song. I have to give credit to Robert on that. The lyrics are just phenomenal.”
The deluxe edition of Physical Graffiti, due Feb. 24, is just the latest installment in the continuing Led Zeppelin reissue campaign. Still to come are Presence, In Through the Out Door, and Coda, which like the previous six releases will feature previously unreleased bonus tracks.
Of course, Alexander had to ask what sort of surprises we should expect on forthcoming releases, but Page wasn’t biting. “I sort of know what’s coming,” he said with a sly grin, “but I can’t tell you, because that’s the surprise.”