My first blog post with two of my favourite things in this world as subject matter. Led Zeppelin and vinyl. How on earth am I going to keep this short and to the point? Not to worry. To limit my obsessive old school rants and to embrace today’s modern commercial music I have arranged with Mr Vinyl, without a doubt the most professional online vinyl store in the business, to sponsor a few black circles now and then. The only problem is that I have free reign to choose the artists (*drum roll and the sound of crickets at night* ). Who am I kidding? It may only help to invoke my inner analogue muse. My first choice had to be Led Zep. Not just any album but the iconic Physical Graffiti, their sixth studio album, released on 24 February 1975. In 2014 the band launched an extensive reissue program of all nine its studio albums, each remastered by Jimmy Page. They also decided to open their vaults and share dozens of unheard studio live recordings. The remastered version of Physical Graffiti was released last month on the 40th anniversary of its release.
Before I drill down into specifics, its only fitting that I explain my love for the band first. Led Zep was a constant throughout my life and now I guess it’s my fountain of youth. Of course this is true of music in general, but Led Zep is different somehow. It embodies the memory of magical days, the past and present friends I hold dear, the women I fell in and out of love with, the good times, the heartache and the disappointments. The magic endures, especially when I visit the familiar places of yesteryear. Urban jungle or seaside drive, West Coast holiday town or desolate road – with Led Zep in the background, a trip becomes a journey. I don’t hear old seventies music. I hear a force majeure – the celebration of opposites and synergies. Mysticism, love, chaos, freedom, sexual bravado and brotherhood. It’s a kind of explosive transcendence guided by thundering drums, groovin’ bass lines, howling vocals and raunchy geeetar. I know its a great day when I listen to Led Zep and it sounds new and fresh to me. Even more so when I take one of their records out of its cover, slide it slowly out of the inner sleeve, place it on the platter,watch it spin for a while before the needle gently hits the record….and instantly I’m immersed in music…space and time…just… disappear.
In the nineties Gen X’s portal to the world of Led Zep was mainly through the Remasters Double CD released in 1990 (the mastering was also supervised by Jimmy Page). At every party in high school this CD was in the stack next to the CD player. I also remember watching the film The Song Remains The Same on video in the wee drunken hours while discussing politics,religion and other weird topics with friends. But very few Gen X kids collected entire discographies of bands. I remember Led Zep I-IV being on sale for R40 a CD at local music stores. For most of us this limited exposure was sufficient to call ourselves fans. Of course when MP3’s invaded the scene in the previous decade I downloaded more albums – but still not to the point of consciously wanting to absorb everything they’ve ever recorded. No, this was a fate bestowed upon me just over a year and a half ago when I became a vinyl addict. I have most of the studio albums in older press format – but sadly not this one yet. With the increase in vinyl collectors the past few years they’ve become hard to find.
In 1973, after a year of touring around the world in their private jet, living it up in excess with groupies and copious amounts of drugs, Led Zep began recording ‘Physical Graffiti’ at Headly Grange in East Hampshire. However, it was brought to an abrupt halt. John Paul Jones needed some downtime. The constant touring and ‘living on the edge’ lifestyle took its toll on Jones and his family. So the band went their separate ways for a while. The renewed creative ideas that led to the recording of the album were born out of three months of downtime and soul searching.
Led Zep wrote eight new songs for the album but it was too long for the typical length of a single LP. ‘In My Time of Dying’ and ‘Kashmir’ may have been the culprits. The former was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927 but “reinterpreted” by Led Zep. It’s an extremely haunting blues version and just over eleven minutes long. The arabesque and mystical anthem ‘Kashmir’, in turn, is just over eight minutes long and took almost three years to complete. It’s one of their most successful musical statements ever. From a modern perspective, the freedom they enjoyed to record albums sound almost made up – but it’s how they did things back then. The band decided to make ‘Physical Graffiti’ a double album by including unreleased outtakes from earlier recording sessions. No doubt this album is the last of the epic Led Zep studio albums. Before the entire empire began to unravel. If you don’t know the history you can start by reading ‘Trampled under Foot’ written by Barney Hoskyns. I promised to keep it short so I’m moving on.
The rest of the “new songs” like ‘Custard Pie’, ‘In the Light’ and ‘Trampled under Foot’, for instance, are all great songs but in my view the inclusion of the outtakes of previous albums in ‘Physical Graffiti’ led to its ultimate success. Jimmy Page admitted this in several interviews. The album represents quite a few years of creative development – a mix of blues,bluegrass, country, rock, reggae and middle eastern influences. It almost sounds like a greatest hits album. And this is how Gen X got to know Led Zep – diverse and already fully developed. My favourites are the outtakes from their 1973 album, ‘Houses of the Holy’. The title track intentionally left out to be used on the ‘Physical Graffiti’ album is pure classic Led Zep. The acoustic blues song ‘Black Country Woman’ was recorded outdoors in Mick Jagger’s garden – the recording engineer accidentally recorded an airplane flying overhead and you can hear Robert Plant laughing and saying “nah leave it”.Sigh…Artistic Freedom. And then ‘the Rover’, one of those typical wandering free spirit Led Zep tunes, with insane drumming and a killer riff.
The first thing people ask you when they hear you collect and listen to vinyl is“do they still make them?”. Oh yes, and boy do they still make them. I am a fan of the older pressings but when you’re looking for new music or you absolutely love a band (or many of them) or you struggle to find the older pressings, the “new” 180g pressings can give you just as much listening pleasure. There is a whole debate around which of these sound better. In laymen’s terms the “new” 180g vinyl is thicker and heavier then the older 120-140g pressings and it’s less prone to become warped over time. One would think that the new pressings would always sound better but that’s not always the case. The sound quality really depends on the original recording, the mastering and how the record was pressed. Of course the manner in which you looked after an older pressing over the years makes the world of difference.
The 40th Anniversary Edition of Physical Graffiti was released in three editions:
- The 2 LP Normal Edition replicating the original album,
- The 3 LP (Deluxe Edition) containing the original LPs plus one vinyl containing unreleased studio outtakes.
- And then for the serious collector the Super Deluxe Edition Box Set complete with the three LPs mentioned above, three CDs and a hardcopy book.
I play tested the normal edition remaster – what a joy it was opening the album jacket. It looks exactly like the original, consisting of the outer cover, two inner sleeves and a middle insert cover. The inner sleeves has various objects and people on each window. The middle insert cover is white with details of the album track listings and recording info. The windows on the outer cover is cut out, so when the middle cover is wrapped around the two inner sleeves and inserted into the outer cover, the title of the album Physical Graffiti becomes visible. I absolutely love this kind of artwork. It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store while unwrapping Christmas presents.
I may not be the ultimate audiophile but this album sounds superb on my system. I also have Led Zep I and II of this remastered series and its really mastered and pressed with quality in mind. In good time I will include most of the 3LP Deluxe versions in my collection as well.
If you learn to pace yourself collecting vinyl is the best hobby in the world. If only I can figure out how…….
If you want more detail check out the Mr Vinyl website: http://http://www.mrvinyl.co.za/shop/preorder-led-zeppelin-physical-graffiti-2015-remaster/