Sunday, February 24, 2013

Physical Gratification

In the drawer of my memory that is labelled 1975 there are three events that stand out when I look back on my 15 year old self: the release in February of Led Zeppelins sixth studio album Physical Graffiti, West Ham winning the F.A Cup and just a week later in the May of that year seeing Led Zep play one of their five Earls Court gigs.

The F.A Cup win against Fulham was very much expected, despite the fact that our West London opponents had the great Bobby Moore in their side, there was simply too much craft in the Hammers that day and having finally beaten Ipswich Town in controversial circumstances in a semi final replay we were the favourites. Two goals from Alan Taylor, our lucky charm that year having scored against Arsenal and Ipswich during the cup run, were enough to bring the old trophy back to the Boleyn for the second time in our history.

The Earls Court gig is less clear and it would be wrong to use some sort of poetic licence combined with listening to a bootleg recording of that night in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere.  The set list for the 18th May 1975 was: Rock and Roll, Sick Again, Over the Hills and Far Away, In My Time of Dying, The Song Remains the Same, The Rain Song, Kashmir, No Quarter, Tangerine, Going to California, That's the Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Trampled Underfoot, Moby Dick, Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, Black Dog.  The Rolling Stones at Knebworth concert the following year remains an almost perfect memory. I have four memories of the gig: the vastness of the Earls Court Arena, the sheer volume (Cockney Rebel at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens wasn't any sort of preparation for this!), the length of John Bonhams drum solo (Moby Dick) and nearly being killed by a can of lager that flew past my head in Earls Court tube station afterwards, although given that it had been thrown by a drunken Scot it could well have been a can of piss.

That leaves the release of one of the great rock albums, possibly the greatest ever double album, to ponder over.  We've become accustomed, in this era of CD, post-CD and downloads, for albums to be re-released in special editions, remastered with additional tracks, those tracks that weren't considered good enough for public consumption or simply because they couldn't fit them on two sides of vinyl.

For technical reasons vinyl was only able to handle albums that lasted forty four minutes when spread over two sides, go over forty four minutes and the bass dropped. The second reason for all the bonus tracks is of course commercial.

Physical Graffiti was born out of studio sessions in January and February 1974. Eight tracks: Custard Pie, Kashmir, In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, In The Light, Ten Years Gone, The Wanton Song and Sick Again clocked up an impressive fifty minutes too much for a single album but not enough for a double. The band then did what wasn't unusual at the time, they raided their own unreleased archives, what was unusual was that they weren't looking for one or two tracks but enough to facilitate the release of a double. The raid bore fruit with the following seven tracks: The Rover, Houses of The Holy, Bron-Yr-Aur, Down By The Seaside, Night Flight, Boogie with Stu and Black Country Woman.  

The album was the first to be released on the bands own Swan Song label and saw the light of day on 24th February 1975. The album cover itself is a genuine art artefact and if you are fortunate to own the original vinyl release (as I am) you can delight in 'playing' with the four covers and spelling out the albums title through the windows of 96-98 St. Mark's Place, New York.

The first seven tracks on the original vinyl album, all of side one (Custard Pie, The Rover, In My Time of Dying), side two (Houses of The Holy, Trampled Underfoot and Kashmir) and the opening track on side three 'In The Light' would all feature in my personal top ten Led Zep tracks, the last track of that list still has the power to make the hairs on the back of your hairs stand up. Of course the band have been criticised for most of the last forty five years for being derivative but who cares, listen to the riffs on those seven tracks and tell me you don't love white men playing the blues.

For a lot of Zep fans this is the album that marks the end of the love affair, when Presence was released a year later (after Robert Plant's serious car crash) it was hailed as the bands 'difficult' seventh album despite initially selling by the lorry load.

Almost thirty years later Physical Graffiti stands up as an example of a band at the zenith of their powers and in many ways it shows how much the world of music has changed and changed again. The band spent most of the year before and most of the year after the albums recording and release touring, the old days of tour, write, record, tour to promote, is something that seems to be coming back into fashion.

Whilst the album might not live up to its predecessors in terms of there being too many filler tracks it is still better than an awful lot of the competition, either contemporary or now the best part of forty years later.   


A Northern Bloke said...

A very good post, Paul. One of your best for a while. It would sit well in any decent newspaper.

I once bunked off school to get tickets to see Led Zeppelin in 1973. That was about as rock 'n' roll as I ever got!

Paul said...

Thanks Shy.

Span Ows said...

Agree, great post. Not much to add but I was couple of years behind. 76 to 78 memories of Bat out of Hell, Seconds Out, Genesis at Knebworth etc, not Led Zepp but my 'rock' age.

Paul said...

Thanks Span. I remember listening to Bat Out of Hell in a tent near Mont St Michel on my first holiday as an adult - when life seemed simpler and cheaper.

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