By Bryan Stengel
On Feb. 24, rock band Led Zeppelin’s 1975 double-album, “Physical Graffiti,” will be the next recognized LP to get a supreme- package release, joining reissues of the band’s first five albums last year.
Like the previous reissues, this deluxe album will be available in a range of formats, from a simple re-mastered two-disc collection, to a super deluxe box on both CD and vinyl, containing a 96-page hardcopy book, download card, and art print. It’s understandable that former Zep groupies or those who practice monthly “Zepethons” would probably add this package to their rock shrine. Is it too late for the younger generations to start embracing “Zepplemania?”
In 1968, while The Beatles’ hit “Hey Jude” peaked on the Billboard Top 100, Zeppelin’s lead guitarist, Jimmy Page, held the band’s first rehearsal. After a couple of minutes, he realized the magic that started to brew beneath floorboards of a record store on London’s Gerald Street, where the band was practicing. The story goes that the band played just one number, “Train Kept a Rolling,” and immediately the creative energy was there. The raunchy guitar riffs bellowing out
of Page’s Gibson instantly complimented Robert Plant’s limitless vocal range, raising their talents to new heights where only giants could see. Drummer, John Bonham, and bassist-keyboardist, John Paul Jones, also rightfully played a critical part in the accomplishments of the band. For the band, they needed polarization to be in sync, and their diverse backgrounds miraculously brought them closer together.
Each of these musicians had an unusually rich and varied archive of influences to draw from. While many British rock bands seemed to focus on more traditional, one-dimensional visions, Zeppelin had a privy guitarist whose prowess feasted on anything from hard blues to Indian music. Zeppelin’s vocal front man from Birmingham, Robert Plant, tackled anything from soul to west coast psychedelic during his local pub gigs.
Later on, Plant would drop lyrical nods to J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in Zeppelin songs, some a bit more obvious than others. From the 1969 Led Zeppelin II album, the song, “Ramble On” clearly references the epic trilogy when Plant screams, “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, but Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her.” Even the best Zeppelin song of all-time, – despite what Rolling Stone claims – “Stairway to Heaven,” plays with “LOTR” words.
Last year, when Page began to unearth the collection of Zeppelin albums, he knew that this music would never be cast off into musical Mordor, and still retains a viable omnipresence in the genre of rock-and-roll to this day. Now, with its 40th anniversary and reissue approaching, “Physical Graffiti” will remind audiences just how creatively risky the band really was. This album could even be regarded as the one “synopsis” album of the Zeppelin discography, featuring a palate of their signature music styles over the years.
One of “Graffiti’s” songs, “Ten Years Gone,” refers to the story about a pre-Zeppelin Plant making music, and a lover of his trying to pull him away from that. As Plant recalls, she bluntly says, “It’s me or the fans.” Fast-forward 50 years later, Plant is still performing live and headlining for major festivals, including at this year’s Bonaroo and Sasquatch, while Page continues to elevate the rhythmic pulse of Zeppelin and Paul Jones tours with Dave Grohl under the super group title, Them Crooked Vultures. When you look to the west, the late Johnny “Bonzo” Bonham could be seen driving the beat, and providing the backup vocals to Joe Crocker’s cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
The reissued “Physical Graffiti” drops on Feb. 24.