Exactly 40 years after its initial release on February 24, 1975, Led Zeppelin reissued their most epic album, Physical Graffiti, now in a deluxe extended version with outtakes, rough mixes, and previously unreleased tracks. With such amazing original cuts like “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Underfoot,” and “Kashmir,” listening to this HDtracks release is even more reason to immediately download it in all of its 96kHz/24-bit glory.
The Super Deluxe Edition has been remastered by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page. Originally a double album (and favorite of Robert Plant), it now has seven more tracks. It’s interesting, because the original recording sessions for Physical Graffiti contained too much material to fit on a single LP (ah, those were the days!), so the band added tracks that were unreleased in 1975, including what should have been the title track for 1973’s Houses of the Holy.
Let’s get into it song by song, from the top. “Custard Pie” is just good old-fashioned raunchy rock, as the title might suggest. Plant’s vocals are pulled back as always — remember, this album has been merely remastered, not remixed. There is an open, dynamic sound to the track.
That same openness is felt on the very opening of “The Rover.” The simplicity of this mix is still amazing after 40 years. The lack of processing on the drum track is refreshing — this is how drums should sound. Also notable is the athematic phasing on the guitar. This track never gained mainstream popularity, but it deserves to be listened to with fresh ears.
“In My Time of Dying” remains the longest studio track ever recorded by the band. It meanders somewhat self-indulgently, but the details in the effects of the vocals and guitar keep it interesting for all of its 11-plus minutes. And don’t worry — the studio banter remains at the very end. I’ve never been a fan of the distortion in the reverb on the guitars in the opening, but it works in this bluesy setting.
It’s amazing to think that “Houses of the Holy” didn’t make the cut for the album of the same name. Some think it’s because the band didn’t ever want title tracks on any of their albums. Others claim it’s because the sound is too similar to “Dancing Days.” Whatever the reason, it’s one of the strongest cuts on Physical Graffiti. Although it feels like it’s a complex time signature, the opening riff is just a wonderfully syncopated 4/4. It’s just so disappointing that the distortion that arrives three-and-a-half minutes into the track couldn’t have been cleaned up in this release.
“Trampled Underfoot” kicks off with what has to be the funkiest clavinet ever recorded by John Paul Jones — or anyone, for that matter — and the driving groove of this track never lets up its unrelenting power.
When I heard that Physical Graffiti was being remastered and re-released in high-resolution 96/24, “Kashmir” was the track that I was most anticipating. This lush, massively orchestrated track has inspired listeners since its initial release. It’s even better appreciated after listening to the additional rough orchestral mix included on this release. The song is epic, conjuring up visions of a world you can only imagine. The use of the orchestra is brilliant, turning violin strings and trumpets into power-chord rock instruments, and the 3/4 time signature overlying the drums’ 4/4 time adds to the mysterious, intriguing sound of the exotic track.
“In the Light” is probably the only track on the album that feels dated by today’s musical standards. The instrumentation has such a ’70s prog-rock feel that hasn’t stood the test of time as the rest of the album has. Dated keyboards, dated guitar sounds, dated echo effects. Hello, 1975. Glad to see you go.
By contrast, the beautifully recorded guitars of “Bron-Yr-Aur” that slide gracefully across the stereo soundstage are purely timeless, and a true joy to listen to now, as always. This track shouldn’t be confused with “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” from Led Zeppelin III, although both refer to a holiday cabin visited by the Page/Plant songwriting team.
“Down by the Seaside” is a pleasant nod to Neil Young’s songwriting style. How appropriate to listen to this track in a format thoroughly approved by Mr. Young.
“Ten Years Gone” opens with such power, beauty, and grace, summing up the best that Led Zeppelin is — simple sounds overlaid with powerhouse rock. John Paul Jones’ bass in the opening of this song is recorded perfectly. The strength of this recording is in the quiet of its silences. The guitar solos have a gentleness that’s not often seen from the band.
“Night Flight” feels like a track that was just included to expand the tracklist to fill out that additional album. It didn’t receive much airplay and was never performed live. With its abrupt beginning, it feels like the band didn’t care much about it either. Its most notable feature is mainly what it lacks: It’s one of the only Zeppelin tracks without a guitar solo.
“The Wanton Song” sounds remarkably similar to “The Immigrant Song” with its octave-jumping guitar riff. It features a pre-echo on the guitar, created by playing the tape backwards into an echo chamber and recording the result — quite a challenge for engineers. When doing this with an analog multitrack, you would flip the tape upside down so all the tracks would then be in different places. For example, what was on Track 4 was now Track 20, and you had better make sure the track you were recording that effect onto was indeed the right track.
“Boogie with Stu” is a studio jam with guest pianist Ian Stewart, The Rolling Stones’ then tour manager. It’s really just filler for that second LP, but it showcases the tremendous versatility and talent of the whole band. It’s silly, but it’s a great boogie-woogie track.
“Black Country Woman” is a folksy stomp that also feels like another throwaway, but it features a fabulous, huge kick drum that completely fills out the bottom end of the track.
Thankfully, the original album kicks it up again to conclude with “Sick Again,” a good, strong rocker about young groupies, albeit made a bit awkward because, at the time, Jimmy Page was allegedly dating a 14-year-old girl, Lori Maddox.
The first bonus track, dubbed “Brandy & Coke,” is an early mix of “Trampled Underfoot.” The panning, delays, and thinner EQ on Plant’s vocals are so distracting compared to the richly complex, yet clear sound on the original mix.
The early instrumental version of “Sick Again” is proof of the adage that less is more. This mix is so big and busy that it takes away from the rawness of the track. The distortion on the guitars is a bit much, and the phasing effect dates it, but it is interesting to see how the song progressed from this to the final cut.
It’s so interesting that the distortion in the reverb in the guitars on the opening of the rough mix of “In My Time of Dying” isn’t in the initial mix included on the re-release.
The intro guitars on this early mix of “Houses of the Holy” is so much less interesting than the final version. There is a fabulous, edgy quality to the guitars on the final mix that’s missing here. Same with the bass — it’s missing the attack that makes the song so driving. The final guitar solo, with its distortion, is missing from this mix too. The rough mix, however, has significantly more cowbell.
The most interesting inclusion on the deluxe version is “Everybody Makes it Through,” an alternate version of “In The Light” with different lyrics and a completely different feel. For today’s listener, it doesn’t feel nearly as dated. This version has a delicate orchestration — it still rocks out, but it’s more restrained, and, excuse the pun, has a lighter hand with instrumentation, lyrics, and mix.
The remix of “Boogie with Stu” from Sunset Sound is a good example of how different studios handle the same tracks. Both mixes most likely used live echo chambers to create the reverb on the vocals, but the sound of each is so distinctly different. It’s a bit heavy-handed on this mix, and not nearly as lively a sound on the rest of the instruments.
The final track is a rough mix with orchestra called “Driving Through Kashmir.” More than anything, getting another chance to critically listen to this epic undertaking is worth the price of the new album by itself. It’s not as polished as the final mix, but that merely shows off more of the complexities of the song.
While the extended version with its additional tracks might not be a value for some consumers — some may feel seven tracks are not a lot of bonus features — getting a remastered, high-resolution copy of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti as an archive should be. This is an album that any and every fan of rock and roll needs to have in their own personal vault, and the remastered version doesn’t stray far from the original vinyl. It’s most definitely a worthwhile endeavor to download this holiest of double albums.