Monday, June 15, 2020

Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti (1975)

Release Date: February 24, 1975

Active Members: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham

Produced by Jimmy Page

Side One: Custard Pie; The Rover; In My Time of Dying

Side Two: Houses of the Holy; Trampled Under Foot; Kashmir

Side Three: In the Light; Bron-Yr-Aur; Down by the Seaside; Ten Years Gone

Side Four: Night Flight; The Wanton Song; Boogie with Stu; Black Country Woman; Sick Again

Led Zeppelin's 1975 double album Physical Graffiti marked a creative peak for the band, displaying a range of styles with valuable contributions from all involved. Everything that's great about Led Zeppelin can be found on this album, from their bombastic blues driven rock to mystical folk. About half of the songs were outtakes from previous albums, reworked and given new life on this fantastic record.

"Custard Pie" opens the record on a hard rocking note, their trademark blues on steroids featuring an exuberant harmonica solo by Plant. "The Rover" points the way to 80s metal with its vague Sci-Fi landscape and industrial sound. The eleven minute "In My Time of Dying" muses on youth and death, in another feat of epic powerhouse rock. "Houses of the Holy" is a more melodic track, a smooth listen and a come on to Satan's daughter adding a Gothic overtone. "Trampled Under Foot" was inspired by Funk, hard driving and aggressive. "Kashmir" became on of the definitive Zeppelin tracks, inspired by a desert drive Jimmy Page took through Morocco. Its hypnotic rhythms showed off the band's versatility as recording artists.

The second disc begins with the staggering "In the Light," which is more in the prog rock tradition with its synth driven rhythm celebrating pagan themes of nature worship, as if attempting to conjure some ancient magic. "Bron-Yr-Aur" is a soft acoustic folk song, serving as an interlude. "Down by the Seaside"  is another pastoral in the Neil Young mode, Plant's vocal is especially pleasant here. "Ten Years Gone" is an onslaught of surreal riffs, a distant cousin to "Kashmir." 

"Night Flight" is a more traditional rock song with more irresistible riffs. "The Wanton Song" talks of witchcraft, while "Boogie With Stu" is another hypnotic retro blues/rock featuring Ian Stewart on piano. "Black Country Women" hints at exhaustion with life on the road. The closing track "Sick Again" reflects on the sorrows of decadent life when surrounded by groupies. The backstage antics of Led Zeppelin are well covered in Hammer of the Gods by Stephen Davis.

The double album holds a certain mystique in rock history, the Holy Grail many bands aspired to. Physical Graffiti is one of the masterworks in that tradition, not weighed down by excess nor pretentiousness. The music speaks for itself.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Albums of 1972: Exile on Main Street

Release Date: May 12, 1972

Active Members: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts

Produced by Jimmy Miller

Side One: Rocks Off; Rip This Joint; Shake Your Hips; Casino Boogie; Tumbling Dice

Side Two: Sweet Virginia; Torn and Frayed; Sweet Black Angel; Loving Cup

Side Three: Happy; Turd on the Run; Ventilator Blues; I Just Want to See His Face; Let it Loose

Side Four: All Down the Line; Stop Breaking Down; Shine a Light; Soul Survivor

Recorded over a three year period in shifting locales including London, Paris (living as tax exiles), to L.A. Exile on Main Street has earned a reputation as the THE STONES album. One explanation for its legendary status could be that it marked the end of an era for the Stones and rock music. The changing musical landscape of the 1970s would allow for a multitude of varying reactions and counter-reactions to the 1960s, staging the cultural divides of the coming decades. Exile on Main Street stands as en enticing marker that's not yet frozen in amber, but suffused with an everlasting vibrancy. 

The album gets off to a rousing start with "Rocks Off", setting the tone for the album's themes: decadence, desire, ennui, exhaustion, and desperation. "Rip This Joint" and "Shake Your Hips" both get to the misty origins of rock and roll. "Casino Boogie" is a call back to the band's R&B roots. "Tumbling Dice" is a signature song on the record with memorable riffs and melodic background vocals. "Sweet Virginia" is drenched in blues and gospel with a memorable chorus - used to great effect in Rian Johnson's 2019 film Knives Out. "Torn and Frayed" was inspired by the country rock of Gram Parsons. "Sweet Black Angel" is a stealth political song, inspired by activist Angela Davis. Jagger's slurred hillbilly lyrics masking its commentary on racial justice. The first disc ends with the soulful balladry of "Loving Cup," not unlike what The Faces were doing at the time. Like any great Stones it builds to a splendid crescendo with a horn section and barrel house piano.

Keith Richards memorably took over on lead vocals with "Happy", a hypnotic rocker. "Turd on the Run," "Ventilator Blues," and "I Just Want to See His Face" form something of a suite and evoke the heady atmosphere from which the album sprang. "Let it Loose" and "All Down the Line" fit more into the classical Stones song category, great rock and roll that would be imitated over and over again."Stop Breaking Down" was written by blues legend Robert Johnson featuring the Stones doing their best to channel the blues. "Shine a Light" and "Soul Survivor" are a welcome one-two punch to end Exile on Main Street, leaving one with the sense of coming through a soul draining ordeal, maybe not yet redeemed, but still alive. 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers #1

Release Date: November 9, 1976 Members: Tom Petty (vocals, guitar); Mike Campbell (guitars); Benmont Tench (piano, organ); Ron Blair (bass);...