Then there was the odd press interview with 'Planty', scattered music business gossip about the perennial Problems With The Next Sleeve and, of course, the exceptionally nebulous Film. There'd been all that brouhaha concerning the confusion over Zeppelin's expected headlining of the Knebworth "Bucolic Frolic", plus the odd live foray for selected members to act as backup band to the concerned anxieties of Roy Harper.
All this, though, was little more than mere column inch trailers for the 1975 Led Zeppelin blitzkrieg, when Physical Graffiti, the new double album, was to be taken out of its wraps after sufficient de rigeur shifting of release dates and the final announcement of The Tour.
As I said the hype - don't worry, the word's tossed away its perjorative suggestions by now - really started to get its chops together some six months back. The pre-Raphaelite features, always implanted with a suitable nerve-end tingling sense of Little Boy Lost psychosis, of none other than Jimmy Page himself occasionally began manifesting themselves at only the most select music business receptions, including a brace set up to herald the launching of Zeppelin's very own Swan Song label, with his persona being more concretely glimpsed in a series of "in depth" interviews with the British music press, including an exclusive review of Graffiti in New Musical Express.
And so, at the time of writing, Physical Graffiti is the number one album on both sides of the Atlantic - with all five of its predecessors having ridden its slip-stream back into the US charts - and a melange of 120,000 downer freaks, Satanists For An Evening, and the finest society creatures New York can provide, replete with the constant nasal sniffles that made 1974 the year it was chic to have a constant cold, have made Zep SRO at six concerts in the New York area whilst in Britain some fifty thousand tickets for the band's Earls Court gigs disappeared in the morning it took to collect the money. And, broken finger or no, Jimmy Page is still capable of wrenching a twenty-five minute 'Dazed And Confused' out of his Gibson as Zeppelin plough the States into the ground with their three hour sets.
You see, when it comes down to the simple, cold basics of their being indubitably one of the most successful rock bands in the world - along with the Stones, Jethro Tull, probably the Who, and Elton John, if he's permitted into the category - Led Zeppelin's constant conquest of their equally constantly expanding market comes across as quite dauntingly militaristic in its strategy. Okay, this time round it's that much bigger and that much more grandiose and, therefore, open for much closer examination against the naked lightbulb, but that's down to sheer financial evolution, and evolution which, in terms of sheer presence osmosed, may just possibly have Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham not even letting Jagger and Keith Richard - come on, you know that Charlie and Bill don't even arrive at "Go" - within spitting distance in the rock mystique stakes as dark leaders of the Rock Youth Generation (sic).
In late 1968, though, when Zeppelin formed, only Page had a reputation, and that limited primarily to his having played with the Yardbirds and, it was rumoured and subsequently discovered to be correct, having played guitar sessions on the Who's 'I Can't Explain' and early Kinks' records. When it came to straightforward mystique building, however, the band were already holding a useful piece of charismatic addendum in their manager, Peter Grant, fresh from the then burgeoning Great American Downer Circuit with the Jeff Beck Group Featuring Rod Stewart. With Grant's reputation as a rock business heavyweight plus the weight of Atlantic Records (who'd signed Jimmy Page while still in the Yardbirds, confidently expecting him to produce a class hard rock act) behind them Led Zeppelin and the States - despite quite horrendous putdown reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone - achieved a rapid and easy empathy via a series of particularly gruelling tours based around their first two albums (Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II released in early and late 1969) had seen the Led Zeppelin machine rampage around the country like picaresque electronic buffaloes on speed.
And so Led Zeppelin became the first British band to utilise the now blase management post of ensuring feedback from the States filters through the British media and breaks the act back home. In 1970, with only the merest handful of British dates behind them, Zeppelin replaced the disintegrating Beatles as top band in the Melody Maker poll.
For a re-run of the show with a different cast see Bad Company, whose Peter Grant-engineered worldwide success has been so instant it makes the Led Zeppelin languid quasi-obscurity to private Lear Jet status seem positively slap happy.
Peter Grant talking to Lisa Robinson in Creem magazine: "There must have been about 28 or 30 odd sharks that were caught by the band once, and they stacked them up in the wardrobe closet. So, when the maids came in...they opened the door and an avalanche of sharks came tumbling out."; Jimmy Page waxing forth authoritatively on the scuzzy ladies of the road in the Rolling Stone "Groupie" issue and being served up on a room service cart to a gaggle of groupies by John Bonham dressed as a waiter; Page telling Ellen Sanders in her book, Trips; Rock Life In The Sixties: "If you humiliate them a bit they tend to come on all right after that."
"Road Fever", as it has now been dubbed by the band. If there's a certain arch sense of style in Zeppelin's "Road Fever" it's because their offstage lifestyle echoes their musical output probably more than that of any other band. In the case of bands like the Faces, hotel-wrecking would appear to be little more than a thinly disguised variant of football hooliganism. Led Zeppelin's music, however, positively drips with sensory and sensual blasts (it's perhaps not a matter of complete trivia that this magazine's occasional sci-fi writer compares 'Black Dog' on the Runes album to "a snort of cocaine". Well, that's as maybe.) overlaid by a mystique woven together with sexual ferocity, rampaging energy, and, most important, an acute aura of power.
Sceptics can wander away for a moment whilst we hear Jimmy Page talking to Nick Kent in the New Musical Express four months ago: "What you put out you get back again all the time. The band is a good example of that simply because there's an amazing chemistry (my italics) at work there, if only astrologically.
"Astrologically it's very powerful indeed. Robert's the perfect front man Leo... John Paul Jones and I are stoic Leos, Bonzo the Gemini. It's when you're pushing each other to the limits that the strength of the chemistry comes out and makes itself manifest in this binding of the consciousness."
Just perfect really: Robert Plant, the onstage whirling dervish exponent of the primal rock and roll caterwaul; Jimmy Page, with all the appropriate guitar hero angles guarded, hurling out exploding shimmering shifting needle run soloes or overlaying fine-mesh chords; John Paul Jones, who exudes "ex-session man" far more than Page to an extent that both on stage and off he's the most anonymous member of the band, though it frequently sounds as if Jones' constantly shifting bass work is the wound-up mainspring around which most of the band's music is formed; and John "Bonzo" Bonhan, who is most certainly not - as has been frequently suggested - a mere lead-fisted drum-skin pummeler but who, as a considered aural gander to 'Moby Dick' on the second album attests, demonstrates a knowledge and sense of dynamics - delicately stressed "dynamics" are spread throughout Led Zeppelin's music - in his use of tom-toms that allows him to become, for this listener, the only drummer apart from Ginger Baker capable of delivering a drum solo that is more than merely tolerable.
Yeah, Plant and Bonham remain ensconsced with their considerable richesse up in the Black Country, still prepared to nip down to the local and assimilate the odd portion of that urban industrial flash that squats fairly and squarely over the band. John Paul Jones - well, true to form, little is known about Jonesy's off-stage activities.
But Pagey... Well, Scaduto'd have the time of his little life with Jimmy Page. Screw Jagger and Richard and "Sympathy For The Devil". I mean, take in this charming stream of consciousness from a reasonably comatose freak in the queue for the Earls Court gig tickets: "Yeah, Page, man... Into a lot of weird things. You know, in love with the Devil and lot of heavy shit like that. Like, you know all those naked chicks crawling over those rocks on the Houses Of The Holy cover? Yeah, well I met this geezer who said they sacrificed them all afterwards and then they... "
And on and on, ad tedium.
Fact: Page owns the Loch Ness mansion that once belonged to Aleister Crowley, "sex magician" (sic), supposed monster, cocaine freak, and more than mere dabbler with the occult. Page has recently opened The Equinox, a shop in Kensington dealing solely in books on the occult.
Page on Crowley (again talking to Kent in NME): "I don't want to do a huge job on Crowley or anything - that doesn't interest me in the least. I mean, if people are into reading Crowley then they will and it'll have nothing to do with me. It's just... well for me, it goes without saying that Crowley was grossly misunderstood... "
"I mean, how can anyone call Crowley the world's most evil man - and that carried over to the thirties when Hitler was about?
"For a start, he was the only Edwardian to really embrace... Not even the New Age so much as simply the 20th Century. It's like... there's this incredible body of literature - I mean, don't even bother with the sex thing because that's all such a bore anyway - and it's like... there's a diamond there to be found at the end and it involves a life's study."
Page has also written the soundtrack for film director and Crowley afficianado Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising. Kenneth Anger, cohort of Robert, Kenneth "Bobby" Beausoleil (aka Cupid, Jasper, Cherub, etc.) who was involved in the Hinman murder, a particularly gruesome side plate to the Tate and LaBianca killings, and a member of the Charley Manson (aka Jesus Christ, the Devil, etc.) deranged wolf pack. Who just may have been connected with some LA madman who set out to off Page when the band was journeying through the city couple of years back. Which isn't just a trite matter of rock and roll scam.
Page on those little fun and games: "People thought there may have been some connection but... there's a lunatic fringe, whether they're Christian or Satanists or whatever. It's too risky, because they're out there. It's not a karmic backlash or anything like that... There have been lots of little magic happenings but nothing that has really perturbed me."
Which is where we re-enter the omni-present power of the Led Zeppelin machine. First, though, a word or two about Led Zeppelin as the supposed quintessential heavy metal quartet.
Wherever I glance in my scavengings to plagiarise the merest hint of a lynchpin on which to hang some thorough rock and roll catch-all on the band, I come across Led Zeppelin being hastily tucked away under the door-mat marked Heavy Metal. What's so downright frustrating is that I constantly find Zeppelin in there placed as the best of a bunch of unrelieved butcher-block tedium merchants saved only momentarily by the outrageous musical kitsch perpetrated by Ozzie Osbourne and his three chums in the name of Black Sabbath.
Listen, which schmuck was it that first perpetrated the notion of Led Zeppelin as Heavy Metal alchemists?
In actual fact, the Zeppelin power cuts an energizing force-field across every one of the fifty-nine tracks the band have released on six albums over the past six years (almost as long as the Beatles were recording together, you may care to consider), transmuting the sound from the standard crass bass, drums and lead guitar cranium crushing, a la Black Sabbath, to a point where, to a lesser or greater degree, every single one of those fifty-nine cuts is built up via a series of near-cerebral musical collages - gear-shifting comes mainly courtesy of John Paul Jones, on keyboards as well as on bass, with Page's erudite skill as both guitarist and as producer cloaking the changes.
The "Heavy Metal" tag - American writer and Blue Oyster Cult co-producer Sandy Pearlman lays claim to having originate the term, though any reader of Burroughs' Nova Express would find that a tad suspect - would seem to have been slapped onto Zeppelon after it became fallaciously understood that the band were the true successors to Cream, the pioneers of the extended completely out-of-sync jam.
Right now, though, is not the time to get into the polemics of the limp and generally insubstantial sound of Cream's records (in contrast to the demonic, monomaniacal, flesh-flaying onslaughts of the first three Hendrix albums) and it's something of a relief to discover Charles Shaar Murray writing of Led "(They) recorded a handful of currently unsurpassed statements in the genre before vacating the field to others in favour of more challenging and creative endeavours."
Sure, 'Communication Breakdown' on the first album is two minutes twenty-six seconds of definite, heavy metal and 'Whole Lota Love' from Led Zeppelin II utilises the basics of the genre to emphasise the ultimate cock-rock song (It's sheer bilge to suggest - as have a couple of noted American writers - that Zeppelin transcend the sex in rock music schmear. Jesus, what about the none too subtle veneer of sexual finesse implied by the band's early phallic logos, without even considering them as prime lemon squeezers), but 'Communication Breakdown' is immediately preceded by 'Black Mountain Side', an, er, whimsical acoustic number resembling Pentangle jamming with Wee Tamera Incredible String Band.
And then, of course, without even considering the demented blues chewing that permeates all six albums, there's Led Zep III, originally intended as a completely acoustic album, and still bristling with acoustic and semi-acoustic cuts like 'Friends', 'Tangerine' and the fine tissue semi-acoustic underlay of 'That's The Way', highlighting the frustrated Neil Young side of Plant. (See also 'Going To California' on Runes and 'Down By The Seaside' on Physical Graffiti.) Then, of course, there's the two classic Zeppelin variants on weepie ballads -'since I've Been Loving You' on Led Zeppelin III and 'Stairway To Heaven' on Runes...
Which kind a leads us into the corner I've been headed for the past six hundred words or so: Led Zeppelin as pure and simple rock and roll band with added contemporary technical facilities - it's so obvious you almost miss its being pinpointed on the actual cut 'Rock And Roll'.
Simple rock and roll band with added contemporary technical facilities plus black colourwash and dark power mystique cross-cutting as a pure energising force between the four members and their audience, to put it at its... err... simplest - my first reaction after one play of Physical Graffiti was to recoil into an acute sense of discomfort set up by the sinister menace and aggression of the raw nerve aural scraping that sets itself up against your sensory overload system before the album strides into its cohesive whole.
And when it comes to the much bitched about quasi-mystical spirit of '67 Plant lyrics... Well, that's just picking hairs.
"People are strange when you're a stranger/Faces look ugly when you're alone." The writer of those little pearls (Jim Morrison, if it's really necessary) managed to end up being put in the section allocated for 'poets' in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Discussion of Plant's lyrics ends.
But you detest Houses Of The Holy, don't you? You know, the fifth and "critically controversial" Zeppelin record - the one that most of us initially figured as the band hitting the proverbial pits. We-ell, Physical Graffiti kind of alters the perspective on that one just a tad. Take a listen to Page's vibrato descending chord runs splattered liberally about the new album. Now try out a concentrated earful of the spectacular Grand Entrance to 'The Song Remains The Same', track one of Houses Of The Holy. See what Zeppelin were up to? And all that supposed lacklustre mellowness of Houses Of The Holy? Well, on Physical Graffiti it mutates into the more convincing "laid back" stance of 'Kashmir' and 'Bron-Yr-Aur'. One begins to become just a little convinced that rather than being some stillborn brainstorm, Houses Of The Holy is an album of gestating consolidation - in fact, the crucial album in any gifted band's career which, so long as it'scarried through to maturity, does have the tendency to slide them up to greatness.
Sergeant Pepper proved more than the Beatles could handle; the Stones have already twice transcended the dilemma with Satanic Majesty and Exile On Main street; and, although it'll take a solid six months of familiarising myself with it, it does just seem on the cards that by the end of the year Physical Graffiti will be beginning to exude as much of that nebulous "greatness" that clusters around the likes of Blonde On Blonde, Beggars Banquet and Revolver.
"The Beatles battled the Stone in a parking lot and Led Zeppelin won," remarked Lisa Robinson.
She just may be right.
© Chris Salewicz 1975
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