A Physical Graffiti retrospective DVD
Physical Graffiti: A Classic Album Under Review outlasts Led Zeppelin's magnum opus itself. Along for the ride are some very credible experts; while the DVD includes the narration of the BBC's Nicky Horne, commentary from author Dave Lewis and insight from engineer Ron Nevison, perhaps the biggest insights come from Chris Dreja.
The man who was originally a rhythm guitarist with the Yardbirds but switched to bass so that Jimmy Page could take over all guitar duties, Dreja speaks from an insider point of view as someone who knew firsthand what Page's intentions were with forming Led Zeppelin. He was, after all, along for the ride. He opted out, pursuing photography, and John Paul Jones stepped into the role. But could Dreja have been a member of Led Zeppelin? He gives a resolute answer in the negative:
"The Yardbirds would've never been Led Zeppelin. ... What the Yardbirds were was a wonderful breeding ground of crazy ideas and free form, and of course Jimmy absorbed all that from us. I don't blame him for taking them into the Zeppelin and making them tight and rock and heavy. It was an obvious thing for him to do, and he was lucky enough to find one of those rare things in the world. It's like the Beatles. There are so few bands that have that mix of players that just feed off each other and create [such a] unique sound. It's really rare, and I think Jimmy really hit the jackpot there."Also helping provide the context of the scene into which the album was released is a focus on the formation of Swan Song Records, on which the release of Physical Graffiti followed that of a disc by Bad Company. A live version of that band's title song included here rocks, and archival footage of live work from another Swan Song artist, Maggie Bell, shows how easily she could have been confused with Janis Joplin. Bell is also shown in modern day, speaking in her thick Scottish burr about her love of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant.
Led Zeppelin's label was doing well despite the group being treated poorly by the British press, an idea expounded upon by author Rikky Rooksby. He explains this was not necessarily a bad thing but probably a "healthy" attribute:
"I think one of the greatest things about the British critics is that we're not exactly cynical, but we do tend to take the attitude -- well, you know -- 'That was your last record. What matters is whether the next one's any good.' We don't allow people to rest on their laurels. We treat our sportsmen in the same way as [we treat] our rock stars, in that respect."The DVD then transitions into the analysis of all 15 songs in an order other than sequential but one that is logical to their presentation. Among the highlights to be found are the mentions of influences of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on "Down by the Seaside," Stevie Wonder on "Tramped Under Foot," and Bert Jansch on "White Summer" and, vicariously, "Kashmir." Each instance of an influence being mentioned gives way to an actual live performance of the material that inspired Led Zeppelin. While Lewis is praising "Sick Again" for its lyrical content, Nevison has a great revelation about a noise from which the song title is derived. Also featuring part of a performance of "Ten Years Gone" at the Knebworth Festival in 1979 that was left off of Led Zeppelin's official DVD in 2003, the enjoyable moments in this documentary are aplenty.
This disc, released in 2008, also includes a nice special feature with Nevison explaining how he came to work on the Who's Quadrophenia album and the Tommy movie soundtrack. Its inclusion here is due to connection between both the Who and Led Zeppelin using Ronnie Lane's mobile recording studio, which Nevison built and naturally engineered. Another special feature is a quiz based on material found on the DVD. I scored 22 out of 25 on my first try; can you beat me?