In the mid-seventies Led Zeppelin had reached their second artistic zenith and documented this in a unique way with "Physical Graffiti", the band's only double album. Until today it is Robert Plant's favourite record with the group, probably also because the formation before and after has never been more expressive and multi-faceted. Released on February 24, 1975, "Physical Graffiti" was the first record in rock history to achieve platinum status through pre-orders alone.
Already in November 1973 Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham had retreated again to Headley Grange in rural Hampshire to work on the successor of the enormously successful "Houses Of The Holy", which was released in the same year. But the sessions in the former poorhouse did not go according to plan at first. Jones didn't feel well, it was said in the first statements on the part of the band, only later it leaked out that the decision had matured in the bassist and keyboarder to leave the band and take the post of choir director in the cathedral of Winchester instead. "I've had enough of the tours, so I marched to Peter Grant and said I'll go if certain things don't change," Jones remembers. The iron-hard manager was willing to compromise in this case and promised the quiet family man Jones, among other things, not to send the band on tour during the school holidays in England anymore.
In the meantime Grant had just conjured up a Plan B out of his hat and left the already booked premises to his new Baby Bad Company, who produced their debut there. In June 1974 "Bad Company" was the first album to be released by Led Zeppelin's newly founded label Swan Song Records (originally "Swan Song" had also been discussed as a title instead of "Physical Graffiti"). "We had already rehearsed like the insane," says Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. "When Peter Grant offered to record in Headley Grange, we recorded the album like in a frenzy."
For the company logo of Swan Song Records, which finally guaranteed the band complete artistic freedom after a five-year contract with Atlantic, they used a slightly modified version of the painting "Evening: Fall Of Day" (1869/70) by US artist William Rimmer. But what at first seemed like another ego trip of the duo Page/Grant developed into an unexpected success story in a relatively short time. The four Swan song artists (alongside Led Zeppelin and Bad Company Maggie Bell and The Pretty Things) made it into the US top 100 within a year; Bad Company took the lead with both their debut and their first single "Canʼt Get Enough". "We didn't start the label to make a few more bucks," Page explained. "It's about advancing other good bands that had lousy contracts until then."
Ronnie Lane instead of Rolling Stone
So after a few weeks of reflection Jones was back on board and in January '74 Led Zeppelin resumed work at Headley Grange. Instead of the Rolling Stone Mobile, which the band had used for the three previous albums, Ronnie Laneʼs Mobile Studio was parked this time on the meadow in front of the property (probably also for cost reasons). In addition to "Anyone For Anymore" (1974), the first solo album by ex-Faces bassist Lane, Eric Clapton's "Rainbow Concert" (1973), three gigs for Rory Gallagher's "Irish Tour ʼ74" (1974) and Rick Wakeman's "Journey To The Center Of The Earth" (1974) were recorded. And Bad Company had already taken advantage of the services of sound engineer Ron Nevison and the studio truck that he co-developed. Only guitarist Jimmy Page moved into a room in the still unheated Headley Grange during the recordings, while his colleagues preferred the accommodation in the snug, picturesquely situated country hotel Frencham Ponds in the immediate vicinity.
The Zeppelin's pace of work was amazing. For most of the eight new songs he only needed one or two takes. Enough time for the usual seventiesRockʼnʼRoll madness: Animals populated the house, flares were shot down, and a roadie set John Bonham's brand new BMW against a wall. The drummer made death threats, and the poor guy had to hide in a closet for 36 hours. "The band considered themselves invulnerable back then," recalls sound engineer Benji LeFevre, who was also involved in the recordings and six and a half years later would find Bonham dead in Jimmy's Pagesʼ apartment.
But on closer inspection, the first signs of dissolution were already noticeable. So Bonham tried to smuggle over a thousand pills of Mandrax tranquilizer to the receptions by gluing them onto the inside of the drum skins. A clever idea, as the drummer, who is more and more prone to outbursts of rage, said. However, his roadie pointed out that his drums were made of Plexiglas, so they were not opaque. At that time it was not easy to be Bonham's roadie. There were often unannounced fist blows on top for free.