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Led Zeppelin’s ‘Physical Graffiti’ gets better with age

When Led Zeppelin’s only double studio album, “Physical Graffiti,” debuted back in February 1975, it made nary a blip on my radar. As a 7-year-old, my interests leaned more toward Fantastic Four comic books and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” And any music I was exposed to was strictly AM radio fodder like Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” or the Captain and Tennille.

Ten years later, as a sophomore in high school, the mighty Zep was in regular rotation on the FM dial, especially on KEZE, “Spokane’s Best Rock.” And it didn’t take long for my musical frontiers to expand beyond Journey and Styx to the more dangerous sections at local record stores.

The trouble with Zeppelin, though, is that the band’s song titles rarely correlate with the tunes themselves. Led Zeppelin’s fourth album has “Rock and Roll” and “Stairway to Heaven,” so that was my first purchase, a $5.99 cassette bought at the then-downtown Hastings on Riverside. But I had no clue – DJs were little help – that the three-minute ditty that prominently features singer Robert Plant’s Viking wail of “ah-ah AH!” is titled “The Immigrant Song” and can be found on “Led Zeppelin III.”

By the summer of 1985, I had nearly every Zeppelin long-player, except for “Physical Graffiti,” which never seemed to be available used. And its nearly $17 price at the Division and Garland Mirage Records and Tapes seemed steep. But by then I’d figured out my favorite Zep song, the Middle Eastern-themed “Kashmir,” is the final song on record 1, side 2. The plan, as always, was to buy the LP and then tape it to cassette so I could listen to it in the car and on my Sony boombox.

While I quickly gravitated to side 2 – which also had the leftover “Houses of the Holy” from previous Zep recording sessions along with “Trampled Under Foot” and the aforementioned “Kashmir” – side 1 is no slouch. It opens with the stomper “Custard Pie,” followed by “The Rover” and closes with the epic “In My Time of Dying,” where Plant seems to spend a lot of time complaining about a toothache (at least to my ears).

The second disc, however, wasn’t something I really played much until I got older. While it alternates between the pensive (“In the Light,” “Ten Years Gone”) and the playful (“Boogie with Stu,” “The Wanton Song”) it initially seemed to lack the overall gravitas (and bombast) of the first slab of wax. In time, though, I’ve learned to appreciate its more subtle charms.

While most of my “Graffiti” miles were accumulated early on in a ’74 Ford Mustang II while driving between home and a parking space at Gonzaga Prep in the mid-’80s, I will gladly fork over my cash for the 40th anniversary deluxe reissue that came out on Tuesday. It’s not often you get the chance to be reintroduced to an old friend.

Mike Huffman is managing editor of the Spokane Valley News Herald. When not covering Valley City Council meetings, he’s yelling at his TV during Vancouver Canucks games while wearing Uriah Heep T-shirts without irony. If you have a Story of the Album, email carolynl@spokesman.com.