Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album Physical Graffiti, against all odds (being a double album) was one of the most successful Led Zeppelin albums ever. The album was released in 1975 and it has gone 16 x platinum in the United States alone! The name for the album was inspired by a second hand clothing store located in the basement of 96 St. Mark’s Place – the store was called “Physical Graffiti”.
Physical Graffiti’s cover photo, designed by Peter Corriston features a stylised photograph of a New York City tenement block of two five-storey buildings located at 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place in New York City. Corriston shot the five-story buildings as they were, but in order to fit them properly for the cover art he had to crop out the entire fourth floor; so eventually the album cover shows four stories instead of five. Corriston also did some notable work on some famous Rolling Stones album covers such as Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You, for which he won a Grammy Award in the category of ‘The Best Album Package’.
Mike Doud, the cover artist of the inner sleeve received a Grammy nomination for The Best Album Package in 1976. He would later go on to win a full Grammy for Supertramp’s Breakfast in America in ‘The Best Album Cover’ category in 1980.
Mike Doud’s original design included a total of four different cover versions enabled by clever usage of the windows on the building. Doud made two different inner cover designs (one for each LP) which showed different images in the cut outs of the windows on either side; this produced the four different visuals for the cover depending which way you inserted the inner sleeves.
According to a favourite Rock ‘n Roll fable Jimmy Page invited George Harrison to a wild dinner party one night in Los Angeles. For the party Page, Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin’s legendary road manager, Richard Cole did some cross dressing with borrowed clothing from their groupie friends. Some pictures taken at this event were eventually used on the inner sleeves of Physical Graffiti.
The other window images feature famous events and people, such as John F Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, astronaut Neil Armstrong, actress Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth I and comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The song lists were printed on a separate sheet, and when inserted inside the outer cover the title of the album was shown through the cut out windows spelling out the name ‘Physical Graffiti’.
Who is the guy on the cover?
One of the frequently asked questions about the the Physical Graffiti cover is “Who is the bearded guy sitting on the steps?” There are a few suggestions, one being that the person was just a regular tenant living in the building at the time. Another theory suggests that he is the same guy who is the hermit in the cover of Zeppelin’s fourth album. The third, and the most realistic explanation is that he is actually John Bonham. He is holding a black dog in his arms, which creates a clever mental link to one of the most famous songs on Led Zeppelin IV.
In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine placed Physical Graffiti at no. 70 on the The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and it is featured in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Waiting on a friend
Incidentally, the same Mark’s Place buildings were also featured as back drop on a Rolling Stones music video ‘Waiting on a friend’.
Houses Of The Holy
One of the strangest quirks in rock album history is that the song called ‘Houses Of The Holy’ is not featured on the Led Zeppelin album called Houses Of The Holy, but instead on this one, Physical Graffiti.
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