Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume. 

Zep fans, rejoice — PHYSICAL GRAFFITI HOT STAMPERS ARE HERE! We thought this day might never come. As you probably know by now, most copies of this album just plain suck!

After making some improvements in our evaluation process (minor tweaks to the room and the stereo, plus some new steps in our cleaning process) and — let’s face it — some seriously good luck, we’ve finally been able to track down a few killer copies of Zep’s monster double album.

If you’ve been waiting for The Ultimate Kashmir Experience, today is your lucky day.

Though we’ve known forever that many of you were eager for them, we just weren’t sure we’d ever have Hot Stampers for Physical Graffiti. There are a number of factors at play here. First off, you’ve gotta have a whole lot of copies around to do a shootout, and clean copies of this album sure ain’t cheap. When we’re doing a shootout for a title like The Stranger, Toto IV, or even Rumours, we can afford to pick up any nice-looking copy we see without breaking the bank. Not so with this one — minty copies don’t come cheap, and most of them sound so bad that it ain’t worth the risk.

Recently, we dropped the needle on a copy that had surprisingly good sound. We dug up every last copy in this place (organization not being one of our strong suits, this was a project in its own right!) and started checking them out. Most of them were as bad as we remembered, but a few of them hinted at the Zep magic we’ve been hoping for. We sent the best of the copies to the back for some serious scrubbing and got down to business.

Those Double Album Blues

Before I get into talking about the sonic merits of this particularly copy, I want to make one thing clear: some of this material is never going to be Demo Disc Quality. Many tracks are well-recorded and have the potential for superb sound, but as with virtually every double album there are a lot of loose ends here. That said, songs like In My Time Of Dying, The Rover, Houses Of The Holy, and Ten Years Gone can sound superb on the best copies.

Finally, The Real Physical Graffiti

You aren’t going to believe how amazing this copy sounds on all four sides. Sides one, two, and three all rate A+++ — that’s Master Tape Sound, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) and better than we ever imagined by a long shot. Side four is excellent, rating between A+ and A++, but wasn’t the best we heard in our shootout.

What do A+++ grades give you for this music? Incredible energy, jarring transparency and clarity, lots of big bass (though some songs, like Custard Pie just don’t have it) and presence like you wouldn’t believe. The vocals are full-bodied with lots of breath and texture, and the drums (of course) sound HUGE and REAL. The overall sound is punchy, lively, clean, clear, and amazingly full-bodied. The top end is silky sweet, the bottom end is meaty and tight, and there’s tons of ambience. A copy like this lets you separate and follow all the various multi-tracked and overdubbed parts on a song like Ten Years Gone — there’s a whole lot going on.

Other Options

Most domestic copies have smeary, subgeneration sound with way too much tape hiss and not enough energy.

By the way, I used to think the Japanese Analog Series was the king of the hill on this album. What a fool I was. As part of this comparison I played it again after lo these many years. It is ridiculously bright. “Frequently wrong but never in doubt” as the sages say. If you can turn down the treble it’s not too bad I guess. To anyone I sold the record to, my sincerest apologies. I do make mistakes, and that’s one of them.

The Classic is more tonally correct, but it’s dead as a doornail. Where’s the life? It’s not quite as bad as their Houses of the Holy, but it certainly ain’t one of their best either.