The recording sessions for Physical Graffiti initially took place in November 1973 at Headley Grange in East Hampshire, England. For these recordings, the band used Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio. However, these sessions came to a halt quickly and the studio time was turned over to the band Bad Company, who used it to record songs for their debut album, Bad Company. In an interview he gave in 1975, guitarist and album producer Jimmy Page explained the reason for this abrupt cessation of recording:
It took a long time for this album mainly because when we originally went in to record it, John Paul Jones wasn't well and we had to cancel the time... everything got messed up. It took three months to sort the situation out.
However, according to Led Zeppelin archivist Dave Lewis:
It later emerged that Jones had wanted to quit the band and take up a position as choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral. Peter Grant urged caution, suggesting that Jones was overwrought from the incessant touring and should take a rest from Zeppelin for a few weeks. Jones changed his mind and sessions resumed at Headley Grange after the Christmas holidays.
Once they had reconvened, the band recorded eight tracks at Headley Grange in January and February 1974, which were engineered by Ron Nevison. Singer Robert Plant later referred to these eight tracks as "the belters":
We got eight tracks off... and a lot of them were really raunchy. We did some real belters with live vocals, off-the-wall stuff that turned out really nice.
Similar to the sessions for the previous two albums, the decision to record at the informal surroundings of Headley Grange provided a welcome opportunity for the band to improvise and develop material along the way. As Plant commented:
Some of the tracks we assembled in our own fashioned way of running through a track and realising before we knew it that we had stumbled on something completely different.
Because the eight tracks extended beyond the length of a conventional album, it was decided to include several unreleased songs which had been recorded during the sessions for previous Led Zeppelin albums. The instrumental "Bron-Yr-Aur" was recorded in July 1970 at Island Studios, London, for Led Zeppelin III. It was named after Bron-Yr-Aur, a cottage in Gwynedd, Wales where the members of Led Zeppelin spent time during the recording of Led Zeppelin III. "Night Flight" and "Boogie with Stu" were recorded at Headley Grange and "Down by the Seaside" at Island Studios, all for Led Zeppelin IV. "The Rover" and "Black Country Woman" were recorded at the same sessions as "D'yer Mak'er" at Stargroves using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in May 1972. "Houses of the Holy" was also recorded in May 1972, but at Olympic Studios. The group's fifth album, Houses of the Holy, took its title from this song despite the decision not to include the song on that album. Page explained:
We had more material than the required 40-odd minutes for one album. We had enough material for one and a half LPs, so we figured let's put out a double and use some of the material we had done previously but never released. It seemed like a good time to do that sort of thing, release tracks like "Boogie With Stu" which we normally wouldn't be able to do... his time we figured it was better to stretch out than to leave off.
According to engineer Nevison, the decision to expand the album to include songs from previous sessions was not part of the original planning:
I never knew that Physical Graffiti was going to be a double album. When we started out we were just cutting tracks for a new record. I left the project before they started pulling in songs from Houses of the Holy and getting them up to scratch. So I didn't know it was a double until it came out.
Additional overdubs were laid down and the final mixing of the album was performed in October 1974 by Keith Harwood at Olympic Studios, London. The title "Physical Graffiti" was coined by Page to illustrate the whole physical and written energy that had gone into producing the set.
Read more about this topic: Physical Graffiti
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