On February 24th, 1975, Led Zeppelin’s double studio album Physical Graffiti was unleashed upon the world. The band’s second most commercially successful album, it went sixteen times platinum in the United States, and spawned such classics as Trampled Under Foot, Boogie With Stu, and the east-meets-west magnum opus, Kashmir.
The monster album also emerged roughly midway through the band’s meteoric if troubled recording career, starting with the release of their eponymous first album in 1969, and ending with the dissolution of the band following the death from alcohol-related asphyxia of drummer John Bonham in 1980.
But apropos of this blog, Kashmir’s sound is not the only ‘east-meets-west’ element of Physical Graffiti. In fact, the album serves as a bridge of sorts between the East and West Village — from the album’s sound to its distinctive and unforgettable cover and sleeve.
Led Zeppelin immortalized the twin tenements at 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place between First Avenue and Avenue A on the Physical Graffiti album cover. The award-winning design featured the two buildings (with the fourth floors removed to make them fit the square shape of the album cover) with the windows cut out to reveal the letters of the album title printed on the inner sleeve, or, if the sleeve was reversed, a series of images of different characters seeming to occupy the building, including lead-singer Robert Plant in drag.
96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place’s place in popular cultural history has been noted over the years by the presence of a used clothing store in the basement of the buildings called Physical Graffiti and a tea shop called ‘Physical Graffitea.” According to GVSHP’s East Village research, these old-law or ‘dumbbell’ tenements were constructed in 1890.
(The buildings earn double renown in rock and roll history as the place where Keith Richards meets Mick Jagger in the video for ‘Waiting on a Friend’ — the two end up meeting the rest of the band and playing in the bar just a few doors down at 132 First Avenue and St. Mark’s Place).
While the album cover’s look emerged from the East Village, it’s sound, at least in its final form, emerged from the West Village. Physical Graffiti was mixed at Electric Lady Studios at 52 West 8th Street, one of the most storied recording studios around. And of course this was not the only time Led Zeppelin worked at Electric Lady — their fifth album, Houses of the Holy, was also recorded there. And Zeppelin were hardly the only high-profile act to utilize the recording studio built by and for Jimi Hendrix; The Clash, Lou Reed, Kiss, Blondie, Run DMC, Common, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Nas, Kanye West, Madonna, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Billy Idol, U2, and Daft Punk have all recorded there over the years as well.
To learn about other iconic album covers shot in the Village and East Village, click here and here. To find out more about the history of Electric Lady Studios, check out this prior Off the Grid post.