The Data Behind the Ur-Physical Graffiti

Despite listening to Led Zeppelin for over twenty years, I just learned this week that their sixth studio album, Physical Graffiti, was actually two-thirds original material and one-third outtakes from previous albums. Apparently the band recorded three sides’ worth of material for the album but didn’t want to trim anything; so instead they made it a double album by sprinkling outtakes across all four sides.

There were eight original tracks recorded for the album and seven outtakes added. Three outtakes came from each of the previous two albums, Houses of the Holy (including its would-have-been–eponymous title track) and Untitled (hereafter Led Zeppelin IV), and one outtake came from Led Zeppelin III.

I wanted to explore the data by looking at the amount of source material that I had just discovered was recorded for each of their eight studio albums. This is what the original album durations looked like, with Physical Graffiti standing out as the sole double LP:

When we instead distribute the seven outtakes to their original source albums, we see this:

An LP could hold around 46 minutes of music, which was the limit the band stuck to for the majority of their albums. But for Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti, the band apparently recorded nearly an hour of material for each. In the case of first two, the band trimmed songs down to those that would best fit on a single LP (2015 interview). But, when faced with the same old dilemma for Physical Graffiti, they had fortunately accumulated enough backlogged material to trim nothing and ship a double album instead.

Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti are generally regarded as the band’s best albums, and this data also shows that they coincided with the band’s creative maximum. And so Physical Graffiti is no longer the sole anomalous double LP in their oeuvre but really the capstone of this trifecta.

Now an interesting followup question is, if we were to listen to these outtakes inside the albums they were originally composed for, what order would we put them in? But I tend to agree with the peanut gallery that the albums are perfect as-is, and you can’t just swap in or reorder the tracks. But it is interesting to hear the outtakes alongside their contemporaneous material, so I created YouTube playlists that append each albums’ outtakes to it as a coda (in-joke intended):

And I also decanted the eight “belters” from Physical Graffiti into an Ur-Physical Graffiti, which turns out to be my new favorite Led Zeppelin album:

Silicon Valley software engineer and novelist: My opinions are my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

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