Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (Album Cover) © Led Zeppelin, Swansong, 1975.

20.01.13: making of cover

Physical Graffiti was the sixth album by Led Zeppelin and the first album to be released on their newly-formed label, Swansong. A double album, it consists of a total of 15 tracks, several of them recorded at Headley Grange in Hampshire but some tracks recorded as early as 1970.

Like all Led album covers, the album package for Physical Graffiti is an outstanding piece of design. The two records are housed in a pair of card inner sleeves that fit into a single outer sleeve with die-cut windows through which various photographs and illustrations can be seen. Also included is a paper insert sheet with the album title in the windows and track-by-track information plus full recording and album-cover credis.

The design for the album package was conceived by Peter Corriston and Mike Doud. Former A&M art director Doud was, at that time, running the London office of US design company AGI. Peter Corriston is a Grammy-nominated album cover designer based in New York who has worked with Jethro Tull, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart.

The cover shows two New York tenement buildings. They can be found at 96 and 97 St. Marks Place in the East Village, New York. The two buildings are actually five storeys high but the fourth floor was removed from the photograph to fit the square format of the record sleeve. The concept for the cover was highly influenced by the sleeve of a 1973 Jose Feliciano album, Compartments, which features a two-storey brownstone building with images of Feliciano in the windows.

Peter Corriston recalls: "We walked around the city for a few weeks looking for the right building. I had come up with a concept for the band based on the tenement, people living there and moving in and out. The original (vinyl) album featured the building with the windows cut out on the cover and various sleeves that could be placed under the cover, filling the windows with the album title, track information or liner notes".

The tenements were shot by New York photographer Elliott Erwitt. The front-cover shot was taken in daylight and the back was taken at night. Sepia prints were made for the outer package and they and the inner bags were then hand-coloured by Maurice Tate - the best hand-retoucher in London at that time. Jimmy Page described the cover as "A peepimg tom's delight". The title was coined by Page to convey the amount of physical energy and creative writing that had gone into producing the recordings for the album.

The various people at the windows include all the members of the band, manager Peter Grant, Lee Harvey Oswald, Neil Armstrong, Elizabeth Taylor, King Kong, Charles Atlas, Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting of Proserpine, an ad for Pears soap, the Virgin Mary, and Laurel and Hardy. There are candid photos of the group in drag taken at a party on their 1973 US tour, plus a shot of John Bonham wearing tights at Roy Harper's Valentines Day gig in 1974. These photos were taken by band publicist B.P. Fallon and by Roy Harper.

You can still visit 96 and 97 St. Marks Place in the East Village. In the basement of one building is a vintage clothing store called, naturally enough, Physical Graffiti. Like the Abbey Road crossing in London, these two buildings have become a regular stop-off for rock'n'roll fans on their tours of New York City.

Source: Richard Evans - The Art of the Album Cover and How to Design Them
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Image © Led Zeppelin/Swansong.
Text © Richard Evans/Chartwell Books.
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