Led Zeppelin’s classic song Kashmir is said – by them – to be their best. I agree. Musically, the song is staggeringly powerful and runs on the album for a huge 8 mins 29 secs – almost three times longer than a “normal” rack. Even though it’s based on quite simple progressions, it’s also radically different, with its DADGAD guitar tuning (which was novel at that time – normal guitar tuning is EADGBE), and the rhythm working across three different time signatures.
Indian influences, especially sitar music, were the fashion back then. But “Kashmir” turns all this into something very different. It’s a real amalgam of heavy rock and Indian sounds, very close to becoming orchestral. This live version is worth watching – it’s my favourite – especially to see how just three musicians playing live, manage to put over the full complexity of the multi-tracked studio version. Plant’s vocals are better (IMHO) than on the studio album.
As with most of Robert Plant’s lyrics, Kashmir is legendary and evocative while also lapsing into period-typical rock-singer type scat “noises” – as in the chorus “Oh, baby, I been blind, Oh, yeah, mama, there ain’t no denyin” sung twice. Plant says the lyrics, which he wrote to the music, are about a long drive in Morocco. At that time none of the band had been to Kashmir.
Frankly, Robert Plant’s lyrics were never his strongest asset. His least impressive appear in Led Zep’s rip-off of Howlin Wolf’s “Killing Floor” renamed by them “The Lemon Song”. He urges “Baby” to squeeze his lemon until the juice runs down his leg. This particular line was taken from a Robert Johnson song – who probably took it from Arthur McKay’s song “She Squeezed My Lemon”… At the time, such lyrics were considered risque and thus hip. As few of us had heard “Killing Floor”, let alone the McKay song from 1937, Plant got away with it. (Led Zep were later sued by Howlin’ Wolf, and as they’d “borrowed” other material from other songs. Plant has since disarmingly referred to Zep as “a covers band”.)
Jimmy Page was the musical genius behind Kashmir, with drummer John Bonham pushing its complexity along with incredibly heavily even beats (in 2/4 and 4/4 time) and surgically precise fills. The guitar and keys circle and cycle relentlessly (in 3/8 time across the beat) thanks to Bonham’s drumming – sounding like an advancing tank battalion being orbited by a squadron of fighter bombers. Plant’s lyrics punctuate this strange swirling world, without any particular need for meaning. It’s a journey to somewhere incredibly uplifting.
But why am I posing with Led Zep II and not Physical Graffiti I hear you asking? Well… I’d completely forgotten this, but back in the days when all we had were real albums, which we placed on our knees to roll very long cigarettes, somebody “borrowed” my Physical Graffiti. Since then, with Spotify and preferring to listen to the live version, I never noticed the missing album. But that’s it. No vinyl will henceforth leave these premises.