After Led Zeppelin launched its own record label, Swan Song, the band kicked things off with a whale of a release: Physical Graffiti (1975). At the height of its powers, the Zep combined leftover tracks from previous records with a spectacular crop of new songs to make a double album.
Right from the opening track, “Custard Pie,” you could tell the band wanted to make a heavy statement after some lighter explorations on Houses of the Holy (1973). That theme continued with “The Rover” and “Trampled Under Foot,” both of which sat on the first LP along with a new anthem, “Kashmir.”
But one of Zep’s most powerful tracks closed out side 1. For that statement, the band turned to a blues featuring Jimmy Page on slide guitar. It seemed like the band reached a peak with its longest studio recording, “In My Time of Dying,” a track Page recalled Zep recording in just a few takes.
‘In My Time of Dying’ is the longest Led Zeppelin song at just over 11 minutes
While Zeppelin never shied away from lengthy tracks, the band really pushed the envelope with “In My Time of Dying,” a traditional blues recorded by several musicians (including Bob Dylan) before them. Zep’s version clocks in at 11 minutes, 6 seconds.
The track served as a showcase for all four members of the band, and it’s impossible to say who shines the brightest. Page delivers the sort of performance that got people wondering if he’d sold his soul to summon such power on the guitar.
Meanwhile, John Bonham matches Page’s power from start to finish. And Robert Plant and John Paul Jones are right there with the two of them for the 11-minute onslaught. Looking back at the recording in Light and Shade (2012), Page considered “In My Time of Dying” a highlight of the release.
“Throughout [Physical Graffiti] you could hear the four elements making up the fifth element,” Page said. And it seems the band wasn’t fazed by the length of the track. Page didn’t see a reason to be. “When you’re playing like that, who wants to stop?” he said.
Jimmy Page said ‘In My Time of Dying’ was mostly improvised
Sometimes, you’ll read about a Zeppelin studio jam turning into something special. “Rock and Roll,” from the fourth album, started out that way. So did “Trampled Under Foot.” But “In My Time of Dying” is a live take, one with minimal overdubs. And Page said it was improvised.
“‘In My Time of Dying’ was recorded in or two largely improvised takes,” Page said in Light and Shade. “We’re right on the edge.” When the track ends, you hear someone cough before Bonham shouts he believes “that’s gonna be the one.”
The members of Zeppelin have always considered Physical Graffiti one of their greatest achievements. Along with the showpiece that was “Kashmir,” the band delivered several masterpieces with it. “In My Time of Dying,” Zep’s lengthiest recording, hasn’t diminished a bit in the past 45 years.