One of the most original and distinctive songs Led Zeppelin ever recorded was the exotic, eight-and-a-half minute “Kashmir,” from the 1975 album Physical Graffiti. In this clip from Davis Guggenheim’s film It Might Get Loud (2009), Jimmy Page explains the origins of the song to fellow guitarists Jack White and The Edge. Then Page demonstrates it by picking up an old modified Danelectro 59DC Double Cutaway Standard guitar that he played the song with on some of Led Zeppelin’s tours. (Watch Kashmir live here.)
In 1973, Page had been experimenting with an alternative D modal, or DADGAD, tuning often used on stringed instruments in the Middle East, when he hit upon the hypnotic, rising and falling riff. The song came together over a period of a couple of years. John Bonham added his distinctive, overpowering drums during a two-man recording session with Page at Headley Grange. Singer Robert Plant wrote the lyrics while he and Page were driving through the Sahara Desert in Southern Morocco. (Neither Page nor Plant had ever visited Kashmir, in the Himalayas.) Bassist and keyboard player John Paul Jones added the string and horn arrangements the following year. In a 1995 radio interview with Australian journalist Richard Kingsmill, Plant recalled his experience with “Kashmir”:
It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me. Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is…not grandiose, but powerful. It required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments. But everything is not what you see. It was quite a task, because I couldn’t sing it. It was like the song was bigger than me.
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Hear Led Zeppelin’s Mind-Blowing First Recorded Concert Ever (1968)