Record Collecting Adventures/Discovering a Previously Unknown Led Zeppelin Album
Every once in a while a previously unknown record surfaces; something longtime collectors have neither seen nor heard of. In the internet era this happens far less frequently. It’s easier than ever to research obscure titles, and usually if I haven’t seen something, somebody else has. These days one can usually find information about almost anything with a few clicks of the mouse–so it’s pretty rare to find something completely undocumented by a highly collectible band, especially if it’s a major label release. And so it was pretty mind-blowing to come across a previously undocumented Led Zeppelin album last month.
Led Zeppelin are among the most heavily collected rock bands, and their discography is extremely well known and documented. There are hundreds of websites devoted to them, their discography, and concert history. Their authorized website, LedZeppelin.com is quite good, reproducing many rare records, posters, concert reviews and other memorabilia. So this discovery was a pretty significant find.
In early August, my friend Gary Johnson of Rockaway Records and I travelled to Seattle to buy records from legendary collector Ken Barnes. Ken was thinning out his album collection, and we were lucky enough to be the first to peruse his 30,000 LP’s. I’ve known Ken since the mid-70’s, and his knowledge of records is truly unsurpassed (I don’t know anyone who knows half of what Ken knows about records, and I’ve met a lot of collectors in the 39 years I’ve been in the game.)
I spent 3 days combing through Ken’s collection. At the end of the first day, while looking through his Led Zeppelin LP’s, I pulled out a sealed copy of Physical Graffiti, which looked different from any I’d ever seen. It had unusual images in the die-cut windows, but after 8 hours of looking at records nonstop, I was a bit punch drunk, and not sure what I was looking at.
I showed the album to Gary and Ken, asking if they had ever seen a copy like this one before. Gary, a world class rare record expert who has seen pretty much everything at least once, was taken aback–he’d never seen anything like this before. Ken, a music writer for many years and former editor of music industry trade publication Radio & Records immediately picked up on the fact that the four letters in the top windows were the “call letters” of WMET, a long defunct Chicago rock radio station. While all of the images in the front windows on this copy are different to the released version, in every other aspect it is identical to an original first pressing of Physical Graffiti.
The previously unknown “Physical Graffiti”
Front cover close up.
A large percentage of Ken’s albums were promotional copies, acquired while writing for Bomp, Radio & Records, Phonograph Record Magazine and many other publications, most recently as music editor of USA Today. Nearly all Ken’s Zeppelin albums were promos, and while he didn’t remember who gave him this specific copy, he felt it very likely came to him while working at Radio & Records (he was there in 1975, when the album was released.) He was sure he’d had it since the 70’s, and wasn’t something he’d bought. Ken had another open copy of Physical Graffiti, so when he got this one, he’d just filed it with the rest of his Zeppelin lp’s. This copy must have been part of a special run that Atlantic/Swan Song made for WMET; it’s rather extraordinary that in the 35 years since the album’s release, no other copy has surfaced.
Ken Barnes with his rare album, just after its discovery.
The album on site.
Because the three of us had never seen anything like this, Gary contacted a few Zeppelin experts, none of whom knew anything about this album. I photographed Ken holding the album, and had him write a letter of authenticity to document the find, which reads:
To Whom it may concern:
This letter is to authenticate an original sealed copy of Led Zeppelin’s album Physical Graffiti, with the call letters of Chicago radio station WMET and alternate artwork visible in the windows of the album cover.
I have had this album in my collection for decades, and in fact until Jeff Gold found it among my other Zeppelin albums (mostly promo copies) in my 30,000 LP collection, I never noticed this was in any way different from the regular issue of the album. I very likely obtained this album while working at the radio industry trade publication Radio & Records around the time the album was released. I was an editor at Radio & Records and received thousands of promotional albums from record companies while working at R&R and writing about music for various publications over the years, most recently as music editor for USA Today.
Ken fortunately sold the album to us, and we’re proud to offer this unique Led Zeppelin album on the Recordmecca site; click here for more information: WMET Led Zeppelin LP.