The Epic Track: “Kashmir”

Editor’s Note: There are certain tracks that are, well, “epic” — memorable, larger than life, carved into music history. In this series, we look at one of them.


For all their exuberance, Led Zeppelin was one of the more grounded bands touring under the banner of progressive rock. Anyone who watched the British band performing at the height of their fame would have witnessed a setlist that melded blues, folk, jazz, and classical in a manner that was accessible and reverent of the listener’s attention. This amalgamation of textures was surely at the forefront of Robert Plant’s mind as he composed “Kashmir” with bandmates John Bonham and Jimmy Page, a tune he still heralds as the band’s greatest achievement.

The song boasts one of Plant’s most intricate vocals, moving frequently from a scream to a whisper over the guitars chiming beneath him. Bassist John Paul Jones worked on the string arrangements, and the song is also notable for featuring one of Bonham’s most innovative drum parts. The finished result flirted with excess, but unlike some of the numbers on Houses of The Holy, never crossed into it. “The intensity of ‘Kashmir’ was such that when we had it completed,” Page remembered, “we knew there was something really hypnotic to it, we couldn’t even describe such a quality. At the beginning, there was only Bonzo [Bonham] and me in Headley Grange. He played the rhythm on drums, and I found the riff as well as the overdubs which were thereafter duplicated by an orchestra, to bring more life to the track.”

Considered by many, including Plant, to be their finest album, Physical Graffiti showcased the band’s influences in one tidy package: a kaleidoscopic portrait of 20th-century music. The folk-soul of “Bron-Yr-Aur” served as a two-minute distillation of Page’s acoustic work. “Custard Pie” contains some of the band’s funkiest work, showcasing a looseness to their outlet. The double album concludes with “Sick Again” closing out on a desolate note suggesting life wasn’t all glamourous gals and flirtation. Between these tracks stood “Kashmir,” destined to become a live favorite. At eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds, it was one of the band’s longer tracks, propelled by the off-kilter groove and propulsive hooks.

Plant plunged listeners headfirst into the world where sand, serendipity, and cosmos walked hand in hand. “Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face,” he sings, “with stars to fill my dream.” The resulting song is an epistle to the fans who had crossed the threshold from 1960s pop into 1970s stadium rock, celebrating a journey that had brought the counterculture headfirst into the mainstream.

“It was a great achievement to take such a monstrously dramatic musical piece and find a lyric that was ambiguous enough, and a delivery that was not over-pumped,” the singer recalled in 2018. “It was almost the antithesis of the music, this lyric and this vocal delivery that was just about enough to get in there.”

Considering the opulence (brass, mellotrons, guitar overdubs), the band had to scale the track down onstage, although Jones – always the multi-instrumentalist – could imitate some of the ostentation on his keyboards. In one sense it completed a triumvirate of anthems that made it into the song list, although it was more ambitious than “Whole Lotta Love”, and certainly more relatable than the Tolkienesque “Stairway to Heaven.”

After the death of John Bonham in 1980, the adventurism and professionalism that cemented “Kashmir” were traits the individual bandmates would continue for the rest of their lives. Their songcraft served them, just as “Kashmir” carried their prowess headfirst into the 21st century.

Plant joined Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, where he performed snippets of “Kashmir” to a crowd too young to have experienced the track the first time. In 1998, Page guested on Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me” re-producing the riff he’d performed in 1975. And when the three surviving members reunited in 2007 at the O2 Concert, they made sure to include “Kashmir” in their setlist.

Bolstered by Jason Bonham’s steady hand, Plant unveiled a vocal pleasantly reminiscent of his younger days, contextualizing the Physical Graffiti standout in a more contemporary environment.

-Eoghan Lyng

Photo: Led Zeppelin (Getty)



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25 comments on “The Epic Track: “Kashmir”

  1. Ellen Fagan

    Stupendous coverage of a hypnotic track…

  2. Arsula Undress

    Google – show me an article about Led Zeppelin where the writer knows nothing about Led Zeppelin.

  3. John Smistad

    You fooled me then, mate. The word “expert” crosses the mind. And there stays put. ;}

  4. Verbose and pretentious. Also, “showcasing a looseness to their outlet” doesn’t make sense: something that is “funky” almost certainly isn’t loose by default. You need to stop using AI to fill in the blanks.

    • Well, Mr.D, if you watch any James Brown concert, he always instructed drummers to “Keep it tight, but loose.” Tight, but loose; funk. Thank you for reading

      • James Brown had his own rules. He was also a master of affectation, so you shouldn’t take his phrasing so literally.

        • Veronica Goldsmith

          Maybe you should read more, Tim.

        • Dave Bartholome

          C’mon, Tim, admit it: Eoghan got the better of you, and he’s right: funk, properly played, is in fact “tight but loose”–precise, but not robotic.

  5. Padraig Ryan

    I enjoyed this piece – a bit grandiose though.

  6. Well, it is about a prog band 😉 Grandiosity is a key facet.

    Thank you for reading.

  7. Gorgeous Guv

    over egged, flowery bollocks that doesn’t really have any substance. And exactly *how* is a nine minute epic based on Arabic musical phrasing *less* indulgent than anything on Houses of The Holy? I’d like to hear a solid reasoning for this ridiculous claim.

  8. “Arabic musical phrasing” isn’t indulgent; it’s immensely beautiful to listen to. Some of the tracks on Holy feature meandering guitar noodles that go nowhere. Thanks for reading, but please watch the language.

  9. John Smistad

    Ya know one of the many remarkable characteristics of this author…Never a chap to stir up controversy, this one.

  10. John Smistad

    Were that we all were of such sound sensibility, my friend. Cheers!

  11. Jenzi C Silverman

    Well, my only real quibble is that I find Stairway to Heaven very relatable — it’s still not only my favorite Led Zeppelin song but my favorite song of all time, by any artist. That’s just me though, and I LOVE Kashmir almost as much (plus it’s fun to play on uke, as is Stairway.)

  12. Gary The Know It All

    Send in the trolls – don’t bother, they’re here!

  13. Roger Taylor

    The opening premise that Led Zeppelin were “grounded” is hilarious when you consider they dabbled with every mythic archetype in rock and roll stardom, I mean their official biography is called “Hammer of the gods” 😂 I think Lyng meant to say “eclectic”?

    • Eoghan Michael Lyng

      Nope, I meant “grounded”. The surviving members of Zeppelin were highly critical of Hammer of The Gods (if memory serves me, Page said he threw his copy in the river), so I’m not convinced that’s as cogent an argument as you think it is. Whenever they strayed too far into the realm of the esoteric, they made a concerted effort to return to their bluesier roots. Anyway, Roger, thank you for reading. Hare, hare!

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