Of all the legendary songs Led Zeppelin put to tape over their 12-year run, “Kashmir” is perhaps the greatest example of what the iconic rock quartet was able to accomplish… at least that’s how Robert Plant felt. “I wish we were remembered for ‘Kashmir’ more than ‘Stairway To Heaven,’” he once said. “It’s so right; there’s nothing overblown, no vocal hysterics. Perfect Zeppelin.”
Now, a priceless piece of that rich history is up for auction: next month, through Julien’s Auction, the original, handwritten lyrics for “Kashmir” will go for sale. The sheets—written on stationery from the Whitehall Hotel, where the band was staying when the tune was penned—are expected to bring in anywhere between $120,000 and $300,000.
“Kashmir” began its life in the early ‘70s as a composition guitarist Jimmy Page was working on in demo form—Plant wrote the lyrics after reflecting on when the two took a road trip through Morocco in 1973.
“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on,” Plant explained. “It was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert. Two miles to the East and West were ridges of Sandrock. It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it. ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams…’”
Eventually, Page—along with bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham—developed the musical idea. By the time 1974 rolled around and the band was working on their sixth album, Physical Graffiti, it had already begun to take the shape of the masterpiece it is today.
“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me,” Plant remembered. “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, ’cause I couldn’t sing it. It was like the song was bigger than me. It’s true: I was petrified, it’s true. It was painful; I was virtually in tears.”
Ultimately, the blood, sweat, and (literal) tears poured into “Kashmir” paid off—by the time Physical Graffiti hit shelves in February 1975, it was already earning the legacy it holds today. After playing the song at the first gig on their 1975 tour, a music journalist told Plant he was impressed with it—Plant, in turn, gifted him the original lyric sheets that are now for auction.
A close read of the lyric sheets also reveals how the words were revised and perfected over time—with some phrasing and a few words different (like “flaunt the straits of fear,” as opposed to the final “along the straits of fear”), you can see the evolution of Plant’s themes and delivery.
(Photo by Per Ole Hagen/Redferns)